Walled Cities, Narrow Streets, and the Glint of the Divine


Yesterday’s sunrise was exquisite. Less dramatic than the Tuscan sunsets but no less profound. The morning darkness broke upon the slow glow of orange, yellow, red…rolling over the mountains and across the fields, chasing the night away. The bats that had been keeping me company, chirped and chattered in a frenzy as they felt the day looming and the night’s feeding coming to an end.

I awoke contemplating the day and night before. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:30 How often do we see Christ in those around us? Often, we see this call in the light of the beggar or the downtrodden…but what about those who are right in front of us? Can we see Christ in our spouse? In our friends? In our co-workers? In our parents? If we saw that Holy glimmer for just a split-second, would we say or do something different? Our call to love must begin first in our own house.

I want to blame it on the Tuscan sunset but I know that glint has been there all along.

When You’ve Seen One Walled City…

Leaving La Piantata held the expectant wonder of the next adventure but each of us felt a quiet sadness in leaving her peace. I learned that Lorenzo had bought the estate 30 years ago after it had sat abandoned for over 100 years. 100 years – the slightest blip in time, yet a complete generational change for us. As I walked into Lorenzo’s office to settle our account, I was transported 30 years back to ledger books, written receipts, and the simplicity of a world without computerization. The credit card machine was a ghastly anachronism that felt like heresy to the elegant simplicity of pencils and tablets.

The day’s journey was now toward Perugia with a stop in Orvieto – two words that held little meaning for me other than Silvia’s encouraging “you’ll love it!” Tuscany continued to surprise with winding roads and the charm of fields and groves running up the sides of hills and all sorts of fruit bearing trees and bushes popping up along the roadways.

Crossing from the fertile, coastal plains and hills of Tuscany into Umbria, the mountain top villages returned. We first saw Orvieto from across the Tiber Valley as it rose to its mountain top perch. Walled and ancient, it is a city of 20,000 inhabitants and looked more substantial than the villages we had seen so far. Moving down the valley, we followed the twisting roadway with sharp switchbacks to the bottom, then started back up toward Orvieto itself.

The current administrators of Orvieto were kind enough to install one-way escalators to allow easier access to the city from the parking lot below. The city itself rises 325 meters from the bottom of the valley, and though we parked higher than that, the climb would have been daunting. Clearly a very popular place, the city was teeming with visitors milling about the streets and shops. Winding our way around the gray cobblestone streets, we glimpsed the stunning Duomo di Orvieto rising above the city – from the narrow alley, it looked too big to be real.

On this particular day, a wedding was just getting underway at the Cathedral and the Piazza was full of tourists watching and photographing the event. I don’t believe she was royalty, but I’m sure the young bride felt like a complete princess as she made her way jump the steps with thousands snapping photos and cheering her on. We recognized the familiar sound of English from an American group on tour near us and noticed many large groups moving en mass around the square.

The Duomo is stunningly beautiful – distinct in its alternating bands of travertine and basalt giving it s striped appearance. Groundbreaking on the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was begun in 1290 and completed 300 years later. The Duomo was built to the hold the Corporal of Bolsena, the relic of the miracle which occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena. When a traveling priest who had doubts about the truth of transubstantiation found that his Host was bleeding so much that it stained the altar cloth. The cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral and is brought out for display several times a year.

…You’ve Seen One Walled City

We spent a few hours in Orvieto, mainly touring the Duomo which was a feast for the eyes on the inside as well. Still an hour plus away from our hotel, it was time to head toward our final destination: Perugia, the capital city of Umbria. Our hotel was located in the center of the oldest portion of this city of 166,000 people so we once again made our way toward the old, walled portion of the city, naturally up on a hilltop.

Driving along the winding roads, toward the city center, things began to narrow to a point at which we needed to thread our full size SUV into a narrow alley that would have made my bicycle wince. I tried a couple of times and realized there was no squeezing through. Fortunately, the Italians in their little Fiats were patient and we were able to back up and turn around – thought the single car-width return to where we could redirect was a little harrowing.

We found another path around, though the narrow city streets made the drive very interesting. Coming to within 200 meters of our hotel, I parked outside of a 2 meter wide alley and walked down to the hotel to survey options. “No problem,” encouraged Ismael from the hotel. I walked back up the alley and boldly drove us to a parking area hidden behind doors along another side alley. Well, mostly boldly.

Perugia was bustling last night in a very large Piazza just up from our hotel. We had dinner in a little place down another alley (do you get the picture, everything is along a vicolo (alley) in this city. Our ristorante was in a cellar and very charming. Though the food has familiar elements in pastas and flavors, it is still quite different. Wild boar or donkey are not uncommon as meat options. Last night’s flavors were perhaps our best yet with braised beef, risotto, and gnocchi options.


One week in, our foursome is getting along nicely. I realized last night that it has been many, many, years since I spent this much time with my parents. I was reminded of Sally and I heading to Spain for the Camino de Santiago and realizing that we had never spent more than about a week together in a 24/7 kind of way. It is a dive into the deep end of any relationship and extended travel is an opportunity to explore the further reaches of patience, affection, and discovery – to truly know another in a different way. Most of us live so many of our relationships skipping along the surface – time and exposure have a way of pushing us deeper. Whether we like it or not.

Today, we will enjoy Mass at Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Lorenzo – the Cathedral of St. Lawrence in the city center of Perugia. From there, we’ll wander the city seeing what we can find. The gray stone often looks the same but when you’ve seen one walled city…you’ve seen one walled city.

  • Jerry Berry


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