This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
I have always loved to go to Todi’s public library to read and study there, with no noise but the sound of the centuries still echoing in that historic building – once a Franciscan monastery- .
Our Lorenzo Leonj library is quite a big “local branch” which boasts many old and precious books which can’t be checked out; if you need to refer to them, you just have to read them on the spot.
Last week, I spent five mornings at the library, studying and enjoying one of the most complete and precise books ever written about the Municipal Buildings and the Piazza del Popolo in Todi. The title is “Piazze e Palazzi di Todi, by G. Ceci and U. Bartolini”
I wanted to learn more about the very complicated and sometimes mysterious story concerning the construction of our three (or maybe four) municipal buildings, which occurred from the 13th century up to the second half of the 14th century – but this is for another day!-
While reading, I came across a quote by an English writer, Olave Muriel Potter, who was travelling through Italy at the beginning of the last century.
In 1911 she published “A little pilgrimage in Italy” as a report of her time in our country: Tuscany, Marche, Rome and… Umbria!
What a surprise when I read her passionate description of Todi! But that was just a quote…I couldn’t help but search for the whole article!!!
And here it is: I just removed some parts of the text not directly linked to Todi, just to streamline your reading.
Enjoy it and fall in love with Todi, once again!
“When I think of Todi the first things that I remember are the
golden tassels of the corn against the sky, and the blue chicory
which starred the dusty roadside as we drove to her from Perugia
across the young Tiber. For little Todi, enthroned on her steep
hill, has no railway within thirty-three miles of her gates; and if
you do not wish to ravish the leagues which separate her from the
world by motor, you can only reach her after many hours spent in
the exquisite and touching beauty of the Umbrian Vale. She is one
of those forgotten cities which are still to be found on the hills
of Italy. The years have trampled lightly within her ancient walls;
she has no trains, no jangling trams, very few motors except the
grey automobile from Perugia which bursts noisily into the heart
of her every day. She is a charmed city, whose name is painted on
a signboard outside the gates lest the traveller should pass her
by unwittingly. Within her walls we shook the dust of a work-a-day
world from our feet, and forgot its turmoil in the music of her
bells, which tell the passing hours with the loving persistence of
those grown old in labour.
To many people Todi is a mere horizon of towers on the crest of a
distant hill. To me she is the dwelling-place of happiness. And
because I am a little jealous for Todi, and would have you love
her as I loved her, having watched her grow in beauty as the miles
decreased between us, I beg your patience while we thread the plain
between Perugia and Tuder of the Umbrians.
…And in front across a sea of lesser hills rose Todi, perched on her
mountain like a city in a fairy-tale, which surely could be reached
by no other way than on the wings of a genie!
—So, with our hearts attuned to her simplicity, we came to Todi
on the top of her hill, with her towers and walls, and her winds
and clouds. We caught her asleep in the siesta hour. There was no
one astir when we drove into her beautiful golden piazza, where
the Middle Ages have never been forgotten: even to-day it is full
of mediaeval grace, with its two great palaces and its exquisite
cathedral. But if we had come to her in the busy morning stir of
the market we could still have found the Middle Ages there, for the
peasants ride in on the old leather saddles picked out in brass
and scarlet that we see in fifteenth-century frescoes; the asses
bear on panniers barrels, or huge bundles of rough wood; the mules
are harnessed with bells and tassels, three abreast, so that they
straggle across the narrow road as they strain up the hill, and
all the women carry their marketing on their heads. The cathedral
of Todi is one of the gems of Umbrian architecture. It is a great
golden church with beautiful and very ancient doors, and an ornate
rose window; it soars above the piazza on a wide flight of steps
which not even a gigantic cinematograph advertisement can rob of
dignity. Below its southern wall is a row of shabby little shops
where the people sit at work in their doorways, but the northern
side has flying buttresses and a cornice of fantastic heads of men
and birds and beasts; and there is a pleasing baroque arch with
shallow, grass-grown steps leading down to the piazza.
Like her cathedral Todi is full of quaint and beautiful things.
She is an artist’s city, solitary and beautiful, unexpectedly rich
and frankly poor. Once away from her stately piazza with its three
great buildings, which are like three jewels in the crown of King
Cophetua’s Beggar Maid, we found her humble and out of elbows.
Her old brown houses bulged out over the steep little streets, or
towered like lean fortresses on her city wall, with all manner of
green things, even fig-trees, growing out of them. From below they
seemed to be piled up one on the top of the other like children’s
bricks. The vineyards and olive-gardens, which swept up the
hillside, forced entrances at every point; and on the crest of
the hill among her palaces was one slender cypress spire, soaring
up as though Nature herself must climb through this clear air to
heaven. She had long avenues of acacias and flowering laurels, and
ancient gateways like the Porta Aurea, through which we had a vista
of mediaeval towers, and a Perugino landscape of green valleys
with a river winding away to the amphitheatre of blue hills.
Here and there in her walls were courses of splendid masonry, Umbrian
perhaps, and on the eastern side of the town were four gigantic
niches of a Roman basilica. But as in most Umbrian cities, it was
the Middle Ages that left Todi her chief treasures, her stately
palaces and her cathedral; and further down the hillside, on a
flight of earthquake-riven steps, San Fortunato, which was the home
of the Antipope Nicholas v. in the days when rebellious little Todi
was a thorn in the side of the papacy, and Lewis of Bavaria made
her his headquarters. Fra Jacopone of Todi, the author of _Stabat
Mater Dolorosa_, is said to be buried in this church, but though we
looked for it we could not find his tomb.
All these things count as nothing in the eyes of the Todesi, for
Todi boasts a pilgrimage church; and a pilgrimage church, albeit
of the sixteenth century, is an acquisition not to be despised
by any city however ancient and picturesque. But in truth Santa
Maria della Consolazione is a lovely church, a _capolavoro_ of
architecture, and it soars up like a great golden gourd ripened
to perfection on the green hillside. We came to it through the
Porta Aurea along an avenue of flowering laurels, and its fair
proportions gave us a complete sense of satisfaction. As we drew
near, its clustered domes dwarfed the amphitheatre of hills.
Inside it was airy and gracious, a bubble of light; but its
sixteenth-century paganism, which is always the paganism of secular
buildings rather than of temples, and its overgrown apostles in
the niches that were meant for gods, spoilt its appeal, to the
Protestant mind at any rate, as a house of prayer. What is it,
I wonder, that makes it easy for the Protestant to worship in
Gothic or Romanesque churches, and to respond to the appeal of
basilicas like Santa Maria Maggiore or San Clemente in Rome, while
sixteenth-century churches still remain the ideal ecclesiastical
building to the majority of Roman Catholics? Is it that they all
bear the image of St. Peter’s and the Vatican in their minds? They
argue that at least under the spacious cupolas of the renaissance
they have light and space. And it is logic, for Gothic cathedrals
are dim and full of shadows. But I could say my prayers more easily
in the baths of Caracalla, where the sun slanting over the broken
walls has a trick of making mist like floods of incense, and the
birds chant all day long, than in St. Peter’s, for all its fragrant
services. And I doubt if any Catholics could be moved to such an
ecstasy of worship in the dusk of Milan Cathedral, when the organ
throbs through the aisles at Vespers, as we have seen them in many
of the late pilgrimage churches of Italy, like Santa Maria of Todi
or the great basilica of the Casa Santa at Loreto.
Like all the hill-cities of Umbria, one of Todi’s chief charms
is the beauty of her views. Below my bedroom window in the Hotel
Risorgimento the old brown roofs of Todi clambered so eagerly down
the slope that each one was at least two stories below the one
above. Here and there were little gardens full of tamarisks and
oleanders and morning glories. To the left rose San Fortunato, high
on its broken flight of steps, like a grim fortress; and below it
was the bastion of the public garden, with its round acacia trees
which were always vibrant with the song of cicalas. In the deep
valley were grey-towered farms with loggias and outside stairways,
and a great fortified convent with the stations of the Cross
climbing up to its gates in a cypress avenue. Through the midst the
Tiber wound very slowly like a ribbon, and now the sunlight caught
it, and we could see the blue water, and now we could only trace
it by its tall Lombard poplars. But always it turned towards the
distant hills which rose the one behind the other, fold on fold,
and full of changing lights, towards Rome. At night it was still
and mysterious. The steep hillside was wrapped in darkness. There
was no moon, and though the sky was powdered thickly with stars
they gave no light to see the valley by. Far below I could hear
the humming of the night crickets; they sounded sleepy too. And up
above, San Fortunato loomed almost transparently in the heavens,
and the Milky Way shone like a mist of stars.
We found Arcady again down in the valleys as we drove back to
Perugia across the Umbrian plain. There had been a fair at some
neighbouring village, and the road was full of peasants coming back
with cortèges of white oxen and calves, which had bells on their
throats, and collars of scarlet and brass, and crimson fillets. Find the whole book at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46092