Todiguide guide turistiche della Regione Umbria 389 424 62 62

A little pilgrimage…in Todi

A little pilgrimage…in Todi


This post is also available in: itItaliano (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!-

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Palazzo del Popolo, probable original traits of the first building

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


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