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Exploring Citerna, Italy was our goal at the conclusion of our fourth day on the Way of St. Francis. This small town, perched on a steep hill is a gorgeous, well-preserved medieval place, with many places that the pilgrim must see! It sits on the edge of Umbria, just after the pilgrim crosses from Tuscany, earlier in the walk from Sansepolcro.
Here is a fabulous aerial photo of Citerna, that I borrowed from the Umbria tourism website. It is such a gorgeous photo. And the town itself will not disappoint. Citerna is known as one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, "uno dei borghi piu belli d'italia," and it is easy to see why.
Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul. ~ Ernest Dimnet
For such a small city, Citerna packs a punch and will definitely touch your soul! As you leave the Monastero Del Ss. Crocifisso E S. Maria, the only pilgrim accommodation in Citerna, it is a short walk up the hill of 800 meters to the center of town. The monastery, also old, was established in the 14th century!
To circumnavigate Citerna in its entirety, it is only about 3/4 kilometers total, so you can cover this easily in an evening. It is worth a walk around the perimeter, as the walls are very well preserved!
The main attractions are on the main street called the Corso Garibaldi, as you can see on my map below. I have created this map so you can quickly and easily find your way around and find accommodation if the monastery is full. This same information is on my day four route map as well.
Citerna has been settled since the pre-Roman Etruscans. Once conquered by them, as a Roman city, Citerna was known as Civitas Sobariae. Because of its location, high above the Tiber River, Citerna was used as a lookout for military movements.
The modern name "Citerna" is supposedly taken from the Italian word for cisterns that are underneath the town and were used in the times of siege.
After the Romans, barbarians and powerful families from the neighboring cities of Sansepolcro and Città di Castello fought over Citerna for centuries. In 1221, Citerna swore loyalty to Città di Castello in exchange for protection against the surrounding powers until it was eventually given over to the Papal states in 1463.
During the Renaissance in the early 1500's, Citerna was given as a vicariate to the wealthy Vitelli family, who controlled the town until the end of the century. Fortunately, like the famous Medicis of Florence, they not only were lords, but philanthropists. They ensured that artwork and monuments were placed in town, from famous artists like Donatello, Pomarancio and Signorelli.
Most of the medieval buildings that survive in Citerna were from the Renaissance period. Unfortunately, many structures were damaged by the earthquake of 1917, and the main fortifications were also damaged in WWII. The famous watchtower, the Cassero Keep, survived intact, see farther below.
Citerna is also famous for giving refuge to General Giuseppe Garibaldi, the unifier of Italy, in July of 1849, during his leading the resurrection for independence from Austria. Hence the name of the main street, Corso Garibaldi.
Citerna became the first Umbrian town to be part of the Italian Kingdom in 1860.
As you arrive into town from the east, the "Rocca di Citerna" fortress looms above you. It is impressive, even in its ruined state. Its origin harkens back to the Lombards (Longobards) from the 6th-8th centuries.
Here is a closer look of the dramatic stairway leading to the top. The enclosure at the top has been converted into a sort of outdoor museum. While the remains at the top are not impressive, the views from there are phenomenal, so it is worth the climb. There is also a stairway access from the south walls.
As you pass the steps and the Rocca, immediately the main Piazza, called Scipione Scipioni with its clock tower, comes into view.
There is the Bar Vita Frenetica at the foot of the clock tower and a terrace across from the bar. This terrace is the most amazing place to have food or happy hour!
Just up the hill from the Piazza, is the Chiesa San Michele Arcangelo. The 17th century Romanesque structure, with its simple rose window and interior, boasts paintings by several famous artists, mostly notably one of the crucifixion by Pomarancio. Click on the link for more information.
After visiting the Arcangelo church, when you exit, look to your right for an alleyway, and the historic theater, the Teatro Bontempelli. Its bell tower is visible for miles!
Walk towards the theater, which was closed on the Tuesday evening we were there, admire the façade and look over the terrace to the left and to the private bridge that connected the Vitelli private residence to the theater!
After your visit to the theater, return to the clock tower and continue on the Corso Garibaldi. Walk under the Vitelli private bridge.
Immediately after the bridge is the Chiesa di San Francesco, known as the museum church. This church houses the most famous artwork in Citerna, Donatelli's Madonna, a sculpture from the Della Robbia school of ceramics. If you remember you saw similar ceramics in the churches of La Verna.
This is yet another simple church, but don't be fooled by its appearance as there are many famous treasures inside. Click on the above link to the church to read more.
As the three of us loitered outside the church, a man, who appeared to be a guide or a local townsperson, arrived with a woman.
He offered us to join him in his tour and see inside the church for free, since we were pilgrims. Because Nick speaks Italian and could interpret for us, we readily agreed.
Well, you get what you pay for, I suppose, because we stood outside the church for what seemed like an eternity while he was jabbering away in Italian. Nick stated that he was giving random stories about the town and the people of the town!
Nick began to have a strange look on his face. Rich and I understood nothing. We, however, persisted and were led inside the simple church. At each painting, our "guide" spent about 10-15 minutes explaining something in great detail that we didn't understand.
Rich and I began to make eyes at one another. I just wanted to see the Donatello. I felt some tension building between Nick and the guide. I remembered thinking that there was something really weird going on. I tried to catch Nick's eyes, but he was being so very polite.
To make a long story short, the "guide" began challenging Nick, as he was explaining a painting that we approached. He couldn't believe that Nick hadn't heard of the Renaissance artist, Luca Signorelli from Citerna and he demanded to know what guide book Nick had!
Nick kept explaining that he didn't have a guide book, but the man insisted that everyone has a guide book! The man kept getting more angry and started verbally accosting Nick. Nick started to get red-faced, remained polite and kept saying, "Scusi, Scusi." He was clearly trying to make an exit. Rich and I bowed our heads and headed for the door. Nick followed soon after.
Unfortunately, because of this incident, we did not see the Donatell0! As we debriefed, we felt it was most certainly better to rescue Nick from the torture than to see the sculpture. Poor Nick! We could admire a photo of the Madonna and Child.
If in your exploring Citerna, Italy you visit the Church of San Francisco, make sure you don't speak Italian, so you can avoid our fate, OR pay your ticket! I surely wish we had!
A few meters farther on the main street is the Palazzo Communale, the municipal building and an all-important ATM.
And just beyond the municipal building is perhaps the most famous and unusual attraction of all, the Camminamento Medievale or the Medieval Walkway. Here is a photo of the unmistakable entrance.
I just adore stuff like this: medieval tunnels and secret passageways! This is perhaps one of the most unique medieval features I have ever seen. We turned into the dark passageway.
It is very nice to amble along this walkway, which we did in daylight, and then again at sunset, for a totally different feel. Taking photos through windows and archways was nice!
The medieval walkway pops out onto the eastern end of Citerna. The exit of the walkway is just to the left of what is pictured below.
We decided to take a southern tour of the walls next.
As noted above, this tower has survived the calamities of mother nature and war, totally intact.
After completing our circumnavigation of Citerna, we returned to the Piazza Scipione Scipioni to watch the remaining sunset and relax and have happy hour.
After happy hour we did another quick round of the walls to capture the best, almost night time photos. Here is my best:
After snapping this photo above, we headed over to the Belvedere for an amazing meal. A perfect ending for a near-perfect day.
Here's a cheer for you and your own exploration journey to Citerna! This place certainly captured my heart, because of its state of preservation, its intimacy, ambience and the amazing views that were everywhere. May your own day here touch your soul as well!
Many readers contact me, Elle, to thank me for all the time and care that I have spent creating this informative website. If you have been truly blessed by my efforts, have not purchased an eBook, yet wish to contribute, I am very grateful. Thank-you!
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