Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Cappella della Maddalena

After another fine Assisi visit, I'll be leaving tomorrow, with hopes of returning before long. For a parting post, here's a few pictures of a small treasure, one of many in and around Assisi.
On a recent morning walk on Mount Subasio, I entered the forest of the Eremo delle Carceri and found myself alone, enjoying the serenity and appreciative of how Francis must have loved to retire there for prayer.
At the Eremo, I visited a small chapel, a part of the hermitage. It's called the Cappella della Maddalena, and was built in 1484, around the time of Columbus.
It was constructed with the support of a noblewoman named Francesca de' Baglioni, to hold the remains of a well-respected brother named Barnaba Manassei, who had died at the Eremo in 1477.
Inside, there's room for a handful of people. 
Along with an altar, there's a statue of Saint Francis with birds and some flowers. A thoughtful setting for quiet contemplation.
And there is a very small bell, much in keeping with Francis' humble nature. Perhaps for announcing prayer time.
Alone and inspired, I reached over and rang it.
La pace sia con te.
Ciao.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

On Colle San Rufino

On a recent windy day I walked up Mount Subasio to a "hill" named Colle San Rufino. It's a very distinct rise, about two-thirds of the way to the summit, hard to miss and a steep climb from any direction. Perhaps that's why a settlement on Colle San Rufino predated Assisi. It provides good views in all directions and an advantageous position from which to defend.
There are remnants of walls on the top and side of the hill, basically built into the terrain.
On this particular day the wind atop Colle San Rufino was gusting at about 40 - 50 miles per hour, making it a bit challenging to take photos, or to stand. Soon I moved down to a more protected area, the site of a makeshift shrine that's always interesting to visit. I'm not sure who first created this spiritual landscape, or how many may have contributed to the effort, and it certainly has been worn down by the elements. However, each year there seems to be something new or interesting added or repaired. One is greeted by a sign.
Chiesa del Povero means Church of the Poor. A metal cross sits in the middle of the shrine's mountain shelf.
 Many of the icons are secured to the upper part of the cliff.
Here's a wider view.
And here are some of the religious items placed on the rocks.
This lower view includes some worn and broken pieces.
Here's a closer look at a couple of tiles, the right one including the Canticle of the Creatures in Italian.
And the Basilica of Saint Francis.
Before leaving, I spotted something underneath the upper cliff, protected by a piece of plastic.
A Nativity scene.
Finally, one of many nice messages.
"Who gives, gives to God."
Ciao.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Gabbiano Vecchio Update and Monte Pietrolungo

Recently I did some exploring along the far side of Monte Subasio in the direction of Spello, starting out along country roads above a thin fog covering the valley.
Within a couple of hours I was deep in the woods, looking to revisit Gabbiano Vecchio. This ghost town has a tiny dilapidated church dedicated to Saint Anthony, home of some beautiful but rapidly deteriorating 17th Century frescos. The unmarked trail into town no longer amounts to much.
Nor does the town itself, after many years of overgrowth.
But the Chiesa di Sant'Antonio is still standing.
Then came a surprise, more good than bad. For years I've been concerned that a lack of maintenance and security for the church are resulting in the deterioration of Sant'Antonio's frescos. The roof is falling in; the entry door disappeared a couple of years ago. Now, someone has taken steps to secure the church with a metal plate.
A good first step. No signs of any repairs, but at least someone has taken notice. Of course, this encouraging finding also meant a trace of disappointment at not getting to view the frescos again. Here's a photo from a 2015 visit.
From Gabbiano Vecchio it was back into the woods in the direction of Monte Pietrolungo, a smaller mountain located in the Spello - Collepino region. I had seen Monte Pietrolungo on maps and had hiked past it on many occasions, but had never seen signposts for a summit trail.
Crossing through the forest, I came across a sign… of peace. Even lesser known paths here can have their Franciscan graffiti.
At one point, my map indicated a lago, or lake. Here it was, humble in size but resting in a tranquil morning setting.
Reaching the road that traverses Mount Subasio, I started downhill, searching for a dirt way that the map indicated went up Monte Pietrolungo. The only realistic option seemed to be this unmarked (other than a sign restricting vehicle access) path, plenty wide with a gentle slope.
I had heard that there was a cross atop Monte Pietrolungo, but wasn't prepared for what would come into view after a comfortable uphill climb.
Though the day was a bit hazy, the views of the Apennines, the valley and towns all the way to Perugia were terrific. Of course, the cross was impressive, as well.
It was time to head back to Assisi. I decided on a different route that involved climbing part way up Subasio and crossing over past Fonte Bregno. On this higher trail it was possible to look back over Monte Pietrolungo. If you have a large enough monitor and look closely, the cross can be seen to the right of center.
From that point it was a long but pleasant stroll back to Assisi, with no shortage of Spring's red poppies along the way.
Ciao.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Gifts and Souvenirs in Assisi

With millions of visitors annually, Assisi has its share of gift and souvenir shops. Most are modest and oriented toward serving pilgrims and tourists, with a few exceptions. Some of the following places and gift ideas, involving acquaintances or vendors from whom I've made purchases, may be included among Assisi's best shopping options.
For special gifts, Ferdinando Tontino has a nice ceramics shop at Via Portica 31.
It's just down the street from the Piazza del Comune in the direction of the Basilica of Saint Francis. Head down the hill to where the road forks and look for his place on the left. 
He has a wide selection of beautiful Deruta ceramics, and also carries works by Assisi artist Claudio Carli. 
A great place to shop, on the Piazza del Comune, across from the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, is Zubboli's Bookstore.
Step inside and check out the range of books and stationery products, including what I consider the best book on Assisi art and history, aptly titled Guide to Assisi History and Art. Also, check out the nice advent calendars in one of the glass display cases. And, here too may be found a wide assortment of maps, including a trail map for hiking Mount Subasio.
Another very nice gift shop, Alice (pronounced ah-lee-chay), is located across from the Chiesa Nuova (New Church) just below the fountain end of the Piazza del Comune.
Here may be found may unique hand-made gifts, including colorful Assisi-oriented artwork and clothing for children.
For more standard souvenir shoppers, a good place to find a range of religious items, from trinkets to books, statues and more, is behind the Basilica of Saint Francis, where there is a fairly large gift shop. 
To get there, one may enter and pass through the upper church, then descend the stairs to the side of the apse, or enter and pass through the lower church, then climb the stairs to the side of the apse. Either way, one will arrive outdoors, turning and looking up at the exterior of the church (above) and, off to the side, will find the gift shop.
In terms of standard souvenir shops along the main road through town, perhaps the one with the widest selection is located just across the road from the fountain in front of the Basilica of Saint Clare.
Whether searching for postcards, sweatshirts, small memorabilia or other gifts, there's a good chance you'll find it here.
Of course, the best gifts Assisi visitors take home are spiritual in nature, and are both free and priceless.
Ciao.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Not the Best Trail

Of the many trails in Subasio National Park, it would be difficult to name a favorite. All are rich in natural beauty with wonderful views. Personally, however, choosing a least favorite trail is not so difficult.
Trail #62 begins at the San Vettorino Bridge below Assisi and follows the Tescio River for about 14 kilometers to the town of Armenzano, on the side of Mount Subasio. It offers some fine views and some rugged terrain for hikers interested in something other than well-worn paths. Or even slightly worn paths.
I've now hiked segments of Trail #62 on three occasions, the first time picking up the trail near the restored Church of Santa Croce below Assisi and turning back after a couple of kilometers when the trail basically petered out in overgrown brush. The second time I followed it from Ponte Marchetto to Armenzano, again passing through rugged terrain before finally approaching the ancient fortress town, where a dog on a chain, a very long chain, ran across a dirt road to sink his teeth into my calf. But the views were nice.
Recently, having noticed a new trail sign along the road, perhaps an indicator of some trail maintenance, I again set out from above the Santa Croce Church in the direction of Armenzano, hoping to make it at least as far as Costa di Trex.
Almost immediately there was a fork in the trail. With intuition saying go left, and the red/white markings clearly indicating the the path to the right, I went right, and proceeded to climb up and up, back in the direction of Assisi. There was a nice view of the Basilica of Saint Francis.
And a fine wide view over the Tescio River valley.
However, eventually it became clear that this was not Trail #62, so it was back down the steep path to the fork, where the other path went for some ways before offering more markings. Soon I arrived at Ponte d'Annibale (Hannibal's Bridge), supposedly where the invader crossed the Tescio in 217 B.C. following the Battle of Lake Trasimeno.
It's an interesting old bridge, still walkable, although apparently it hasn't been resurfaced since about 217 B.C.
And on this day, the view from the bridge of the Tescio River was…. well, let's just say the Tescio wasn't exactly overflowing its banks.
There hasn't been much rain of late. Actually, the Tescio can turn into quite a torrent under heavy rain conditions, with its flow eventually meeting up with the Chiascio River, which leads to the Tevere (Tiber) River, which, of course, flows through Rome. The depth (or lack thereof) of the Tescio on this day would come into play a little further along.
As with my first attempt at Trail #62, the path soon began to fade into the surrounding vegetation.
Still, in most places it was not too difficult to follow, or at least to guess where the next trail marker might be, though there was a significant amount of thorny brush needing to be pushed back to avoid tears. What was interesting was that the trail began to traverse back and forth over the river bed. Not a problem, as long as the bed is dry. Eventually I came to what was once a mill on the river, now a residence. Laundry day.
In such rural settings hikers may anticipate hearing from the family dog. Or in this case, the family dogs, which took to barking loudly but, thankfully, did not present themselves. Not sure how many were announcing my arrival/departure, but a nearby scene provided a hint.
A little ways along some puddles appeared in the Tescio, followed by a small trickle, followed by a modest flow. The pleasant surprise of having water in the river was quickly tempered by a realization that the riverbed trail crossings were likely to continue ahead. Sure enough, they did.
At first, they just involved some rock hopping, a bit of caution to avoid wet feet. Besides, when not in the river, the trail had turned back into a good path.
A good path that eventually was blocked off with barbed wire intended to prevent people from entering the area I had just walked. I carefully worked around this obstacle and turned back to read the sign posted on it.
Which mean, Attention! Animals in the pasture. Closed. Thank you. Which is fine, although I hadn't noticed any animals in the pasture or, for that matter any pasture worth grazing, since shortly after leaving Assisi. Even if there were animals in a pasture, not sure why the trail would need to be closed, unless the animals were of a sort that don't appreciate visitors….
The Tescio was growing prettier and deeper.
Unfortunately, the trail soon took another turn for the worse, with increasing slopes, thorny brush and more rough terrain. I passed a spot where there was a small side trail that looked like it might lead up and out of the river basin. After going a bit farther, seeing the river continue to widen, and able to guess from the surrounding hills that Costa di Trex was nearby, I decided to backtrack and try the side trail.
First, a bit of uphill slope, followed by a gradual climb.
Then finally up out of the brush to some local views near Costa di Trex, and a road leading back to Assisi
So, Trail #62 is a bit of an adventure. Perhaps one day I'll revisit it again, or at least sections I've not yet walked. The Marchetto Ravine, also reachable by another trail, is well worth seeing. However, hikers beware, Trail #62 poses some challenges and dangers, not the least of which would be rising waters during rainy times. And there are plenty of other fine walking options throughout Subasio Park.
Ciao.