Umbria, the only landlocked region of Italy, is bounded by Le Marche to the north-east and east, Lazio to the south, and Toscana (Tuscany) to the north-west and west. It shares similarities with all of its neighbours, but it also has its own unique atmosphere. Its climate is continental with hot summers and cold winters while the air is very pure.
The region has been inhabited since Neolithic times but is named after the Umbri tribe which settled there in the sixth century, speaking a now extinct language called Umbrian which was related to Latin. Their territory was wider than present-day Umbria whose borders were not fixed until 1927.
Umbria has an overwhelmingly medieval character which derives from its darkly wooded hills and mountains, the architecture of its towns and villages which often follow the contours of high ground, and its many castles, fortresses and watchtowers.
Evidence of deep religious belief is everywhere - in the proliferation of roadside shrines, the monasteries and convents which in the case of Assisi form its very life and soul, and the many churches and cathedrals.
"Cleanliness is next to Godliness" - a roadside shrine just outside Assisi
Click on picture to enlarge
Umbria has another epithet besides 'il cuor verde d'Italia' (the green heart of Italy) which in fact is a quote from a nineteenth century poet referring to a specific beauty spot within Umbria, namely the source of the river Clitunno. The region is sometimes called The Holy Land of Italy.
This obviously reflects its status as a land of Saints - most notably Saint Francis of Assisi but also Saint Clare, founder of the Poor Clares, and Saint Benedict of Norcia among others. The landscape, with its ancient, mysterious, silver-leaved olive trees and its quietly imposing sun-baked stone buildings, breathes spirituality.
Another aspect of this holiness is simplicity, demonstrated in the region's adherence to the integrity of its traditions. Its gastronomy is based on indigenous products like wine, olive oil, truffles, lentils, sheep's cheese and pork meat including that derived from wild boar. There is something bordering on the religious about the Umbrian devotion to olive oil, while the laborious hand-picking of olives is spoken of as if it were a mystical experience.
Umbria's festivals are often gastronomic, celebrating individual items of local produce, while others are historic, such as the Quintana of Foligno which dates back in its inspiration to the seventeenth century.
The people of Umbria are not rich, nor are they troubled much by crime. Life tends to be tranquil with a low divorce rate and great respect for traditions. On the whole the people are tolerant and welcoming; we are glad we chose to live in Umbria.
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