Umbria's three thousand years of history have seen it play a highly active role; its cultural backdrop is of the strongest weave. In the Middle Ages the Benedictine monasteries had become the cornerstones of the conservation of the ancient classical culture and of the new Christian one, philosophical and mystical. These were centres for the arts, and for technical and scientific investigations in the fields of medicine, science and agriculture.
Perugia, for example, was a lively cultural centre first in the mediaeval period, and later during the Renaissance, just as it is today. Its University, founded at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th centuries, is one of the oldest in Europe.
Orvieto was one of the Pope's official residences for many years, attracting artistic and literary geniuses. Culturally as well as politically it was quite self-reliant.
Initiatives at the highest standard are still springing up here, bringing together many people from all over the world. The best-known events are the Two Worlds Festival in Spoleto, the Umbrian Festival of Sacred Music and, of course, Umbria Jazz. Alongside these modern-day happenings, authentic expressions of traditional culture have been given new life: popular celebrations such as the Candle Race and the Crossbow Contest in Gubbio, May Day in Assisi, the Quintain Joust at Foligno, the Ring Race at Narni or the historical procession on Corpus Christi day in Orvieto.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Umbria experienced the spread of monasticism, becoming a region of Saints and religious movements. In a few centuries Umbria witnessed the upcoming of the Benedictine order throughout the region. In the 13th century the Franciscan movement burst onto the scene, promoted by St. Francis and Santa Chiara. Everywhere convents and monasteries sprang up. Alongside the Franciscans, in this century of great religious fervour, were also the orders of Dominican monks, the Servants of Mary, the Augustinians and the "Disciplinati" orders.
The configuration of the cities changed with the establishment of these settlements. They raised buildings such as San Domenico in Perugia and San Fortunato in Todi which rivalled even the cathedral in beauty and elegance.
Assisi shines above all the expressions of religious fervour. All over the interior of St. Francis Basilica, the hands of Giotto, Lorenzetti, Cimabue and Simone Martini bring out the power of Mediaeval religion.
Contents courtesy of: ENIT, National Italian Tourist Board