The beauties of Umbria are well known. They are as much natural, inherent in the landscape, as they are man-made, by the great artists and architects of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
We know the cypresses from the modern landscapes of Italy just as we know them from the paintings of Piero della Francesca. As Pomona heaps her bounties on a blessed region so the chefs and winemakers have created a gastronomic paradise from her gifts.
Yet it was not always obvious that this region would become such a desired corner of the old world. Europe had turned her back on the illustrious past for so long that her classical heritage seemed lost forever. Italy was in a state of turmoil, dominated by external European forces, and the once central points of Tuscany and Umbria had become underpopulated and marginalized.
The unique situation of the central Italian States at the start of the thirteenth century gave rise to a new class of citizen who gave voice to the values and virtues that was to lead us in the West towards an ideal concept of human endeavour. A new economic climate allied to a rediscovery of the classical values of secular learning began to create a new society which threatened to break with the religiosity of the Middle Ages. This new attitude was so clear and permanent as to become known as a Rebirth. These secular lessons, concerning political statecraft, personal integrity, civic duty and a commitment to beauty, enabled a new consciousness to emerge that valued virtù over all things and hailed the resultant meritocracy as the new nobility.
Against this background the church began to question her own role. The new religious orders founded at the start of the thirteenth century are created partly in response to this new self-confidence and partly in the face of continued poverty and misery.
Travel now through this famed land on foot, a physical act that would have found favour in the quattrocento. Rediscover, as did our medieval forebears, the dawn of our modern western values – rooted firmly in antiquity and the Christian religion from where they sprang – at a time when perhaps more than any other in recent history we have good cause to look back at their foundations. Our appreciation of physical beauty, both natural and crafted by human, will be stretched to new limits whilst our appreciation of those that made this renaissance possible is reaffirmed.