The picturesque medieval walled town of Perugia stands proudly on a hilltop looking out across the Spoleto Valley, in a location very close to the geographical centre of Italy. This popular town has a long history; it was originally settled by the Etruscans in about the 9th century BC. After Roman and then Lombard occupation, Perugia remained largely independent and led a relatively undisturbed existence for hundreds of years. However, Perugia changed forever in the 13th century, when it came under Papal power. A series of monastic complexes were soon developed, and in the Renaissance period the town's increased wealth and influence saw the new nobility build a range of delightful palaces and other grand buildings.
The Papal seat remained in Perugia until the late 19th century, and today there are many impressive reminders of their time here. Highlights include the imposing cathedral and the Fontana Maggiore, located in Cathedral Square. The Palazzo dei Priori, an ancient building used by Perugian magistrates from early in the 14th century, is also a much-loved landmark.
The old city below
One of the most unusual things about Perugia is not that it has such a wealth of historic buildings; but that it was built in layers. Perugia is home to a surprising underground city, created when Pope Paul Farnese III destroyed many medieval buildings to build the spectacular Rocca Paolina on top, leaving entire sections of streets intact underneath. Many sections of this underground labyrinth can be explored today.
Perugia is now celebrated for its chocolate as well as for its beautiful architecture and rich history, and tourists flock to Italy's largest Chocolate Festival, held here every year.