Via dell’Orso

Wandering the streets of old Perugia is one of the great pleasures of living in this city. Narrow, twisting, surprising–they invite the visitor to get lost in a medieval labyrinth. Pedestrian-only (in theory, anyway) alleys are sloped with shallow steps that seem awkward going down but are perfectly set for walking up.

Via Ritorta

Ashlar or cobble walls, partly plastered and variously painted, reflect the earthy palette of Italian façades. Old doors and gateways are walled up; staircases may lead nowhere.

Street arches

Street arches

Narrow arches one, two, four stories up connect buildings, and keep them from leaning in on each other. Direct sun may warm bricks for only minutes a day, and the walls glow softly. Upon evening, the wanderer is served by scattered streetlights.

Via Ritorta

Via Ritorta

The streets are tunnels of wind and sound; one sees very few open shutters in the windows high overhead. The town can seem abandoned when shops in these narrow streets are closed in the afternoon and late at night, but they echo with life when a few footsteps and voices are added.

The ambience is medieval, but the streets are even older. More than halfway down the Via dei Priori, a bronze plaque can be found, next to a protective iron plate.


The plate covers a stone that belongs to the Roman-era road, as the plaque states:

Basoli“: stones belonging to the paving of the Decumanus, the axis of the east-west street grid of the Roman city of Perusina, 1st c. AD.


The main street of the city, the Corso Vannucci, was the ancient Kardo, or main north-south axis of a typical Roman urban plan. Just yesterday at the Saturday market, we saw a notice that archaeological excavations underneath the Cathedral of San Lorenzo were accessible by appointment. The building’s position near the intersection of the two main ancient streets is telling, and there’s talk of ‘continuity of cult’:  evidence for religious functions going back to the Etruscan period), so we’re looking forward to seeing the evidence and the arguments soon.

Map of Central Perugia, from PlanetWare.