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February 13, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: An Introduction to Its History

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Amelia, the oldest town in Umbria, is about 60 miles north of Rome. You can get there by car in about an hour. You could get there by train to the station at Orte, in either one or two hours from either Termini Station in Rome or from the airports, depending on whether or not your train stops at every town. Orte, a another small medieval town, is about nine miles from Amelia through beautiful green hills with cypress trees. If you don't have a car, you can take a bus, unless you arrive on a Sunday in July or August, or later than 10 o'clock at night, then you will have to call for a driver. Outside the doors of the train station, a sign indicates a phone number for a taxi company. But the taxi company, or just a sole driver, I've never figured out which, does not always answer the phone or send a car. So it's helpful to have the name and number of a private service that will agree to meet you upon your arrival for the cost of 25 or 30 euros.

As I've discussed before, most visitors stop at Bar Leonardi for refreshments or to make arrangements to reach their lodgings. From the patio of Bar Leonardi, you can sit at a table and view the walls of the medieval town and the main gate which is known as the Porta Romana. This entrance deserves a photo and a blog of it's own so we'll just say for now that if you're not waiting on the patio of Bar Leonardi, you're waiting on a low wall that extends outside of the Porta Romana. And I have a photo which I will also show in another blog of some local men that agreed to have their photo taken. They, or someone like them, sat on that wall most morning and evenings. However, the sitting wall is typically available during the afternoon siesta so I recommend that when you want to feel like a local and check out all the cars and pedestrians going in and out of the historic center, that you first sit on the wall during a hot afternoon when no one else is around. Because you'll want to make sure you have the right detached pose ready as you inspect everyone and everything going in and out of that town.

People may have lived on this hilltop for three thousand years, allegedly beginning with the Umbrian King Ameroe more than 300 years earlier than the settlement of Rome. The Umbrians traded with Greeks and Etruscans and produced pottery. Pliny the Elder, historian and military commander, wrote that the Umbrians were the oldest people in Italy -- that the Greeks called them 'Ombrici' because they were believed to have survived the great flood Zeus unleashed to cleanse the countryside at the end of the Bronze Age to express his anger with the corruption of the Pelasgians. This history is relevant when you're in Amelia because you can feel the sense of pride and tradition in the town's clean streets and well-preserved buildings.

Between the 6th and 4th centuries B. C., the Etruscans protected Amelia by stacking limestone blocks, one on top of the other, fitting them together without mortar. These walls, 8 meters high and 3.5 meters wide, extend around the town for more than 700 meters. One legend claims that these walls thwarted an attack by Emperor Federico Barbarossa. A 30-meter segment of this wall collapsed in 2006 and is still under repair as the town awaits for government funding and tries to figure out how to duplicate the original construction. In May 2008, another gate opening from the third of fourth century B.C. was rediscovered.