Italy is considered an open-air museum by UNESCO. Churches, palaces, Greek, Etruscan, Arab, Longobard Roman, bridges, paintings, frescoes, statues. In Italy everything is art.
Italy hides an artistic heritage that few know and that summarizes in itself the stories of every era: the stones. The stones are obviously made of stone, they do not move but they speak in silence.
Through their paths, they tell stories of travel, of betrayals, of love and curiosity. There are smooth or chiseled stones and stones with inscriptions or even with bas-reliefs, imported stones and bare stones and stones on stones. Then there is color, grain and texture. In short, what looks like a simple piece of construction encompasses an infinite story.
The color of the stones
Perched on top of the hills of central Italy, stone mountains shaped like towns and cities are visible. Each region has a different color. It starts from the gray of the “pietra serena” in Tuscany to get to the brown of the tuff in Etruria. Assisi is pink like the stone of the Subasio that dominates it so as the plateaux of San Terenziano has its pink stone. Moreover, there is the travertine in Lazio and the white stone of Lecce and so on. Simple, just know what is the stone of the area and there is nothing else to see. It is not exact, this is just the beginning.
The Mother Church
Cinema and TV have made us know the House on the prairie or the American terraced houses strictly made of wood, swept away by hurricanes or burned from top to bottom. Italy, on the other hand, has marbles and stones that can’t burn, or fly, which have been still standing for 2000 years and that have been distributed like a deck of cards.
To learn how to look and under stand them, it is better to start from a small town like Gualdo Cattaneo that overlooks the Puglia valley and stands above the Umbrian valley. From the fortified tower of Gualdo Cattaneo, Spello, Foligno and also the fortress of Spoletoare visible. If you see, you are seen then you are coveted. Gualdo Cattaneo was the object of desire of the cities in that area, and Pope Alexander VI Borgia bought it to build the fortress. Strong point, impregnable by the dreadful warriors of Perugia. The ascent toward the keep, then the square and the Mother Church, the center of the village is reached.
It starts from the church, even from the foundations of the church that are visible from the street behind the apse. The church lays on gigantic and heavy stones, brought there by the legendary Cyclops so firm that no earthquake has never demolished them. Difficult to find more solid foundations. They were the ancient walls of Gualdo Cattaneo. Why did they build a church on the ancient walls? Because nothing is thrown away and because if it is solid and ready it is usable If it is beautiful and decorative, it is moved to another place. On the facade of the church are the symbols of the four evangelists. Two are white and two pink. All imported stone: the pink ones from San Terenziano and white ones from Giano dell’Umbria. Then you enter the church and descend into the crypt.
The crypt, like almost all the crypts, is built with ancient materials. Columns and capitals that once layed somewhere abandoned, remains of the imposing buildings of Roman times, were used there. This was the best reuse of them, because the Roman marbles, even the imperial ones, were fused together to obtain bricks.
A tour among the stones
Poverty and fundamentalist religions caused incalculable damages. We have lost an infinite number of works of art, but we still have them, even if they are not in their original shape. Leaving the Church and walking through the village, there are gothic or modified gothic windows, travertines, existing only elsewhere – perhaps in Giano – inserted as a point of support in the buildings. Here and there are stones with inscriptions from every era, from Roman times onwards, inserted because of the lack of a brick or simply because they were decorative or because they remembered an event. Ancient entrances hidden in the walls are discovered one and a half meters above the ground, but with the floor level unchanged. The fear of the rats suggested to build in safety. It was used a flying wooden ladder, which in the evening was retired inside the house. A little like the Walsers, who lived in the Alps, and built their wooden houses on stone mushrooms.
If you’d like toh ave a trip among the stones, and learn more, you can contact the municipality of Gualdo Cattaneo, which organizes guided tours under the supervision of dr. Andrea Peruzzi, a true expert in lapidary art and epigraphy. You will have fun!