Umbria Blog | Prehistory and the Abbey of Farneta

On a beautiful sunny day in April I participated in a guided walk in the area of the Abbey of Farneta. Farneta is a small hamlet in the valley next to the Trasimeno lake in Umbria, the Val di Chiana. Coming from the A1 or from Siena, driving towards Lake Trasimeno and Perugia many times I just drove by and never bothered to take the exit for “Abbazia di Farneta”. But now I did …

In a landscape of gentle hills, typical of the Val di Chiana, stands an old Romanesk Church. Once it was a Benedictine Abbey of which one can still see some remaining walls. For 65 years, from 1937 to 2002, the church belonging to the abbey has had the same pastor. Don Sante Felici was a very unique man who not only led his parish with much verve. He was also very interested in ancient times and made sure that the Abbey of Farneta was preserved from downfall.

The Etruscans left many remnants in this area and the pastor made sure that the cellars underneath the church were dug out. And he was right: nowadays one can visit the crypt underneath the altar dating back to pre-roman times. Legend goes that when digging they found enormous amounts of human skeletons and living snakes; an image of Dante’s inferno.

Our walk continued from the Abbey to the former school building of Farneta where to my surprise a small paleontology museum is made with … yes … prehistoric fossils, all found near Farneta! Who would have thought: a million years ago the Val di Chiana valley was a savannah where elephants, hyenas and rhinoceros lived. Even longer ago, the whole environment was a sea. In the museum you can see many fossil shells, but also bones of prehistoric elephants, fossilized feces of hyenas and more.

But why in Farneta? That certainly involves the pastor – through the stories of our guide I imagine a kind of Don Camillo. In the 1950s and 1960s the construction of the A1 took place for which a lot of sand was needed. In later years the same happened again with the construction of the highway Siena-Perugia. In the area one excavated a lot of ground for the construction of these new roads.

Don Sante made arrangements with the workmen: they had to warn him if they found bones or other valuable relics. In this way, even two whole skeletons of prehistoric elephants were found, which are now in the paleontological museum of Florence. To this day farmers in the area or workmen during new construction projects find prehistoric bones or Etruscan remains.

It is thanks to the erudite priest Don Sante that many relics found around Farneta can be seen today. His heritage is now managed by a voluntary organization.

Our guide was Laura Gremoli. If you would like more information about the Etruscans and the history around the Val di Chiana, then let yourself be guided by Laura. She has an incredible knowledge and is a passionate story teller. I already experienced this at a guided tour about Etruscans at the Maec museum of Cortona. She is an inexhaustible source of information. You can call her on + 39 3494949604, or email info@cortonatouristguide.com. She speaks English.

Museum of the mummies in Ferentillo

To me the Valnerina is Umbria’s greenest heart. The wild and rugged scenery in the Nera River Park, the tiny hilltop villages, the open views, the grazing cows on the fields and the green forests. This area is incomparable with other parts of Umbria.

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Unfortunately I don’t visit the Valnerina area enough, even though I love the Sibillini Mountains and hiking in the Nera River Park.

Ferentillo is a small hilltop hamlet in the Valnerina and has a very unexpected museum: a mummy museum! Years ago I’ve been here. This time I decided to visit it again and to write a blog about it.

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The entrance is 3,00 Euro. Before you enter the museum they give you a guide in English or in Italian. It is forbidden to take pictures inside. Pictures of the mummies are not supposed to circulate on the web.

The museum is located in the Romanesque crypt below the sixteenth century church of St. Stephen.

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In 1804-1806 under the marble floor of St. Stephens church, the well preserved bodies buried here were found. Some are still dressed in their clothes. Some still possess their hair, skin, beard, nails and teeth.

The mummification of the bodies was due to the air beneath the church containing a type of micro-organism that was solely responsible for mummification. This in combination with the minerals in the earth, a micro-fungus and the air that travels through the crypt from openings along the wall made sure that the bodies were well preserved in a natural way.

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The Mummy museum is interesting. You should go there when you’re in this area. For more information visit the website.

At the entrance one can read this:

“Oggi a me, domani a te. Io fui quel che tu sei, tu sarai quel che io sono. Pensa mortal, che il tuo fine è questo, e pensa pur che ciò sarà ben presto”.

Today me, tomorrow you. I was what you are and you will be what I am. Mind mortal soul, that your end is this and consider also that it will be quite soon.

A true verse….

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-post by Sylvia van der male-

Sensational Umbria by Steve McCurry

“One of the great things about Umbria and Italy is that it’s a very unique special part of the world, full of art, great culture, food, wine, wonderful landscape and rich hospitality.” By Steve McCurry.

Today I went to the photo exhibition Sensational Umbria by Steve McCurry in Perugia. I parked my car outside the city to take the MiniMetro to the city center. Which is very comfortable and so much easier then driving up by car into the city centre. One way with the MiniMetro costs 1,50 Euro. You can buy a ticket at a bar, or at a self service ticket machine.

The photographic exhibition Sensational Umbria has started on March 29th, in Perugia. The exhibition is open until October 5, 2014. If you love Umbria, don’t miss it! A great collections of shots. The museums, Palazzo della Penna and Ex Fatebenefrattelli, are open every day except on Mondays. The museums are in the city center of Perugia. Ask at the tourist information office how to get there. The tourist office is at the Piazza Matteotti, close the Pincetto MiniMetro stop.

Before visiting I decided to have lunch at a place in a well known student area of Perugia, Caffè Morlacchi in Piazza Morlacchi 6/8, Perugia. This location is “hot” by the locals and by the students. The bar is close to the University of Perugia. I’ve found it on Foursquare. The piadina with mozzarella, grilled eggplant and ham was delicious!

A beautiful afternoon in Perugia:

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You can admire the pictures from above!

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Extra links and information about Sensational Umbria by the Curious Café:
1) Sensational Umbria by Steve McCurry
2) Sensational Umbria by Steve McCurry … by a local

My personal favorite is the picture of Castelluccio di Norcia, Piano Grande.

-posted by Sylvia van der Male-