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Postcards from Umbria: Fonti and Tempietto del Clitunno

Salve, Umbria verde, e tu del puro fonte

nume Clitumno!  Sento in cuor l’antica

patria e aleggiarmi su l’accesa fronte

gl’ital iddil.

Hail, green Umbria, and you, Clitumno, genious of the pure spring!

I feel in my heart the ancient fatherland, and the Italic gods

alighting on my fevered brow.

–Giosuè Carducci

So often human history is intrinsically intertwined with water—floods and drought, navigation and exploration, the rise and fall of nations—and a visit to the crystal-clear springs which form the source of the Clitunno river is a reminder of this symbiosis.

Le Fonti del Clitunno's landscape of shallow lagoons and weeping willow planted islands

Le Fonti del Clitunno's landscape of shallow lagoons and weeping willow planted islands

This idyllic spot  has been the inspiration for writers, poets, artists, priests, and emperors for over 2,000 years.  In Roman times the spring was considered sacred for the river god Clitumnus, and white oxen were raised here to serve as sacrifices (legend had it that bathing the animals in the river rendered their color immaculate).

Try to visit on a weekday late afternoon, when traffic is at a minimum on the nearby Via Fliminia and the bus tours have left

A severe earthquake in the year 444 a.D. changed the river’s depth, leaving it no longer navigable, and muddied the area around the springs.  In the middle of the 19th century, a careful landscaping project restored the springs and surrounding park to their former splendor.

Writers from Virgil to Pliny, from Carducci to Byron have paid homage to these springs

Continue a kilometer down the Via Flaminia to visit the Tempietto del Clitunno, a truly fascinating piece of architeture which straddles the centuries of the fall of the Roman empire and the rise of Christianity.

The colored marble columns and pediment on the elegant facade are just some of the pieces pilfered from nearby abandoned Roman buildings

Dating somewhere between the 6th and 8th centuries a.D., this early Christian church was built with architectural elements plucked from abandoned Roman villas and pagan chapels which once stood in the sacred area along the Clitunno river.  Here in this one tiny building you can see one of the last architectural works of antiquity, now adopted to make a Christian church rather than pagan temple.  Soon Christian architecture would take over, and this world would be lost forever.

The tiny indoor chapel is decorated with 8th century Byzantine frescoes

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Brigolante Guest Apartments

Via Costa di Trex, 31 | 06081 Assisi (PG) | Italy

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