The Old Town Centre
Although the existing basilica dates back to 1389, it was modified following earthquakes in the 17th and 18th centuries. The typically Gothic façade is pierced by the finely sculpted entrance into the church. A central rose window is flanked by two niches containing the statues of St Benedict and his sister St Scolastica. The bell tower was also erected in 1388, although it was subsequently reduced in height. The right side of the church is flanked by the Loggia dei Mercanti (or Portico delle Misure), built originally in 1570 and rebuilt after the 1859 earthquake. The interior of the basilica was altered in the 18th century. Under the Balcone dei Cantori a 16th century fresco survives of the “Madonna With Child, St Barbara and the Archangel Michael”. Above the second altar to the left there is the “Resurrection of Lazarus” by Michelangelo Carducci (1560, from Norcia), while the altar of the left hand transept is surmounted by “St Benedict and Totila”, by Filippo Napoletano (1621). Two lateral stairways lead down to the crypt which, as demonstrated by the opus reticulatum of the walls, was built partly covering a 1st century Roman public building. A section of the house where St Benedict and his twin sister St Scolastica were born is believed to have been used for the chapel in the left hand nave. A series of frescoes depict Jesus and the birth of the two saints.
To the left of the basilica stands the Palazzo Comunale. The 14th century doorway was topped by a lofty loggia in 1876, although this was later closed up. A contemporary stairway leads up to it. The bell tower was built in the 18th century. A 1450 reliquary is kept in the chapel of the palazzo.
Opposite the Palazzo Comunale stands theCastellina, a fortress built by order of Pope Julius III, to designs by Vignola (1554-63), to house the Prefetto della Montagna. The square-plan building, with its strongly enscarped corner bastions, stands over what was once the Palazzo del Podestà and the ancient Pieve di Santa Maria Argentea. The first floor houses the Museo Civico-Diocesano, which contains works from Norcia and its surrounding area between the 13th and 18th century. Amongs the artists represented are Giovanni della Robbia, Nicola da Siena and Antonio da Faenza. There is also a particularly fine wooden sculpture of the “Deposition”, from the 13th century, and an altar piece by Jacopo Siculo.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea, next to the fortress, was built in 1560 and later modified after the earthquakes of 1703, 1730 and 1859. The original wooden doors are still in place in the main doorway. The side entrance, partly hidden by the massive fortifications, comes from the Pieve of Santa Maria Argentea that was demolished to make way for the castle. Completely remodelled in the 18th century, the three-nave interior does still contain a fresco of the “Madonna della Misericordia”, which was detached from the east entrance. It is in the manner of Sparapane (XVI century). Other noteworthy elements of the cathedral include a richly decorated altar by Duquesnoy, a “Madonna and Saints” by Pomarancio and “St Vicenzo Ferrer and the Infirm” by Giuseppe Paladini (1756).
On the way to the Capolaterra area of town, which was inhabited by shepherds and, being the highest point suffered worst the damages wreaked by the 1979 earthquake, stands the Palazzo dei Cavalieri di Malta. The Gothic Church of St Augustine is a little further on. Its façade is decorated with a 1368 fresco. Remodelled in the 17th century, the interior does still contain some interesting 14th and 15th century frescoes attributed to the Norcian Sparapane family, Nicola da Siena, Camillo Angelucci da Mevale and Giovan Battista di Giovannofrio di Norcia.
Almost at the top of Capolaterra stands a building that appears insignificant from the outside but whose interior will surprise the visitor. It is the Oratory of St Agostinuccio. The inlaid, gilded and painted wooden ceiling is a masterpiece of local 16th century craftsmanship. The stalls and statues of the patron saints are also particularly fine.
In Via Umberto I stands the so-called Tempietto, or Edicola, built in 1354 a certain Vannes Tutie. Square in design, it stands 6 metres high and contains two entrance archways that are decorated with unusual geometric, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic motifs. The rusticated base contains the remains of a fresco of the Madonna, possibly a votive chapel against the plague.
The nearby Church of St John, one of the oldest in Norcia that was restructured in the 18th century, contains a finely decorated and carved altar from 1469. The altar frames the miraculous image of the “Madonna della Palla”, by Giovanni Duknovic known as Il Dalmata.
Past Via Sartorio and up Via Dante stands the 14th century Church of St Francis. Due to earthquakes, the façade, with its fine doorway and rose window, was never finished. The lateral doorway is richly decorated. This church was particularly badly hit by the 1859 earthquake. Frescoes from 1501 and 1510 survive in the interior.
Away from Norcia and in the direction of Cascia there is the Piano di Santa Scolastica, where there is the interesting natural phenomenon called the “marcite”. A succession of ponds, springs and brooks mean that the grass here has to be cut between six and ten times a year. This is the likely spot where the waters that run into the Piano Grande emerge.
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