Gubbio our local town is a gem a precious medieval gem. Nestling in the foothills of the Apennines in north eastern Umbria, the town is both beautifully preserved and a delight to visit. Narrow streets lined with aged stone houses wind slowly uphill towards the cathedral and ducal palace, the summer home of Frederico Duca di Montefeltro. There begins the long climb out of the city walls to the abbey of San Ubaldo atop the slope of Mont Ingino. The simple plain abbey cloister exemplifies the unadorned beauty of this little know town. From the air the little streets and small houses are, like so many Italian towns very visibly overshadowed by the huge monasteries and cloisters, so evident is the historic dominance, control and wealth of the church.
Arriving from Bellaugello you have a great panorama, the town shows itself, proud, erect, bold. Park you car and walk. These are streets meant to be trodden, wander slowly into the historic town centre. You pass along cool narrow streets, many houses having a second front door, ‘porta dei morti’ through which legend has it bodies of the dead were removed. Good Osteria and Trattoria abound, try a ‘Crescia’ the delicious local flat bread filled abundantly with prosciutto or pecorino or braciole, so very good is the food in Umbria. Climb up to the large open space of the Piazza Grande which offers great views over the cotto rooftops of the lower town. Supported on huge arches it is a unique space in Italy and home to many pageants and feste that feature prominently in the life of this ‘city of stone‘.
One side of the piazza is delineated by the council offices, the second by a grand scabious facade of an hotel, the third by the imposing Palazzo dei Consoli or city chambers built between 1332 – 1349. This is arguably the building that has the most significance for the town. With its soaring bell tower it is prominent in every photograph, and fundamental to the life of the city, this is where pageantry begins. High in the campanile announcing significant events the huge bell is tolled literally by hand by a team with skills passed down from father to son, and to whom safety harnesses do not exist, the palazzo is also home to the extensive town museum.
We climb the staircase and enter this historic building and commence our tour of the museum. Prominently featured are the Iguvine Tablets, seven bronze sheets dug up in a nearby field in the 1440s. Written in the previously lost ancient Umbrian dialect and Etruscan and Latin they date from 3rd to 1st century BC. and provide scholars with unique source of translation and daily life and worship in pre-history Umbria. The museum is home to a large collection of paintings and ceramics. Historically Gubbio was a centre of ceramicists, Maestro Giorgio being the one to perfect the technique of Maiolica, lustre glaze brought from the Islamic world and now so emblematic of Italian decorative ceramics, think of those souvenirs and plates from the Amalfi coast.
The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, and currently on loan from the museum in Montepulicano, Tuscany is the “Ancient Instruments of Torture and Death” exhibition. Naturally ‘curiosity took the better of the cat’ and I just had to have a look. The exhibits are well described and displayed, and without exception are vicious and sadistic, examples of state and church brutality. As I wondered from exhibit to exhibit I could not help but wonder what sort of evil mind invented these tortures, how inhuman were the organisations that forced the infliction of torture, and what sort of person would send in a c.v. to apply for the job of torturer. These are exhibits of institutionalised torture, failure to obey or you will be painfully tortured and even die. The descriptions are graphic, the pain and degradation must have been unimaginable. There is no element of choice, inhuman.
Thankfully most of these instruments of torture have long been abandoned by church and state, but searching my mind I must admit sadly and unacceptably in some instances they have been replaced by other more modern forms of torture, both physical and mental, plus ça change. As I wandered aghast from one instrument to another it came to mind how these ‘gadgets’ have been adapted and adopted by S&M practitioners. Walk through the average gay store (and I am sure any hetero sex shop) and there at the back is inevitably a huge range of ‘gadgets’ that are clearly based on the medieval instruments of torture. There is to me, one fundamental and acceptable difference, S&M practitioners do so willingly and the gadgets are now used for ‘pleasurable pain’ and voluntary subservience. Like architecture or literature starting with few basic ingredients there evolve many variations and adaptations, and I am sure the exhibition will, for various reasons be of interest to some of our guests.
The exhibition runs until 1st May admission is €7 Read more from this link: Gubbio Civic Museum