By The Editorial Staff


There is a Perugia on the crest of the wave. And it is the one that last year broke all the records of tourist presences from 2017 to rise, exceeding one million presences. There is a Perugia that is regaining possession of its places, sacred and profane, in which the history and actuality of the city of the Griffin lives. And there is an industrious Perugia, in which the neighbourhoods are experiencing a second great season of infrastructural expansion. Goals that foresee new challenges, in the era in which the digital revolution has already overturned the way we communicate, work and move that we have known so well throughout the last century. And they require a common horizon.



VALLEY LIFE: Councillor Varasano, you know very well the rose and its thorns. With what eyes did you see the Perugia blossom of the early 2020s?

LEONARDO VARASANO: Perugia is a city with a very deep history, a free and proud soul, to quote the title of a recent book, and considerable intellectual resources. History and culture, the many identities and sedimentations – from the Etruscans to the Risorgimento of the twentieth June -, the rich humus of associations, have also been precious elements to face the very difficult phase of the pandemic, the prevailing fear and forced closures. Even in the most difficult moments, we worked to ensure that the city could be ready and as welcoming as possible for the resumption of life and travel. Perugia in recent years has been a tenacious and strong-willed city. And the Department of Culture wanted to support and support this inclination. Even in the darkest moments, there was no shortage of online initiatives (readings from Buzzati’s texts proposed by valuable actors, classical music concerts, book presentations), and we thought of promoting the city by creating the desire to get to know it as soon as the emergency was over: we produced a splendid music video, deliberately entitled “Beauty awaits us”, which, on the arranged notes of “Life is beautiful”, revealed the splendour of Perugia from above. It was a hit with almost a million views. At the base of the tourism records of recent times, there is also something of that work done while Covid was raging.

As soon as there were glimmers of hope, there was no lack of initiative. Two examples will suffice: the concerts from the balcony of Palazzo Baldeschi, in Piazza della Repubblica, to encourage the passage along Corso Vannucci, when people still lived with timid openings; the open-air cinema, in the areas far from the historic centre, in the summer of 2020 and 2021, to support one of the cultural areas most in difficulty due to the closures, giving citizens the opportunity to meet safely, outdoors, with the necessary distances, in front of the big screen. In short, the Perugia of these early 20s of the 2000s was a courageous and ingenious Perugia, and the Department of Culture has also tried to move in this direction.

V.L.: The most beautiful petals, the ones you didn’t think you’d see blooming? But also the young leaves, those that are rarely seen but that actually allow beauty to blossom.

L.V.: Among the most beautiful petals there is undoubtedly a European URBACT project, “Find Your Greatness”, carried out by the Department of Culture together with the Academy of Fine Arts and some local associations: at the end of a long work we have arrived at the production of a city brand, “Etruscan spirit” – the Etruscan spirit as an element of uniqueness and urban revitalization, Starting from the ancient walls – recognized as a model, among 26 countries and 203 partners, at an important conference in Paris in June 2022. A wonderful petal, accompanied by many leaves from which beauty sprouts, is then our municipal library system, which has grown in quantity and quality: the new library of the Arconi, designed in every detail according to a precise administrative address, able to attract over 80 thousand users in just one year, the new, welcoming locations of the ‘Libreria delle Nuvole’ (probably the most important in Italy in terms of comics) and Ponte San Giovanni, the redevelopment works in the historic Augusta library, the restoration of the library in Ripa, the significant exhibitions dedicated to Dante (“Dante a Porta Sole”) and Pasolini (“Prospettiva Pasolini”), capable of attracting great academic interest in some of the most important Italian universities, thanks also to their respective precious catalogues.

Another petal, hidden, has sprouted: as soon as the reopening allowed it, we supported the guests of some residences for the elderly in Perugia with a theatre-therapy project of great significance. And, again, we cannot forget the reopening and full use for music, shows and conferences of a wonderful structure, full of history and spirituality, such as that of ‘San Francesco al Prato’, inaugurated with the memorable concert of two pianists of international value: Francesco Libetta and Luca Ciammarughi.

V.L.: Up to the thorns, now! Critical issues faced, left unresolved or insurmountable

L.V.: The most important question left unanswered is the path for the UNESCO recognition of Etruscan Perugia, starting from its walls. A path and a goal to be taken up again, always alive among the deep desires of the city. Among the critical issues, in addition to the chronic shortage of resources for culture and the large-scale shortage of the pandemic, two above all: the prolonged closure of the Villa Urbani library (for which, however, the necessary resources have already been allocated for the works that will allow its reopening) and the temporary closure of civic museums, in the summer of 2023, due to the termination of the contract by the managing entity.

V.L.: It’s true that the pandemic years have split the world of art and culture, which seemed never to recover from the blows of the lockdown. And in a certain sense, some ways of understanding culture have been extinguished. Which ones have they given way to?

L.V.: I don’t think that some ways of understanding culture have died out. On the contrary, they have expanded, incorporating the forms that became necessary during the closure. After Covid, the culture sector has resumed with renewed vitality and energy. In the case of Perugia, I am thinking of the extraordinary edition for the 50th anniversary of Umbria Jazz, the always lively editions of ‘Musica del Mondo’, the very popular summer editions of the concerts at dawn and dusk, benefiting from some of the most beautiful landscapes of Perugia. And then, again, an ad hoc theatrical performance, of great quality and historical value, organized for the Day of Remembrance (“Autodafé di un esule”), the significant exhibitions hosted at Palazzo della Penna (the one dedicated to Raphael, the one for the five hundredth anniversary of Perugino’s death, still in progress, and the one dedicated to Arturo Checchi) and the “Civitas Perusina” visit itinerary, in agreement with the noble colleges of Mercanzia and Cambio, to show all the historical and political value of Palazzo dei Priori. But beyond the historic centre, culture, through its many forms, has tried to reach every part of the city.

V.L.: Is this the thread that can unite the acropolis to its neighbourhoods?

L.V.: Yes. We have tried to unite the city through a full program of cultural initiatives. Music (starting with the project “Four notes in the neighborhoods”, carried out together with the Perugia Classical Music Foundation), theatre, book presentations and cinema have reached many realities of the vast municipal territory (one of the largest in Italy): from Colombella to Montegrillo, from Montelaguardia to Mugnano, from Montegrillo to Collestrada, from Santa Lucia to Pila, from San Marco to Ponte San Giovanni, from San Sisto to Madonna Alta, in five years at the University of Pennsylvania, the whole city has been involved in cultural events promoted by the Municipality. In some cases we have managed to structure events in a stable way: this is what happened in Borgo Sant’Antonio with the institutionalization of the celebration of September 14, 1860, in memory of the entry of the bersaglieri and grenadiers into the city, prologue to the accession of Umbria to the Kingdom of Italy.

V.L.: Youth Chapter. They depict those of today as not very inclined to cultural themes, perhaps because they are not very viral. What do you think?

L.V.: Without a doubt, there is a portion of young people who shy away from or trivialize culture. But there is another, significant part that desires and embodies it. There are young and very young people who cultivate important talents, who study and try to make themselves known, but find great difficulties: often for these young people there is a lack of places, occasions and opportunities. Also in this area we have tried to offer tools that could be suitable: I am thinking of the continuous collaboration with AGIMUS, the Youth Musical Association, or the initiatives promoted as part of “Destate la notte”. The “common good” cannot be an empty formula: it must be translated into a concerted effort, as Pope Leo XIII warned, so that there may be ideal conditions for the flourishing of the talents and fullness of life of every person.

V.L.: You will soon have to deal with two special young women, who are your daughters. What is the teaching you repeat to them most frequently?

L.V.: More than a teaching, it is a wish that I feel alive. I would like them never to look at the reality that surrounds them with detachment or indifference, as if it were a postcard. I would like them to know how to take care of the city – in a broad sense, the closest community – that they have the strength to bend towards others, being able to rejoice with those who rejoice, to know how to suffer with those who suffer, being able as Kipling warned in the famous poem addressed to his son, “to speak to the crowd without losing virtue” and to walk with the Kings while remaining themselves. With empathy and simplicity.