As Christmas approaches, many an elderly Assisi nonna is telling her grandchildren about Gesu Bambino’s arrival when she was a child: the children left out hay for the donkey of il Bambino and pasta dolce for Gesu. The pasta dolce and fieno were gone when the excited children crept down in the morning – but clumps of donkey droppings were outside the door – and the grateful Bambino had left tangergines, a handful of walnuts, maybe a few chocolates. What excitement!
Times have changed: Nordic customs, U.S. traditions have moved in and Babbo Natale comes down the chimneys : but what chimneys!
As you stroll Assisi – and other medieval hilltowns – don’t miss the masterpieces on the terracotta-tiled rooftops. Bricks and terracotta rooftiles merge together in veritable art works: mini-sculptures and architectural structures in miniature. Who built these chimneys? Stonemasons, with very little formal schooling – and only “on-the-job” training.
Only a masterful mason can build a fireplace which draws well, sending the smoke right up the chimney, rather than in billowing gray clouds into the living room. The chimneys standing proudly on Assisi rooftops are outlets for well-built fireplaces in the houses below – yet each one is a mini-architectural masterpiece in its own right.
The Assisi chimney classic is “la cappuccino” with terracotta rooftiles meeting at a point like the Cappucin friars’ pointed hoods. Other chimneys seem to be mini-chalets with sloped roofs, some resemble belltowers; now and then, an Assisi chimney flaunts a whimsical Byzantine motif.
Antennae or satellite discs might flank the chimneys: the modern meets the ancient. Next to many a chimney, you’ll see the pipe of a wood-burning stove, whisps of smoke spiraling upwards from the top now that the weather has turned crispy cold.
As fuel costs soar, wood is back; fire has been re-invented. The signs are clear: the artistic chimneys and the woodstove pipes topping medieval rooftops are smoking these days.
Click here for more on the wood stove in Umbria
Read more here about the use of the woodstove (especially in rural culture), then and now
Read more on Assisi Christmastime magic
Click here to read about a wondrous Umbria Christmas tradition
Read about winter nights around the woodstove, the fireplace
Click here for more on la pasta dolce
Read about Christmas simplicity in Assisi
Read about the Italian Epiphany tradition
Read about an astounding Naples Christmas tradition
Read about an Assisi Christmas tree of solidarity
Click here to read about the Assisi Christmas concert
Read about a memorable Assisi Christmas concert
Read about Assisi rooftop art – and Christmas traditions