With the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, the mythological griffin is found all over Perugia. It’s the city’s symbol, its emblem, its mascot, and during a soccer match, its nickname.
The city chose this creature as its protector during the Renaissance because of its association with strength, courage and intelligence. The wings give it speed; the claws give it ferocious power. It’s a combination of the king of beasts and the king of birds. Around here the griffin is everywhere. Small and large statues guard the entrance to government offices, museums and public buildings. Pictures are found on napkins, coasters, wine bottles and chocolate bar wrappers. Griffins are also painted onto the traditional ceramics of central Umbria. This month, Matt and I went on a griffin hunt to find as many as we could around our apartment in downtown Perugia. Here are some of our favorites.
And just two hours ago, I took a picture of a griffin I hadn’t yet seen. Like the saltless bread, this statue represents the Perugian irreverence towards centuries of papal rule. In the clenches of the griffin’s right front claw lies the Pope’s hat. (And in the right claw is a snake representing the Italian triumph over the fascist years.)
But the griffin that is most personal to me is the one I wear every day. For Christmas, my aunt and uncle visited a local jeweler and had silver griffin pins made for all of us. They give us superpowers. Without them, we’d probably still have the flu.