Our first love in Umbria

Spoleto is one of our favourite cities in Umbria and is really a wonderful place to visit with lots of great restaurants, cafes, shops and loads to see. Have a look at our Image Galleries of Umbria for more pictures of Spoleto. One thing that is spoiling Spoleto at the moment is the extensive renovations being carried out on many of the buildings and streets.

A short history of Spoleto

Spoleto (Latin Spoletium) is an ancient city in the Italian province of Perugia in east central Umbria on a foothill of the Apennines.  Spoleto was situated on the eastern branch of the Via Flaminia, which forked into two roads at Narni and rejoined at Forum Flaminii, near Foligno. An ancient road also ran hence to Nursia. Located at the head of a large, broad valley, surrounded by mountains, Spoleto has long occupied a strategic geographical position. It appears to have been an important town to the original Umbri tribes, who built walls around their settlement in the 5th century BC, some of which are visible today.

The first historical mention of Spoleto is the notice of the foundation of a colony there in 241 BC. and it was still, according to Cicero (Pro Balbo), colonia latina in primis firma et illustris: a Latin colony in 95 BC. After the Battle of Lake Trasimene (217 BC) la Spoletium was attacked by Hannibal, who was repulsed by the inhabitants.  During the Second Punic War, the city was a useful ally to Rome. It suffered greatly during the civil wars of Marius and Sulla. The latter, after his victory over Crassus, confiscated the territory of Spoletium (82 BC).  From this time forth it was a municipium.

Under the Lombards, Spoleto became the capital of an independent duchy, the Duchy of Spoleto (from 570), and its dukes ruled a considerable part of central Italy. In 774, it became part of Holy Roman Empire. Together with other fiefs, it was bequeathed to Pope Gregory VII by the powerful countess Matilda of Tuscany, but for some time struggled to maintain its independence. In 1155, it was destroyed by Frederick Barbarossa.  In 1213, it was definitively occupied by Pope Gregory IX. During the absence of the papal court in Avignon, it was prey to the struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines, until in 1354 Cardinal Albornoz brought it once more under the authority of the Papal States.

Churches of Spoleto

  • The Duomo (Cathedral) of S. Maria Assunta, begun around 1175 and completed in 1227.  It contains the tomb of Filippo Lippi, who died in Spoleto in 1469, designed by his son Filippino Lippi.  The church also houses a manuscript letter by Saint Francis of Assisi
  • San Pietro extra Moenia was founded in 419 to house Peter’s relics over an ancient necropolis.  It was rebuilt starting in the 12th century (though the work dragged on until the 15th century) when a remarkable Romanesque façade was added: this has three doors with rose-windows, with a splendid relief decoration by local artists; with San Rufino in Assisi, it is the finest extant specimen of Umbrian Romanesque
  • The Basilica of San Salvatore (4th-5th century) incorporates the cella of a Roman temple and is one of the most important examples of Early Christian architecture
  • San Ponziano is a notable complex lying outside the city’s walls, dedicated to the patron saint of Spoleto.  The church was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style but was later modified by Giuseppe Valadier.  The crypt, however, has remained untouched, with its five small naves and small apses with cross-vault, ancient Roman spolia columns and frescoes of the 14th-15th centuries
  • Santa Maria della Manna d’Oro, is an edifice on an octagonal plan sited near the Cathedral.  It was built in the 16th-17th century to thank the Madonna for her protection of Spoletine traders.
  • San Domenico (13th century) is a Gothic construction in white and pink stone.  The interior has notable frescoes and a painting by Giovanni Lanfranco.  The crypt is a former church dedicated to St. Peter, with frescoed walls
  • San Gregorio Maggiore (11th-12th century), is a Romanesque church which has been restored to original lines only in recent times.  The façade has two slopes and a porch of the 16th century that includes the Chapel of the Innocents (14th century) with a noteworthy font.  The main external feature is the high belfry, finished only in the 15th century. The interior has three naves with spolia columns and pillars
  • The former church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo is a Romanesque edifice featuring, on the exterior, a 13th-century fresco portraying Madonna with Saints.  The interior frescoes, from the 13th-15th centuries, include some of the most ancient representations of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, by Alberto Sotio, and of St. Francis
  • Santa Eufemia (12th century), a striking example of Romanesque architecture with influences from Lombardy and Veneto.  The interior has three naves with spolia columns
  • San Paolo inter vineas (10th century) is a typical Spoletine Romanesque church.  Its main feature is the rose window of the façade
  • The former church and Augustinian convent of San Nicolò (1304) is a rare example of Gothic style in Spoleto.  The small church has a single nave with a splendid polygonal apse with mullioned windows.  Under the apse is the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia. There are two cloisters, the most recent one pertaining to the 15th century
  • San Filippo Neri is a Baroque construction of mid-17th century, designed by the Spoletine Loreto Scelli and inspired by churches in Rome of the same period
  • Sant Ansano was created in the 18th century over a series of former buildings including a Roman temple (1st century AD) and the Mediaeval St. Isaac’s crypt.  It has a cloister from the 16th century

Buildings of Interest in Spoleto

  • The Roman theatre, largely rebuilt. The scene is occupied by the former church of St. Agatha, currently housing the National Archaeological Museum
  • Ponte Sanguinario “bloody bridge”, a Roman bridge 1st Century BC. The name is traditionally attributed to the persecutions of Christians in the nearby amphitheatre
  • Roman amphitheatre (2nd century AD). It was turned into a fortress by Totila in 545 and in Middle Ages times was used for stores and shops, while in the cavea the church of San Gregorio Minore was built.  The stones were later used to build the Rocca
  • The Palazzo Comunale (13th century)
  • Ponte Delle Torri, a striking 13th-century aqueduct, possibly on Roman foundations: whether it was first built by the Romans is a point on which scholarly opinion is divided
  • The majestic Rocca Albornoziana, built in 1359-1370 by the architect Matteo Gattapone of Gubbio for Cardinal Albornoz.  It has six sturdy towers which formed two distinct inner spaces: the Cortile Delle Armi, for the troops, and the Cortile d’onore for the use of the city’s governor.  The latter courtyard is surrounded by a two-floor porch.  The rooms include the Camera Pinta “Painted Room” with noteworthy 15th-century frescoes.  After having resisted many sieges, the Rocca was turned into a jail in 1800 and used as such until the late 20th century.  It is currently under repair
  • The Palazzo Racani-Anoni (16th century) has a worn graffito decoration attributed to Giulio Romano.  The inner courtyard has a notable fountain
  • Palazzo Della Signoria (14th century), housing the city’s museum
  • The majestic Palazzo Vigili (15th-16th centuries) includes the Torre dell’Olio (13th century), the sole mediaeval city tower remaining in Spoleto

[ some text from www.wikipedia.org ]