Spoleto

This is an excerpt from the book “Umbria

Rocca Albornoz and Ponte delle Torri, Spoleto
Rocca Albornoz and Ponte delle Torri, Spoleto – Photo © Zyance

Spoleto (Latin Spoletium) is an ancient city in the Italian province of Perugia in east central Umbria on a foothill of the Apennines. It is 20 km (12 mi) S. of Trevi, 29 km (18 mi) N. of Terni, 63 km (39 miles) SE of Perugia; 212 km (131 miles) SE of Florence; and 126 km (78 miles) N of Rome.

Ancient and lay buildings

The Roman theater, 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 amphiteatre.

Roman amphitheater (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.

Spoleto Rocca Albomoziana
Spoleto Rocca Albornoziana – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

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-Arroni (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.

Churches

The Duomo (Cathedral) of S. Maria Assunta, begun around 1175 and completed in 1227. The Romanesque edifice 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 from 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, portraying stories of the life of St. Peter. Together with S. Rufino in Assisi, it is the finest extant specimen of Umbrian Romanesque. The church is preceded by a large staircase. In the 17th century the interior, having a basilica plan with a nave and two aisles, was remade in Baroque style; also in Roman Baroque style is the elliptical dome.

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. It was remade by the Lombards in the 8th century.
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 crpyt is a former church dedicated to St. Peter, with frescoed walls.

Spoleto - Duomo
Spoleto – Duomo – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

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 more 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.

Where to stay in Spoleto

Hotels, B&Bs, apartments and country houses in Spoleto: search and reserve here.

Culture

poleto Festival USA 2012
Spoleto Festival USA 2012 – Click to see more Photos © spoletofestivalusa

The Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds) was founded in 1958. Because Spoleto was a small town, where real estate and other goods and services were at the time relatively inexpensive, and also because there are two indoor theatres, a Roman theatre and many other spaces, it was chosen by Gian-Carlo Menotti as the venue for an arts festival. It is also fairly close to Rome, with good rail connections. It is an important cultural event, held annually in late June-early July.

The festival has developed into one of the most important cultural manifestations in Italy, with a three-week schedule of music, theater and dance performances. For some time it became a reference point for modern sculpture exhibits, and works of art left to the city by Alexander Calder and others are a testimony to this.

In the United States, a parallel festival – Spoleto Festival USA – held in Charleston, South Carolina was founded in 1977 with Menotti’s involvement. However, after disputes with the Menotti family, the American Spoleto Festival became independent. For a short period of time, a third parallel festival was also held in Australia.

In 1992, the Media:Spoleto Arts Symposia was started to bring talented people from all around the world to study in Spoleto, Italy. Now in its 15th season, programs exist for studying opera, cooking, jazz, writing, and a kids camp.