Todi – History

This is an excerpt from the book “Umbria

Todi from Tignano
Todi from Tignano – Photo © Capannelle

We don’t know the exact year when the town of Todi was founded – some chroniclers indicate 1955 B.C. – but we know without doubt that it was first inhabited by Umbrian tribes, later by the Etruscans.

The name derives from the term “tular”, “border”: the town marked for a long time the border between the Etruscan and the Umbrian territories.

In the 3rd century B.C. the Romans conquered Umbria and since the 4th century Christianity spread all over the region: the new doctrine arrived in Todi with S.Terenziano, first bishop of the town and martyr under the Emperor Adrian.

Very important was also the figure of the bishop Fortunato, who led the citizenry in the struggle against the Goths.

Todi - Sunflowers
Todi – Sunflowers – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

In the Middle Ages Todi assumed the feature of a medieval castle and it was ruled by feudal barons such as the Arnolfi, the Montemarte, the Atti.

After 1000 A.D. the town expanded: commerce and handicraft return to flourish, the heads of the arts and craft associations – the Priors – began to be very important, and Todi was a free commune since the first years of the 12th century.

In 1236 came into the world, in Todi, Jacopo dei Benedetti, called Jacopone, one of the most important figures of Franciscanism.

Later Todi belonged to various dominions, and after this period the town was placed directly under the central power of the Papal State, which finished in 1860, with the Unification of Italy.

The 20th century has made Todi famous all over the world: for its historic monuments, the fascination of its medieval atmosphere and the unique beauty of its countryside.

Todi - Piazza
Todi – Piazza – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

The piazza

The heart of Todi is Piazza del Popolo, formerly central point of the Roman town, and closed in the Middle Ages by four doors.

From the coffee bars enlacing the square one can have a panoramic view of the beautiful rectangular space where are situated the palaces symbol of the spiritual and civil life of the municipality.

The Cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, with beautiful and original facade, rectangular in shape, is a Gothic church dating to the early 12th century; in the 14th century the bell-tower was added, than, in the 16th century, the magnificent central rose-window.

During the Roman period the site on which it stands was occupied by one of the buildings surrounding the central area of the Forum, perhaps a temple; the primitive nucleus, represented by the crypt and the apse, dates back to the 8th century.

The interior is divided into nave and aisles by pillars and columns decorated with wonderful capitals representing a synthesis of the last Romanesque forms and the first French Gothic ones.

The beautiful choir stalls were carved and inlaid in 1530 by Antonio and Sebastiano Bencivenni da Mercatello, who made also the panels of the door: these panels, destroyed in the 17th century, can be considered a starting point for the tradition of classic furniture created by Filippo Morigi in the 19th century.

Palaces in Todi
Palaces in Todi – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

The Palace of the Priors, just in front of the Cathedral, built in the 14th century, enlarged and finished in 1334-1337, with atypical medieval aspect; in the 15th century was built the tower and hundred years later the Renaissance windows.

Up on the wall we admire the eagle in bronze made by Giovanni di Gigliaccio in 1339: symbol of the town, it grasps a pole with a cloth and, in earlier times, it held in the semi-opened wings two small eagles representing the vassal towns of Terni and Amelia. The building had been built to offer a suitable seat to the Priors – with the workshops at ground level; then it was occupied by the excise office and later by the papal governor.

Morning fog in Todi - Photo © Capannelle
Morning fog in Todi – Photo © Capannelle

The Mayor’s Palace, constructed at the end of the 13th century in the Italian Gothic style, has an imposing portico on the ground level, than the first and second floors with elegant three-light and four-light windows.

Nowadays it houses the Town Museum, containing Etruscan, Roman and Medieval finds; pottery, coins, statuettes; interesting frescoes and valuable paintings of 15th, 16th and 17th centuries: among the most considerable the ‘Incoronazione della Vergine’ by Spagna; moreover there are rooms dedicated to antique cloths, dresses and church vestments.

The Palace of the People, connected to the former by a large staircase, is a Gothic-Lombard structure dating back to the 13th century; it was called ‘Comune Vecchio’; this building too is characterized, at ground floor level, by a portico supported on flattered arches; the facade is adorned with four-light mullioned windows, and, on the top, a fine crenellated roofline in Ghibellino style.

There is also a tower-bell, built in 1330, on the top of which was placed a clock in 1523. First Priors’ residence, in 1236 it housed Pope Gregorio IX, and from the 18th to the 19th century it was converted into a theatre, La Scaletta.

A side of this building faces Garibaldi square, with the monument to this famous personage; there is also a very tall cypress, planted in 1849 by two Todi citizens to remind people the coming of Garibaldi, and a wonderful panoramic view.

Cathedral of Todi
Cathedral of Todi – Photo © Wikipedia

Around the piazza

The Church of San Fortunato represents one of the most important monuments of the town.

It is situated at the top of a fine stairway, in a site on which there was in 1000 A.D. a little church attached to a Benedectine monastery: the two lions placed at the sides of the entrance are probably part of that ancient structure.

The “great fabric” began in June 1292 and the works were protracted until the 1400s.

The church – the largest in Umbria after the Basilica of Assisi – is an example of barn -church (Hallen Kirchen) of the last Gothic architecture, not of northen influence, as formerly considered, but of Assisi type.

The facade, left incomplete, has three Gothic portals which show a great stylistic discrepancy, imputable to the protracting of the works; they think that the work was made by three different artists: the first almost certainly from Siena; the second, probably Umbrian, but acquainted with the great Tuscany sculpture of the period; and the third rather rough.

The central portal is magnificent, decorated by a frame of delicately carved moldings and colonnades; at its sides two niches with “Gabriele” and “Madonna”, in a style which reminds us Jacopo della Quercia’s mode.

The fact that the facade was left incomplete is a symptom of the transformed civil and religious climate in the town, in deep crisis in the 1400s: the legend reports that the author, Giovanni Santuccio da Sporto, was blinded by some people from Orvieto who feared to lose their primacy for the beauty of the facade of their cathedral.

There is also an impressive Gothic tower-bell, built in 1460, and nearby the old convent with a fine cloister.

The elegant interior has a single nave divided by pillars with pointed vaults; the High Altar and the finely-carved choir-stalls date to the 14th century.

The paintings, of lower quality compared to the architecture, include some 14th century frescoes of Assisi school, a fresco of Madonna with Child and Angels by Masolino da Panicale, and other productions between late-Gothic and Baroque.

The crypt, built in 1596, contains the relics of the patron saints of the town – San Fortunato, San Callisto, San Cassiano, Santa Romana, Santa Degna – and the tomb of Jacopone.

Coming out of San Fortunato and going in the direction of the Marzia Gate we discovered the most typical and well-preserved medieval quarter.

But many other beauties there are in Todi: the Roman Niches in the Old Market Place; the Scarnabecco and the Cesia Fountains; the Romanesque little church of Sant’Ilario; the Church of Santa Prassede and the others: those of San Filippo Benizi, San Niccolo’, Santa Maria in Cammuccia.

And the stairways, the alleys, the thousand medieval archs and windows which open onto the town.

Where to stay in Todi

Hotels, country houses, apartments and villas in Todi: search and reserve here.