Perugia History

Perugia Piazza -
Perugia Piazza – Click to see more © Photos from

Perugia first appears in history as Perusia, one of the twelve confederate cities of Etruria. It is first mentioned in the account of the war of 310 or 309 BCE between the Etruscans and the Romans. It took, however, an important part in the rebellion of 295, and was reduced, with Vulsinii and Arretium (Arezzo), to seek for peace in the following year.

In 216 and 205 BCE it assisted Rome in the Second Punic War but afterwards it is not mentioned until 41-40 BCE, when Lucius Antonius took refuge there, and was reduced by Octavian after a long siege, and its senators sent to their death. A number of lead bullets used by slingers have been found in and around the city (Corpus Inscr. Lat. xi. 1212). The city was burnt, we are told, with the exception of the temples of Vulcan and Juno— the massive Etruscan terrace-walls, naturally, can hardly have suffered at all— and the town, with the territory for a mile round, was allowed to be occupied by whoever chose. It must have been rebuilt almost at once, for several bases exist, inscribed Augusta sacr(um) Perusia restituta; but it did not become a colonia until 251-253 CE.

It is hardly mentioned except by the geographers until it was captured and laid waste in 547 by Totila, after a long siege. Totila is said to have ordered the city’s bishop, Herculanus of Perugia, to be flayed and killed. St. Herculanus (Sant’ Ercolano) later became the city’s patron saint.

In the Lombard period it is spoken of as one of the principal cities of Tuscia. In the ninth century, with the consent of Charles the Great and Louis the Pious, it passed under the popes; but by the eleventh century its commune was asserting itself, and for many centuries the city continued to maintain an independent life, warring against many of the neighboring lands and cities— Foligno, Assisi, Spoleto, Todi, Siena, Arezzo, etc. In the struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines, it remained loyal for the most part to the Guelph party.

On various occasions the popes found asylum from the tumults of Rome within its walls, and it was the meeting-place of fives conclaves, including those which elected Honorius II (1124), Honorius IV (1285), Celestine V (1294), and Clement V (1305). But Perugia had no mind simply to sub serve the papal interests and never accepted papal sovereignty. At the time of Rienzi’s unfortunate enterprise in reviving the Roman republic, Perugia sent ten ambassadors to pay him honor; and, when papal legates sought to coerce it by foreign soldiers, or to exact contributions, they met with vigorous resistance, which broke into open warfare with Pope Urban V in 1369; Perugia was forced to accept a papal legate. The abbot of Cluny Monmaggiore was expelled by a popular uprising in 1375, and his fortification of Porta Sole was destroyed.

Palazzo dei Priori: the center of communal government. Photo © 3blindmice
Palazzo dei Priori: the center of communal government. Click to see more Perugia Photos © from 3blindmice

Civic peace was constantly disturbed in the fourteenth century by struggles between the party representing the people (Raspanti) and the nobles (Beccherini). After the assassination of Biordo Michelotti (1398), Perugia became a pawn in the Italian Wars, passing to Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1400), the Pope (1403), to Ladislas of Naples (1408-14) before it settled into a period of sound governance under the Signoria of the condottiero Braccio da Montone (1416-24). Following mutual atrocities of the Oddi and the Baglioni families, power was at last concentrated in the Baglioni, who, though they had no legal position, defied all other authority, though their bloody internal squabbles culminated in a massacre, 14 July 1500.

Gian Paolo Baglioni was lured to Rome in 1520 and beheaded by Leo X; and in 1540 Rodolfo, who had slain a papal legate, was defeated by Pier Luigi Farnese, and the city, captured and plundered by his soldiery, was deprived of its privileges. A citadel known as the Rocca Paolina, after the name of Pope Paul III, was built, to designs of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger “ad coercendam Perusinorum audaciam.”

In 1797, the city was conquered by French troops. On 4 February 1798, the Tiberina Republic was formed, with Perugia as capital, and the French tricolor as flag. In 1799, the Tiberina Republic merged to the Roman Republic.

In 1832, 1838, 1854 and 1997 Perugia was visited by earthquakes; Following the collapse of the Roman republic of 1848-49, when the Rocca was in part demolished, in May 1849 it was seized by the Austrians. After another futile insurrection in the June of 1859, which was bloodily defeated by Pius IX’s troops, it was finally united, along with the rest of Umbria, to Piedmont, in 1860.

Eurochocolate - Photo © amelie a venezia
Eurochocolate – Photo © amelie a venezia

Perugia today

Perugia has become famous for chocolate, mostly because of a single firm, Perugina, whose Baci (kisses) are widely exported. Perugia chocolate is very popular in Italy, and the city hosts a chocolate festival in October of every year. Eurochocolate is a yearly festival celebrating chocolate: every October Perugia becomes the European capital for chocoholics! The event takes place in the city historical center and lasts eight days, involving loads of people thanks to many exhibitions, outdoors workshops, games, tasting stands and meetings.

Perugia today hosts two main universities, the Universita’ degli Studi and the Foreigners University (Universita’ per Stranieri), and are melting pots for students from all over Italy and the world. Stranieri serves as an Italian language and culture school for students from all over the world. The city also hosts the Umbra Institute, an American school for students studying abroad in Perugia. The Universita’ dei Sapori(University of Tastes), Accademia delle belle arti (Art Academy), and Scuola di giornalismo radio televisivo (a radio-television journalism school owned by RAI – the Italian State Television Network) are located in the city as well.

The city symbol is the griffin, which can be seen in the form of plaques and statues on buildings around the city.

Umbria Jazz
Umbria Jazz – Click to see more Photos from © Danili-Esse

Umbria Jazz

Umbria Jazz is the most highly rated Jazz festival in Europe, and one of the best in the world. After its first time in 1973, each year Perugia has hosted dozens of great artists, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sam Rivers, Herbie Hanckok, Enrico Rava, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton and in the last times Dedee Bridgewater, Gilberto Gil , Milton Nascimento, Terence Blanchard, Paolo Conte, Vinicio Capossela, Nicola Arigliano, Miriam Makeba, Renzo Arbore and the Swing Maniacs, Sergio Cammariere, The Coolbone Brass Band of New Orleans, Lyle Henderson & Emmanuel Gospel Singers, and many others!

Where to stay in Perugia

Hotels, B&Bs, apartments and villas in Perugia: search and reserve here.