Key to Umbria: Assisi

Medieval Walls of Assisi

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Suburbs grew up outside the Roman walls of Assisi from at least the 12th century, but the work of enclosing them does not seem to have begun until ca. 1260.  By 1316, there were five “rione” (administrative districts), each of which was associated with a city gate: 
Porta Perlici; 
Porta San Rufino; 
Porta Santa Chiara; 
Porta San Francesco; and 
Porta San Giacomo.
In 1316, an ambitious project was begun in order to build a new circuit of walls that would encompass all of the new suburbs.  Unfortunately, the city was soon plunged into warfare: the Perugians took the city in 1322 and demolished its walls.    
Cardinal Albornoz arrived in Perugia in 1354, and this marked the start of a period of increasing independence for Assisi.  The city authorities resolved to restore the Rocca and the city walls and gates, although opposition from Perugia meant that the work was not carried out until 1362-5.  The medieval circuit probably took on its current appearance at that time.   The length of the city walls had increased from the 2.5 km of the Roman circuit to 4.6 km.  The circuit contained the two fortresses that Cardinal Albornoz built at this time:
Rocca Maggiore, between Porta San Giacomo and Porta Perlici; and
Rocca Minore, between Porta Perlici and Porta Sant’ Antonio.
The new circuit had eight gates, many of which took on the names of the older ones that they replaced: 
Porta San Giacomo; 
Porta Perlici; 
Porta Sant’ Antonio; 
Porta Nuova; 
Porta Moiano; 
Porta Sementone; 
Porta S Pietro; and
Porta San Francesco. 
Porta San Rufino was among the redundant gates that were demolished.  A fragment of a documented fresco (1341) of the Maestà and saints that Puccio Capanna and Cecce di Saraceno executed for it is now in the Pinacoteca Comunale.  

In 1367, Pace di Bartolo was commissioned to paint frescoes of the arms of Pope Urban V and those of Assisi on some of these gates (including those that survive on Porta San Francesco - see below).
Porta San Giacomo 
This two-storey, square-section brick gate stands in the section of wall between the city and Rocca Maggiore that he restored it in 1354-67.   There was probably a gate in the Roman wall some 50 meters to the left (as seen from outside the city).  The cypress tree that has seeded at the top of the ate seems to have been here for at least the last 15o years. 
The outer face of the gate bears the arms of Assisi, the Patrimony of St Peter and Cardinal Gil Albornoz. 

A fresco (ca. 1500) of the Madonna and Child in a landscape under an arch of seraphim, which is attributed to Andrea d' Assisi, l' Ingegno, was detached  from Porta San Giacomo and is now in the Pinacoteca Comunale.   (It was first documented in 1859, with an attribution to “Andrea Eloigi”, and the work is fundamental to any attempt to assemble a catalogue of his surviving works).
Porta Perlici 
Porta Perlici was built in the wall that ran from Rocca Maggiore to Rocca Minore (visible here to the right).  The steps to the right lead the natural terrace above the site of the Roman amphitheatre, which was newly enclosed by the medieval walls.

As you enter the city through the gate, Via Porta Perlici  forks to the right and leads to the double arch of Arco Perlici (also known as the Archiccioli).  
The outer arch belongs to the intermediate circuit of walls that was built in ca. 1260.  
The inner arch seems to stand on the foundations of the Roman wall.   The inscription on its outer side records that the Consul Tancred opened the gate in 1199 in order to provide a direct route to the Marches.  This was one of the first public acts by the Commune, which was probably instituted after the destruction of the old Rocca Maggiore in 1198.

Porta Sant’ Antonio
This gate replaced the old Porta San Rufino, which seems to have been destroyed during the sack of Assisi by Nicolò Piccinino in 1442.  It is named for the nearby church of Sant’ Antonio Abate: this church passed to the Capuchins in 1595, and the gate is sometimes called Porta Cappuccini.  The path outside, which follows the wall to the left, leads to the Rocca Minore and the Eremo dei Carceri.
The underside of the arch has traces of frescoes of the arms of Assisi. 

Porta Nuova
This gate, which is now one of the main entrances to Assisi, marks the start of the suburb known as  Borgo Aretino. 
Arco di Santa Chiara
As you enter the city through Porta Nuova, Via Borgo Aretino leads to the Arco di Santa Chiara, which was part of the extension of the city wall in ca. 1260 to protect the Monastero di Santa Chiara.  A tablet [where ???] on the gate was removed from the Duomo of Arezzo as a trophy of the war that Assisi fought in alliance with Perugia in 1335.  The suburb beyond, which was enclosed in an outer wall in 1316, was renamed Borgo Aretino in honour of this victory. 

This detail of a fresco (14th century) from the counter-façade San Damiano (in which St Francis’ father threats him with a club) provides a cityscape of Assisi that pre-dates the building of Porta Nuova.  It clearly shows the Arco di Santa Chiara and the church and convent of Santa Chiara beside it. 

Porta Moiano 
This gate marked the point of departure for the new walls built in ca. 1260 to bring Santa Chiara within the city walls. The photograph to the right depicts its surroundings: 
the Monasterio di San Giuseppe (with its distinctive campanile) is behind it;:  
Palazzo Vescovile, to the right stands on the Roman walls; and 
the walls that were built in ca. 1260 are in the foreground. 
The arms of Assisi are carved in the keystone of the outer arch.   Looking from outside the gate, the  partly Roman wall on the left encloses the garden of the Palazzo Vescovile.  The concrete foundations were originally part of a Roman cistern.  

A cippus (ca. 2nd century BC) that may have been found outside Porta Moiano, bears a short “speaking” inscription in the Umbrian language, using the Latin alphabet: “toce stahu”, which probably means "I stand in a public place".  The cippus is now in the Museo Civico, and is also described in the page on Umbrian Inscriptions  after 295BC. 
Porta Sementone
This gate was restored and re-opened in 1926.

Porta San Pietro 
The “Strada Mattonata” (brick road), which pilgrims followed to Santa Maria degli Angeli, left the city from Porta San Pietro.
Porta San Francesco
This gate replaced the Roman Porta Urbica (in Piazza Garibaldi) as the main entrance to the city and the start of the road to Perugia.   The detail above from the predella panel of the San Rufino Polyptych (ca. 1462) by Nicolò di Liberatore, l' Alunno (now in Museo Diocesano) is the oldest surviving cityscape of Assisi.  The panel depicts the translation of the relics of San Rufino to Assisi.  The procession approaches along the road from the left, which leads to Porta San Francesco.
As noted above, Pace di Bartolo was commissioned to paint the frescoes of the arms of Pope Urban V and those of Assisi on a number of the new city gates in 1367.  Those that were discovered on the inside arch of this gate in 1911 must have belonged to this project.