Key to Umbria: Assisi

Walls of Roman Asisium

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Writing in the late 1st century BC, the poet Sextus Propertius remembered “ancient Umbria”, where he had been born, and: 
“... the wall towers from the summit of climbing Asisium, that wall made more famous by your genius” (‘Elegies’, 4).  
These walls (of which large sections survive) ran for some 2.5 km and enclosed some 60 hectares, which indicates that Asisium was only slightly smaller in area that nearby Perusia (Perugia) and was bigger than most other Umbrian cities at this time.  Alberto Calderini (referenced below, at p. 46) pointed out that these walls can be roughly dated by two surviving inscriptions, which he placed in the middle of the 3rd century BC:
The right-hand part of the first (Entry 31, with Giulio Giannechini ) was from the architrave of a gate in these walls that was discovered in 1938 near the ex-Oratorio di San Lorenzo, which is still preserved in the garden of what became the Berkeley Villa.  The architrave contains a fragmentary Umbrian inscription that uses an Etruscan alphabet.  It has been transcribed:
estac vera vaper[ia?]...
mestiça vipies ep... 
The first line seems to confirm that the stone was part of a stone gate (‘vera vaperia’), while the second seems to mean “under the meddix Vibius Ep…”.  
The second (Entry 32, by Giulio Giannechini) was discovered near the Abbazia di san Pietro in 1742 but no longer survives.  Surviving records suggest that this inscription also recorded the construction of a gate by the meddix Vibius.
The word “meddix” described a magistrate who is more commonly recorded in the Oscan-speaking communities to the south of modern Umbria.  According to  Alberto Calderini (as above) the magistrates mentioned in these texts  from Assisi might have been the same person or, more probably, two people from the same family.
Suburbs later grew up outside this circuit of walls, but their enclosure by new walls (see the page on Medieval Walls) does not seem to have been begun until ca. 1260. 
The highest point in the Roman city was to the north, at the site of Rocca Maggiore, which might have been the acropolis.  From this point, the walls descended west ...

towards Porta San Giacomo.   There was probably a gate in the Roman wall some 50 meters to the left of this medieval gate (as seen from outside the city). 

The line of the walls then turned sharply west along Via Metastasio to Piazzetta Aluigi (see Walk III) and then south to the Arco del Seminario.  


A narrow street just before this arch (on the left in the illustration above) leads to Piazza Garibaldi: the remains of a Roman city gate known as Porta Urbica (which was the main gate of Asisium and the only one that survives in situ) were discovered under Palazzo Fiumi-Roncalli.  The remains of this gate in Palazzo Fiumi-Roncalli on the right are not accessible to the public, but they are illustrated in this page of the website Assisi Itinerari © 2017.   The remains of a similar but smaller gate from an unknown point in the walls were reused in the Abbazia di San Pietro and can be seen in the Museo di San Pietro.
The line of the walls now descended to the south east.  A long stretch that now supports an orchard is visible from Via Sant’ Apollinare. 

From here, the line of the Roman wall ran through the garden of Sant’ Apollinare, later San Giuseppe. (The 14th century circuit encloses this garden).

Palazzo Vescovile stands on foundations provided by the Roman walls. 

A stretch of the Roman walls survives behind the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore.

The architrave of the  narrow opening (between the trees to the right in the illustration above) bears a Latin inscription (ca. 100 BC) that reads:  
"Iter precar(ium)"
This seems to indicate that passage was granted by prayer or on request.  The inscription is obscured by ivy, but there is a plaster cast of it in the Museo Civico (Exhibit 125). 

The next surviving section of the Roman walls is visible in Via Sant’ Agnese. 

The Portella di San Giorgio (13th century) in nearby Via Santa Chiara replaced a Roman gate, traces of which survive below the current street level. 

The subsequent line of the Roman walls is less certain.  It probably ran north along Vicolo Bovi.  Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, pp. 9-11) described the remains of a monumental entrance to the city that were discovered in the early 20th century in Piazza Matteotti but subsequently destroyed.  Four huge columns discovered in Vicolo Bovi at the same time probably formed part of a portico that led from this gate to the heart of the city. Stones from the city gate have been incorporated into Casa Assunti (1918-26) at number 5 Piazza Matteotti, and the base of one of the columns can be seen in its garden.
The circuit then apparently turned to the west, past the Arco Perlici (also known as the Archiccioli).  This is a double arch, seen here from outside the two circuits of medieval walls:  
The outer arch belongs to the intermediate circuit of walls that was built in ca. 1260.  
The inscription on the outer side of the inner arch (visible in this photograph) records that the Consul Tancred opened the gate in 1199 in order to provide a direct route to the Marches.   If you walk through it and look back, you can see what seem to be Roman foundations. 

An inscription (3rd century BC) that was found in the garden of the Oratorio di San Lorenzo (late Villa Berkley) in 1938 is on an architrave that probably came from a nearby gate in the Roman walls.  It contains an important Umbrian inscription that is the earliest ever found in Assisi.  The first line seems to confirm that the stone was part of a gate; while the second seems to mean “under the “meddix” (magistrate) Vibius E…”.   The original is not visible to the public but there is a cast of it in the Museo Civico.  The inscription is also described in the page on Umbrian Inscriptions  after 295BC.

The wall then continued up to Rocca Maggiore.