Key to Umbria: Perugia

Gates in the Etruscan Walls

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From Enzo Amorini (referenced below, at p. 15)

The walls of Etruscan Perugia, which were probably begun in the 4th century BC, were probably substantially rebuilt when the city passed under Roman control after the Battle of Sentinum (295 BC).  The circuit stretched for some 3 km, of which just over 1 km is still easily visible, and was made of travertine (limestone) blocks.   Walk II follows the line of these walls as far as that is possible, proceeding anti-clockwise from Arco Etrusco in the north.

These walls defined the extent of the urban centre into the Middle Ages.  The circuit contained five main gates which came to define the rioni (administrative districts) of the city:

  1. Rione di Porta Sant’ Angelo, which was documented from 1036, probably took its name from the gate that is now known as Arco Etrusco.

  2. Rione di Porta Sole, which was documented from 1038, took its name from either the now-demolished Arco della Piaggia dei Calderari or the nearby Arco dei Gigli.

  3. Rione di San Pietro, which was documented from 1070, probably took its name from the gate that is now known as Porta Marzia.

  4. Rione di Porta Santa Susanna which was documented from 1073, probably took its name from the gate that is now known as Porta Trasimena.

  5. Rione di Porta Eburnea which was documented from 1116, probably took its name from the gate that is now known as Arco della Mandorla or still, alternatively, as Porta Eburnea.

In 1295, the vie regali (main roads from that radiated outwards from the city centre) were specified in terms of their points of exit from gates in the outer (medieval) walls.  Two intermediate gates were mentioned, each of which was designated as “portam civitas que vocatur ...” (the city gate which is called ...).  These were almost certainly gates in the inner Etruscan walls, and were presumably named in order to distinguish them from other nearby gates in these walls.  These two intermediate gates were:

  1. in rione di Porta San Pietro, “Porta Sancti Petri”, a designation that probably distinguished Porta Marzia from the less important Arco di Sant’ Ercolano; and

  2. in rione di Porta Sole, “Porta Solis”, a designation that probably distinguished the now-demolished Arco della Piaggia dei Calderari and Arco dei Gigli (either of which could have been Porta Sole).

Between most of the main gates, the line of the walls was concave (seen from the outside), skirting natural depressions that were of obvious defensive value (albeit that their use for landfill over the centuries has diminished the effect):

  1. the first stretch of Walk II, from Arco Etrusco to Porta Trasimena skirts the relatively gentle slopes of an area known as la Conca;

  2. the stretch from Porta Trasimena to Arco della Mandorla skirts the steep depression of la Cupa;

  3. the stretch from Arco della Mandorla to Porta Marzia was less well protected, given the absence of a natural depression immediately outside the walls;

  4. the stretch from Porta Marzia and Arco di Sant’ Ercolano to the probable site of Porta Sole ran along the terrace later known as known as the Piazza Sopramuro, above the deep fosso (ditch) di Santa Margherita; and

  5. the stretch from Porta Sole and Arco dei Gigli to Arco Etrusco skirts the steep depression of il Bulagaio.

Arco Etrusco (Arco d' Augusto)

This was the main entrance to the Etruscan city, at the northern end of the cardus maximus.  The lower part of the structure survives from the Etruscan period, but the upper part seems to have been rebuilt after the sack of the city during the Perusine Wars (41-40 BC).  

The gate was documented as Porta Pulchra (the beautiful gate) in the Codice Bavaro, a collection of documents dating from the 7th to the 10th centuries relating to goods owned by the church of Ravenna over a wide area that included Perugia.  According to tradition, Pope Hadrian I took its original bronze gates to Rome in 780.

In 1036, Bishop Andrea donated “Santi Angelo quae est edificata extra portam Perusinae civitatis quae dicitur Pulchra” (Sant’ Angelo, which is built outside the gate of the city of Perugia that is  called Porta Pulchra) to the canons of San Lorenzo.  This is the last known use of the name Porta Pulchra: the gate was subsequently known as Porta Sant’ Angelo, and gave its name to the rione (administrative district) di Porta Sant’ Angelo.  It probably took on its present names in the 13th century to distinguish it from the later Porta Sant’ Angelo outer circuit of walls (at the end of Corso Garibaldi).

A frieze separates the main arch of the gate from a blind arch above.

Each of the two courses of bricks that form the lower arch of the gate contains a Roman inscriptions:

  1. The inscription (CIL XI 1929:1) on the lower course, which reads "Augusta Perusia"  dates to the time at which Augustus gave this name to the city.  The EAGLE database (see the CIL link) dates it to the period 1-14 AD.

  2. The inscription (CIL XI 1929:2) on the upper course, which reads   "Colonia Vibia", was added in ca. 253 AD to celebrate the honorary title given to the city by the Emperor Gaius Vibius Trebonianus Gallus (whose family had originated in Etruscan Perugia)

This arch is set into a wall between two trapezoidal towers. 

  1. In 1326, the Commune commissioned Ambrogio Maitani to repair a “turrione vetus seu penna ....  iusta portam muri veteris porte Sancti Angeli”.  While some writers suggest that this refers to the present porta Sant’ Angelo, Ugolino Nicolini (referenced below) has shown that this document refers to a tower to the right of this gate that belonged to the della Penna family (rather than, as other sources sometimes assert, to the later Porta Sant’ Angelo at the end of Corso Garibaldi).

  2. The loggia above the tower on the left was added in the 15th century. 

The fountain at its base is sometimes referred to as “Fonte Tezia” because Count Girolamo Tezi financed the construction in 1621. 

Porta Trasimena (Porta San Luca)


This gate led to the important commercial thoroughfare that linked the city to Lake Trasimeno and Chiusi.  The gate was largely was rebuilt in the Middle Ages, although what seems to be an Etruscan lion survives to the left.  The significance of the symbols at the apex of the arch is unclear. 

Architectural remains that were recently found under the crypt of the church of San Francesco al Prato, which is just outside the walls here, probably belonged to the ancient church and hospice of Santa Susanna (documented in 1218).  This church gave its name to the city gate that in turn gave its name to the rione (administrative district) di Porta Santa Susanna.  The district was documented in 1073, so the gate in question is unlikely to have been in the outer circuit of walls (which date to the 13th century).  The likelihood is that Porta Trasimena was known as Porta Santa Susanna before the outer circuit of walls was built.

Arco della Mandorla (Porta Eburnea)


This arch has been recomposed from the original Etruscan blocks.  Parts of the original inscriptions celebrating Perusia Augusta and Colonia Vibia (see Arco Etrusco above) are now dispersed among the masonry.  The easiest to see are:

  1. an “S” below the protruding lion on the left (CIL XI 1931b); and

  2. the letters “VIB” on a stone on the left about a meter above the ground (CIL XI 1931a).

This gate, was first documented as “Porta Heburnea” in 1116, its name to the rione (administrative district) di Porta Eburnea.

Porta Marzia

Porta Marzia was the main entrance to the Etruscan city, at the southern end of the cardus maximus.   It might have been named for a nearby temple dedicated to Mars.  It was documented in 1279 as Porta San Pietro and gave its name to the rione (administrative district) di Porta San Pietro.

This detail of a fresco (late 15th century) by Benedetto Bonfigli in the Cappella dei Priori (now Room 21 of the Galleria Nazionale) shows Totila's army outside Porta Marzia, which is depicted as it was in Bonfigli’s time.  Many of the tower houses behind it belonged to the Baglioni family.

When Pope Paul III suppressed the Perugian rebellion of 1540, his natural son Pier Luigi Farnese commissioned Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane to design a huge palace that incorporated the Baglioni palaces above Porta Marzia.  The east facade of this palace respected the surviving remains of the Etruscan city walls, and incorporated Porta Marzia as its main portal.  However, these plans were changed in 1542 in favour of a more defensive structure in which the palace walls were replaced by the forbidding curtain walls of Rocca Paolina, complete with a moat.  This required the demolition of a stretch of the Etruscan wall, including Porta Marzia. 

The part (if any) played by Antonio da Sangallo in the revised project is unknown.   However, his obvious respect for the ancient fabric of Perugia (which is demonstrated by a number of his plans for the palace that survive in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence) is usually credited with the survival of the upper part of the gate, which was embedded in the curtain wall of the fortress, close to its original position.


An arch that was opened in the curtain wall here (illustrated above, to the left) leads to the excavated area under Rocca Paolina.  The original travertine abutments of Porta Marzia can be seen about 4 meters behind it.   

In the surviving part of the gate (also visited in the context of Rocca Paolina in Walk VII), three male figures (probably the god Tinia or Zeus and the Dioscuri) and two horses lean over a parapet in the frieze above the arch.  The remains of another three unidentified figures appear above and to the sides of the arch.  The gate included the same inscriptions as on Arco Etrusco (see above):

“Augusta Perusia” (CIL XI 1930:1), on the cornice below the columns

“Colonia Vibia” (CIL XI 1930:2), on the cornice above 

The arms of Pope Paul III, which were placed under the arch at the time it was embedded in the wall of Rocca Paolina, were later mutilated (probably at the time of the French occupation of 1798.

Arco di Sant' Ercolano

This gate, which is named for the nearby church, seems to have been opened in the Etruscan walls in the 12th century.  There are traces of the wall itself high up on the left.  It was documented as Porta Berarda in 1266, and again in 1275 and in the statutes of 1279.

The sculpted lion (early 13th century) above the arch might have symbolised the Guelf party of Perugia.

Porta Sole

A gate that was documented as “porta Sulis” in 1038 gave its name to the rione (administrative district) di Porta Sole.  It was documented again in 1295 in the context of the main road that ran “a Fonte Novo usque ad plateam comunis veniendo per portam Sancti Simone ad porta Solis”  (from the suburb of Fontenuovo to the city centre, passing through what is now Porta del Carmine in the outer walls  and Porta Sole).  Its precise location is a matter of debate: two candidates are described below.

Arco della Piaggia dei Calderari

The Etruscan wall  that ran along the east edge of Piazza Sopramuro (now Piazza Matteotti) swung to the left across the northern end of the piazza and then to the right along the line of Via Volte della Pace (the dark, narrow street  to the left in this photograph).   An arch in it opened onto the Piaggia dei Calderari (now Via Alessi, the wider road parallel to and to the right of Via Volte della Pace in this photograph).  This arch was documented as “Porta Soli” in 1455.   The wall and gate were apparently demolished in the 16th century. 

Arco dei Gigli

This arch was largely was rebuilt in the Middle Ages.  The remains of an earlier arch can be seen high on the right, and the Etruscan foundations survive in the base at the left.  The earlier arch is a second candidate for the original Porta Sole.

Pedestrian Gates

Two small gates in the Etruscan Walls have been identified. 

Postierla della Conca


The door at the end of Via Appia (on the left, just before the junction with Via dell’ Acquedotto, illustrated on the left above and seen in Walk III) leads to this gate, which is in the form of a vaulted space the width of the city wall.  The other side of the opening (illustrated on the right above) is seen in Walk II from Via Battisti.  A steep path from this point led to the city centre.  The ancient opening is now surrounded by a structure that was built to protect the pipes that brought water to the Fontana Maggiore

(The Postierla della Conca can be visited through Sistema Museo).

Postierla della Cupa

This opening in the walls in Parco della Cupa  (to the left of the trees in this photograph), was discovered only in 1946, spanned a path that ran to the Terme di San Galigano in Via San Galigano to the northeast.  

Read more: 
E. Amorini, “Le Mura Etrusche della Città di Perugia: Percorso-guida Lungo la Cinta della Città Vecchia”, (1996) Perugia
U. Nicolini, “Le Mura Medievali di Perugia”, in:
“Storia e Arte in Umbria nell’ Eta Comunale: Atti del VI Convegno di Studi Umbri”, Gubbio (1971) pp 695-769
Despite its title, this paper also deals with the Etruscan walls and gates. 

Return to Monuments of Perugia. 

Return to Walk II.