Key to Umbria: Perugia

Porta San Pietro (12th - 15th centuries)

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In 1199, the location of the Abbazia di San Pietro was described as “extra duas portas civitatis Perusii, porte Sancti Petri” (literally, outside the two gates of the city of Perugia, the gates of St Peter):

  1. Ugolino Nicolini (referenced below) says that, in the Middle Ages, the term “civitatis” almost always referred to the city inside the Etruscan walls.  This would imply that the “duas portas” of 1199 were the two gates in the Etruscan walls in the rione di San Pietro that are now called now called Porta Marzia and Arco di Sant’ Ercolano.

  2. However, Daniele Pisani (referenced below) asserts that the document of 1199 referred to a gate on the site of the medieval Porta San Pietro, which was called “duas portas” because it had two arches:

  3. one opening onto Via Romana (now Via Benedetto Bonfigli), which led to Assisi and Rome; and

  4. one opening onto Borgo San Pietro (now Borgo XX Giugno), which continued past the Abbazia di San Pietro along the old Via Amerina to Todi and Rome. 

A double-arched gate known as “duas portas” certainly existed here by 1394, when the Ospedale di San Giacomo was built beside it.  The likelihood is that it had been built in the 12th or early 13th century in the first wall around the rione di San Pietro.  By  1273, the rione had expanded and this gate was within the city walls.  However, it still retained its function as a ceremonial  entrance to the city.

Inner Gate (14th century?)

The inner part of the gate is probably the double-arched structure known as “duas portas” that was documented here in 1394 (see above).  Its two wooden doors seem still to have been functioning in 1432, when one of them was repaired.  However, the eastern arch (on the left in this photograph) was closed in 1502 (see below).

The fresco (1765) in the lunette above the western arch, which depicts the Madonna of the Rosary with SS Dominic and Francis, was repainted in 1817 and restored again in 1990. 

Outer Arches (1459-81)

In 1458, the Commune commissioned Bartolomeo di Mattioli to build an outer gate that would provide a more fitting entrance to the city.  The shortcomings in this respect of the existing structure must have been evident in the following year, when Pope Pius II made his ceremonial entrance into the city, after having spent the previous night at the Abbazia di San Pietro.  Nevertheless, very little seems to have been spent on the project by 1472, when Bartolomeo died.

In 1473, the Commune appointed three new commissioners to oversee the work (Lamberto della Corgna, Ugolino Crispolti and Carlo Cinaglia), and they commissioned Agostino di Duccio to complete the work.  However, the project was subsequently redefined in more monumental terms.  Agostino di Duccio signed a new and (even) more generous contract in 1475, which named Polidoro di Stefano as his associate.  The works of sculpture that were envisaged for the large niches to the sides of the arch were to be the subject of a subsequent contract.

Polidoro di Stefano died in 1480, but work continued until at least July 1481, when Agostino di Duccio paid for the cornice after it had been evaluated by two Lombard craftsmen.  It used to be thought that Agostino di Duccio had died in Perugia shortly afterwards and that this explained why the structure was never completed.  However, he was certainly alive in December 1481, and he could have died at any date in the period to 1498, when his wife remarried.  It is equally likely that the project ran out of steam after the death of Braccio Baglioni in 1479.

The design of the outer facade betrays the influence of Leon Battista Alberti’s the Tempio Malatestiana in Rimini, in which Agostino di Duccio had worked as a sculptor some 20 years earlier.  It also owes a great deal to the Arco Etrusco, a debt that would have been more evident had the planned lunette above the central arch been built.

Space between the Gates

There was a small parish church that belonged to the Abbazia di San Pietro near the eastern arch of the Due Porte from at least 1285.  It was annexed to the nearby Ospedale di San Giacomo (1394) as its chapel (the Cappella di San Giacomo) in ca. 1400, and the complex passed to the Collegio del Cambio

With the completion of the outer face of the gate in 1481, the chapel found itself inside the double structure.  In 1502, Amico Graziani, the prior of the Collegio del Cambio, complained to the Commune that this narrow space was inconvenient, especially since the church shared it with a slaughterhouse.  The authorities agreed to his proposals for the amplification of the chapel, which involved the closing of the eastern arch of the inner gate so that its facade could be moved forward.  The inscription above the new portal bears the date of this remodelling.  The authorities also agreed that it should formally revert to its earlier status as a church.  However, the slaughterhouse opposite remained in use until at least 1596.


The inscription on the outer side of the inner facade (visible from outside the gate) commemorates the Perugian patriots who died or were injured during the disastrous events of 20th June 1859, when Swiss guards of the papal army massacred Perugian supporters of the Risorgimento here. 

Read more: 
D. Pisani, “Piuttosto un Arco Trionfale che una Porta di Città: Agostino di Duccio e la Porta San Pietro a Perugia”, (2009) Venice 

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

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