Key to Umbria: Perugia

Entrance to the Abbey


Until 1587, the road from Perugia to Rome ran through what is now the entrance to the abbey (seen on the left in the photograph on the left).  However, in 1587, the monks arranged for the road to be diverted to the right.  (This necessitated the construction of a new gate, Porta San Costanzo, in the city walls, which the monks financed.  The old Porta di Braccio in the abbey gardens (below) became stranded at that point.) 

Valentino Martelli, who worked at San Pietro in the period 1591-1630, was responsible for the design of the new monumental entrance (1614), which was clearly inspired by Porta San Pietro behind you.

North Cloister


The entrance leads to the north cloister, which was also designed by Valentino Martelli in the early 17th century.  

Walking clockwise around the north cloister from the entrance:

  1. The entrance immediately on the left opens onto the stairs to the corridor around the first floor of the cloister.  The rooms here accommodate the Galleria Tesori d’ Arte, which contains much of the art collection that the Fondazione per l’ Istruzione Agraria inherited when it took over the abbey in 1890, in addition to works of art from the church.

  2. The entrance to the church is diagonally opposite the entrance, with the campanile to the right.  Before the cloister was built, the road to Rome passed in front of the portico of the church and its campanile (see below).

There are two interesting inscriptions on the walls of the cloister:


This inscription records the main events in the history of the abbey:

  1. The original church dedicated to St Peter stood on what was known as Monte Caprario (as recorded in the 6th century by Pope Gregory I). 

  2. St Peter Abbot established a Benedictine monastery here in 965.

  3. Pope Urban IV died here in 1264

  4. A series of other popes stayed here:

  5. Pope Boniface IX, in 1393;

  6. Pope Pius II, in 1459

  7. Pope Clement VII, in 1532; and

  8. Pope Paul III, in 1535 and 1538.

  9. Pope Eugenius IV transferred the abbey to the Cassinese Congregation in 1436.

This second inscription records the role that the monks played in saving people from the invading papal army on 20th June, 1859

Facade of the Church


The facade of the church, as it appeared in the late 15th century (before the main road was diverted), can be seen at the lower right of this detail of a fresco by Benedetto Bonfigli in the Cappella dei Priori (now part of the Galleria Nazionale).  The portico in front of the façade was incorporated into the colonnade of the north cloister in 1617: traces of the original arches still enclose the frescoes on the facade. 

Frescoes (mid- 14th century) 


As noted above, a number of frescoes survive in arches on the facade that belonged to the original portico. 

  1. Two of the frescoes on the facade were attributed to the aptly-named Maestro Ironico during recent restoration:

  2. the Annunciation (on the left of the portal); and

  3. the extraordinary enthroned three-headed female figure with angels (on the right).

  4. The other frescoes on the left of the portal depict:

  5. the Pietà;

  6. SS Peter and Paul; and

  7. St George and the dragon.

Portal (ca. 1475)

The design of the portal of the church is attributed to Agostino di Duccio.  It was possibly executed by his workshop while he was working on the nearby Porta San Pietro.  The fresco (ca. 1515) in the lunette, which depicts the Madonna and Child with Angels, is generally attributed to Giannicola di Paolo.

Campanile (largely rebuilt in 1463-8)


The imposing campanile to the right of the entrance was probably built in the 13th century.  It suffered from fires and wars to the extent that its upper part had to be demolished in 1393.  However, the lower part of the original tower survives.   (The photographs here were taken, respectively, from beside the facade of the church and from the interior courtyard behind the campanile).

The Florentine Bernardo Rossellino designed the new upper structure, which was built on the surviving base.   This structure, which comprises a ten-sided tower with a hexagonal enclosure for the bells below the pointed roof, was modelled on the campanile of the Duomo, Pienza, which Bernardo Rossellino had designed for Pope Pius II in 1459-62.  He sent the design from Pienza, and the work was carried out by Giovanni di Betto and Pietro da Firenze, who were probably members of his workshop.

Chiostro del Pozzo


The door directly opposite the entrance leads to a corridor through which you enter the grounds of the abbey.  Take a detour along this corridor and turn left at the end of it, just before the door to the gardens, to see the main cloister (early 16th century).  This cloister, the design of which is attributed to Francesco di Guido di Virio da Settignano, is also known as the Chiostro del Pozzo, a reference to the well (1530) at its centre. 

Under the portico opposite the entrance to the cloister, you can see the portal and two bifore windows of the ex-Chapter House of the monastery.

Garden and Chiostro delle Stelle

Retrace your steps along the corridor and turn left into the garden.  The path ahead runs along what was originally the line of the main road.  Most of the gardens were laid out after its diversion in 1587.  

The Chiostro delle Stelle (1571) can be seen through the grill behind the lily pond on the right.  A document of 1571 in the archives of the abbey, which records the purchase of columns for this cloister, also records that it had been designed by Galeazzo Alessi.  

The path continues to the arch of Porta di Braccio, which which probably originally formed an “anti-porte” to the city.

The path now enters the gardens that the monks laid out after the diversion of the road in 1587.  A milestone on the right, just after the arch, helpfully informed pilgrims of the distances to Rome (ahead) and Santiago di Compostella (behind them).

The gardens, like the abbey, are now under the administration of the Fondazione per l’Istruzione Agraria.  The belvedere ahead and to the left offers a fine view from its walls that reaches as far as Norcia and the Apennine Mountains beyond.

You might want to leave the garden by the gate at the end on the right and turn left to rejoin Walk IV at Porta San Costanzo.  After a detour to San Costanzo, this walk takes you round the outside of the abbey and includes a fine view of the apse of the church.

San PietroMain Page     Exterior     Church Interior    

Crypt, Chapels and Sacristy     Art from San Pietro 

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Abbazia di San Pietro: Exterior

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