Key to Umbria: Spello

The villa stands on part of the site of what was an important Roman Sanctuary below the walls of Spello.  Its grounds are open to the public.

Present layout

The history of the site is complex, so it is probably worth exploring the layout before looking at the way it has developed over time.

As you enter the gardens from Via Centrale Umbra, the ticket office and book shop are on the right, beside the left wall of San Fedele.  (At the time of my visit in April 2016, access to the gardens was free but the villa itself was closed.

Retrace your steps towards the entrance and turn right (east) up the steps through the Baroque garden.

These lead to a monumental fountain surmounted by a statue of Diana, and a cistern with a clock further uphill. 

The main facade of the present villa is to the right.  Although this building is very impressive, it was originally the Casino di Villeggiatura, a subsidiary structure added at some point soon after 1805 (see below).


                      Casino di Villeggiatura (ca. 1805))                                      Urbani Villa

                                                                                                                 originally built in ca. 1600

Walk round to the far side of the present villa to see the Italian garden.  This is laid out on a terrace, with the original villa (Casa di Villeggiatura) at the far end.  This earlier building now belongs to the Suore Francescane Piccolo San Damiano.

Development of the Complex

Urbani Family (ca. 1600-1736)

The Urbani family, whose main residence, Palazzo Urbani, was inside the town walls, bought the site in ca. 1600 and used it principally for the cultivation of vines and olives.  This smallholding extended across what is now the Via Centrale Umbra and included what were then the substantial remains of the Roman theatre (see below).  The Urbani built a suburban residence, which was known as the “Casa di Villeggiatura” (the present nunnery of the the Suore Missionarie d' Egitto) at what is now the far end of the Italian garden.  The family became extinct in 1736.

Funerary Stele (second half of 1st century BC)

This stele above a door in the Sala dell’ Editto of Palazzo Comunale Vecchio came from the “cloister” (loggia ?) of Palazzo Urbani. It has a triangular pediment with a flower and two dolphins, above a relief of the deceased.  The inscription below the pediment (CIL XI 5308) records the name of the deceased:

L(ucius) Cominius L(uci) f(ilius) Lem(onia)

The inscription is the earliest of nine surviving inscriptions that confirm that Hispellum (at least from the time of the formation of the colony in ca. 40 BC but possibly from the Social Wars, was assigned to the Lemonia.

The inscription below:

Sext(us) Aurel(ius)/ Propert(ius)/ Sex(ti) f(ilius) Lem(onia)

was added relatively recently (probably in the 18th century) when attempts were being made to claim the poet Propertius (who probably came from Assisi) for Spello.

Teresa Pamphili Grillo (1736-1762)

On the extinction of the Urbani family, its property passed to the Principessa Teresa Pamphili Grillo, a talented poet, who belonged to the Accademia dell' Arcadia in Rome and wrote under the pseudonym Irene Pamisia.  She apparently wished to escape from a troubled marriage to Filippo Camillo Pamphili, who conveniently stayed in Rome.  She was a very devout woman, and one of the attractions of this site in Spello was its proximity to Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi: when she died in 1762, she was buried there, and her cousin, Cardinal Cosimo Imperiali commissioned her monument (1764) from Tommaso Righi

Teresa Grillo probably:

  1. re-modelled the original Casa di Villeggiatura;

  2. laid out the Italian garden; and

  3. partially rebuilt San Fedele as a private chapel.

Gregorio Piermarini (ca. 1822-45)

The property subsequently passed first to the Sperelli family and then to Gregorio Onori Piermarini of Foligno.  He  employed the engineer Saverio Andreucci di Siena to work on the site: his surviving plan (1830) of the site includes the ‘Casino di Villeggiatura’, which also appears in the fresco (ca. 1830) illustrated above, which survives in Piermarini’s palace (now Palazzo Piermarini Prosperi-Valenti) in Foligno.

Gregorio Piermarini died in 1845.  

Recent History

The property subsequently had a succession of owners.  It provided a summer residence for inmates of the Collegio Vitale Rosi until 1923, when it passed to its last private owner, Decio Costanzi.  He sold the existing villa to the Suore Missionarie d' Egitto (now known as the Suore Francescane Piccolo San Damiano) in 1924, and commissioned Cesare Bazzani to re-model the Casino di Villeggiatura into what is now Villa Fidelia.

A comparison of Bazzani’s surviving drawings and the fresco above shows that he extended the building forwards onto the terrace below and built two new façades (one to the right in this photograph and another on the opposite side of the villa).  The red brick wall that had sustained the Italian garden in the fresco probably disappeared at this time. 

The present entrance to the grounds from Via Centrale Umbra and the garden leading up to the remodelled villa also took shape at this time.  During this work, a fountain that had been fed by the Roman aqueduct was discovered and adapted to form the basis of the present monumental fountain.

Bazzani also rebuilt the facade of the ancient church of San Fedele in the palace grounds, which gave its name to Villa Fidelia. 

Decio Costanzi made his “new” villa available for the wedding breakfast of Giovanna di Savioa, the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III, who married Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria in 1930 in a ceremony at San Francesco, Assisi that was attended by Benito Mussolini.

The Costanzi property passed to the Provincia di Perugia in 1974.  The Straka - Coppa Collection, which Mario Coppa gave to the Province 1985, was housed in Villa Fidelia from that time until 2003.  (It is now in the Palazzo della Provincia, Perugia).

Ancient History


Aerial view of the site of the Roman sanctuary   

The original Urbani smallholding covered a large part the Roman sanctuary (late 1st century BC), below the walls of Spello.  The terrace on which the Italian garden was established is the uppermost of three terraces that were established at this time.  There were twin temples at the ends of this terrace:

  1. one on the site of the present Villa Fidelia (at the extreme left in the foreground in the image above); and

  2. the other, which was dedicated to Venus, on the site of the original Urbani building (now owned by the Suore Missionarie d' Egitto).

Urbani’s holding also included:

  1. the site of what was probably the Templum Flaviae Gentis (Temple of Constantine’s Flavian dynasty, built in ca. 335 AD), later the church of San Fedele (above), which can be seen in the reconstruction above on Via Centrale Umbra, at the centre of the foreground (just above the word ‘Santuario’ in its legend); and

  2. land on the other side of what is now Via Centrale Umbra that had been to site of the Roman theatre.

Read more: 

Most of the historical information for Villa Fidelia is taken from this page in the website of the Comune di Spello.  There have, however, been recent publications that might change some of the details. 
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Villa Fidelia (ca. 1930)

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