Key to Umbria: Spoleto

Walk I:  Inside the Roman Walls

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St Peter Martyr preaching in Piazza del Mercato (ca. 1700)

Cappella di San Pietro Martire, San Domenico

The walk begins in Piazza del Mercato, which is situated on a terrace on the hillside at the heart of the city. 

  1. The Roman forum was built here as a rectangular space that extended on a north-south axis.  Remains of its paving have been found some 1.5 meters below the present street level.

  2. This open space seems to have fallen victim to ad hoc urban development from at least the 10th century.  The Commune opened up the present piazza in the 13th century, when it was known as Piazza del Foro.  It was later named for the weekly market that is still held each Friday.

The focal point of the piazza is provided by the fountain, which is known as the Fonte di Piazza.  The fountain stands on the site of what was the facade of the church of San Donato (11th or 12th century), which was documented as a parish church in 1267 and demolished in ca. 1573.   The fresco illustrated above was painted after the demolition of the fabric of the church but before the erection of the present fountain.  You can see the earlier fountain (1413) behind the city magistrates.

Take a short detour along Via Palazzo dei Duchi, to the left of the fountain:

  1. the grocer’s shop on the left stands on the foundations of an earlier structure that was wrongly thought to have been the palace of the Dukes of Spoleto, which led to the name of the street.

  1. the shops on the right stand on the clearly visible remains of San Donato. 

The Roman forum extended to the south as far as the end of Via dei Duchi and the cardo maximus ran south from this point along what is now Via di Fontesecca. 

Return to and cross Piazza del Mercato to the junction with Via dell' Arco di Druso.  Palazzo Leti Sansi on the left, stands on the site of the Palazzo del Podestà, which was demolished in the early 17th century.  Traces of it can be seen in the left wall of the present palace.

The Arco di Druso ahead marked the end of the Roman forum and the cardo maximus ran north from this point to Arco di Monterone (see below).

Walk back across the Piazza: the decumanus maximus ran along Via del Mercato to your left and Via del Municipio to your right.  Take the latter, past Palazzo Martorelli Orsini (see Palazzo Comunale below) at the corner on the left.  (The palace is currently (January 2009) in restoration: this picture is on the scaffolding).

Before visiting Palazzo Comunale, continue a little way along Via del Municipio and turn right along Vicolo della Basilica to see the remains of the so-called Roman  “basilica” on the left.

Return to Via del Municipio to see the south facade of Palazzo Comunale.  The palace to the right of it is Palazzo Pagani: both of these palaces extend back to Via Aurelio Saffi (see below).  Walk back along the Via del Municipio and turn left into Via Visiale.

  1. The entrance to the Roman  house that was discovered under Palazzo Comunale in 1885, is at the corner, on the right.

  2. The western facade of Palazzo Comunale in Via Visiale and the adjoining Palazzo Martelli Orsini are in restoration (at January 2009).

(Palazzo Pagani, Palazzo Martelli Orsini and the Monte di Pietà are described in the page on Palazzo Comunale).

Walk along the right side of Palazzo Comunale (past the Roman house) and turn right into Via Saffi:

  1. the north facade of Palazzo Comunale, which incorporates the Monte di Pietà, and the civic tower (see below) are on your right; and
  2. the south wing of Palazzo Vescovile is on your left.  The entrance opens onto its inner courtyard, with facade of Sant' Eufemia on the right.  The church is entered from the Museo Diocesano, which occupies the upper floor of the north wing of the palace. 

Return to Via Aurelio Saffi and turn left along it to the top of  the wide steps of Via dell' Arringo on the left, which lead down to Piazza del Duomo.  The covered passage across the street links two parts of Palazzo Pagani (see above).

The view of the Duomo ahead (see below), which is the defining image of Spoleto, took on its present appearance in 1998 when the steps and the piazza repaved.   It provides the main venue for the annual Festival dei Due Mondi.

Via dell' Arringo was probably opened up in the late 12th century to link the Duomo to Palazzo Vescovile.  It is named for the public assemblies (literally "harangues") that were held in the piazza. 

Walk down the steps, past the apse of Sant' Eufemia (see below) is on the left and Palazzo Ràcani Arroni on the right, to Piazza del Duomo.  The piazza is laid out on a terrace on the slope of Colle Sant' Elia that was probably established in Roman times and was the site of the episcopal complex of Spoleto from at least the middle of the 10th century. 

The palaces on the right, beyond Palazzo Ràcani Arroni (at he extreme right in this photograph), are:
  1. Casa Fabricolosi (15th century); and

  2. Palazzo Bufalini (18th century).

The fountain in the wall beyond incorporates a Roman sarcophagus.  The inscription above records that Archbishop Raffaele Mario Radossi restored it and moved it here from Palazzo Campello in 1954. 

The piazza is closed by the magnificent facade of the Duomo. The Canonica to the left of the Duomo stands on a site donated by Bishop Andrea II to the canons in 1067, when he instituted (or re-organised) the Cathedral Chapter.  The original bishop's palace stood behind it, against the city walls, until at least 1173, although it must have been badly damaged during the ravages of the Emperor Frederick I in 1155.  The residence was moved to the site of the current Palazzo Vescovile (see below) at some time before 1231.

Take a short detour by walking down the steps to the left of the Canonica and turning left into Piazza della Signoria.  This piazza, which was laid out as a park in 1956.   It is  named for the so-called Palazzo della Signoria, the huge arches of which support the terrace above.  (See below for the entrance in Via del Duomo).

The stone statue (1960) of “Cassandra” by Anna Mahler is at the centre of the piazza. 

Walk across the facade of Palazzo della Signoria and turn left up Via del Duomo, which leads back into Piazza del Duomo:

  1. There is an interesting relief of the Virgin in the wall of number 15 on the left.

  1. The entrance after number 29 (i.e. the door to the right in this illustration)  leads to the ex- Museo Civico, in Palazzo della Signoria.   

  1. There is a medieval washing facility at the end, on the right.

  2. The sculpture (1962) at the top of the steps to the right is called Stranger III and is by Lynn Chadwick.

Turn left at the top of the steps.  All the buildings on your left stand on the terrace supported by the substructure of the Palazzo della Signoria:

  1. The Casa dell' Opera del Duomo was built at the far end of the block in 1419. 
  2. Two proposals for the rest of the site came to nothing:

  3. one from Bartolomeo della Rovere (a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV and brother of the future Pope Julius II), who planned a palace here in 1478; and

  4. a second from Bishop Costantino Eroli, who planned a public library in 1493. 

  5. The Chiesa di Santa Maria della Manna d' Oro was built at the near end of the block in 1527.
  6. A theatre, which later became the Teatro Caio Melisso, was built in the middle in ca. 1664. 

Retrace your steps to Via del Duomo and continue along it.  [Is this view of the north facade of Palazzo Pucci della Genga (see Walk III) taken from here?]

Take a short detour by turning left down the steps of Via dello Spagna: the signed entrance on the left (usually closed) leads to the so-called "Sostruzione Sillane" under Palazzo Vescovile.

Return to and turn left into Via del Duomo: the distinctive Palazzo Dragoni (14th century), which is now a hotel, is in front of you, at number 13.  Turn right  down the steps on its left side and left at the bottom along Via degli Scalone.

Continue past Vicolo degli Eroli on the left and turn right down the steps of Vicolo Parruccio (named for the 14th century historian, Parruccio Zampolini).

This leads into Piazza della Madonna degli Orti.  The ex-church of the Santa Maria degli Orti (15th century), which was converted for residential use in 1975, is on your right (at number 1). 

Cross the piazza and down the steps of  the narrow vicolo opposite.  Turn hard left at the bottom and immediately right along Via Quinto Settano: “Quinto Settano was the pseudonym of the satirist Ludovico Sergardi, who died in Spoleto in 1726. 

  1. The closed church on the right belongs to the Congregazione delle Suore della Sacra Famiglia di Spoleto.

  1. Their nunnery and interesting museum, the Museo Don Pietro Bonilli, is beyond it, at number 2 on the right.  This is housed in part of Casa Eroli, which belonged to Bishop Francesco Eroli in 1500-40.

Look back to see a second relief of the Madonna on the covered walkway over the street.

Turn right on leaving the museum, right again (opposite number 19 on the left) and immediately left along Via Sant’ Alò: the ex-church of  Sant’ Alò in the small piazza on the right.  There is a third relief of the Madonna over its portal.

Return along Via Sant’ Alò and ahead up the short Via San Nicolò to the junction with Via Filitteria.  The important ex-church of SS Giovanni e Paolo is across the road but the direct access to it (at January 2009) is closed: instead, turn left and immediately right to walk past the lower church to the entrance to the upper church.  (You can sometimes arrange to visit the church by speaking to the receptionist at the Galleria Civica d’ Arte Moderna).

Turn left past the facade of the church and right along Via SS Giovanni e Paolo to the junction with Via Minervio, which follows the line of the Roman cardo maximus.  Take a short detour by turning right to the junction with Via Filitteria:

  1. Via Salaria Vecchia, the continuation of the cardo maximus, is opposite.  There is an interesting fresco (1375) in the aedicule on the wall of the house opposite (at number 33) that depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned with SS John the Baptist and Bartholomew.

  1. Teatro Nuovo is to the left, in Via Vaita Sant’ Andrea, which is named for the Monastero di Sant' Andrea, a church and nunnery that was demolished to make way for the theatre.  According to tradition, St Thomas a Becket stayed here en route for Rome in the  12th century.  A community of Dominican nuns from Santa Caterina della Rosa (near San Domenico) had moved here in 1574 but the complex had been secularised and was used as a residence for old ladies by the early 19th century.  This home was demolished in 1840 to make way for the new theatre, at which point its residence moved to the ex-convent of San Paolo inter Vineas.
  2. [Suore della Sacra Famiglia to the right]

Return to Via Minervio and continue to Piazza Mentana, just before the junction with Corso Mazzini. 

The ex-church of Sant' Angelis de' Gilibertis ( ca. 1300), which is named for the family that built it, is on the right side of the piazza. 

The remains of an earlier structure have been excavated to the left of the church. These might relate to the Baths of Torasius, which were built by Gaius Torasius Severus in the 2nd century AD, restored by the Emperor Constantius II in ca. 360 and endowed by King Theodoric in ca. 510.  (See the inscription recording the first two events in the page on the Museo Archeologico).

The piazza is dominated by the facade of San Filippo Neri.  The Oratorian Fathers demolished a number of properties here in 1671 to open up the piazza in front of their new church.  Roman remains found here indicate that it might have been the site of the Roman baths.

Piazza Pianciani, which still follows the cardo maximus, is across Corso Mazzini.   The piazza was created in the 18th century to form a fitting location for Palazzo Pianciani, which has a wing on each side. 

Ugo Tarchi designed the impressive steps (1923) at the end, in front of Palazzo Leoncilli (16th century).

Return to and turn left along Corso Mazzini, past the lurid pink Palazzo del Tribunale (law courts).  This was the convent of the Oratorian Fathers of San Filippo Neri (see above).  Turn  left along Via del Mercato, which follows the line of the Roman decumanus maximus.

[Where is this aedicule - Vicolo dei Tribunali]

Take a short detour along Via di San Gregorio della Sinagoga  to the left, through what was once the Jewish quarter.  The ex-church of San Gregorio della Sinagoga is on the right, just beyond the arch. 

Return to and continue along Via del Mercato, which becomes less steep as it approaches what was the Roman forum.  Turn right along Via della Genga into Piazza della Genga to see Palazzo della Genga (17th century).  Annibale della Genga (the future Pope Leo XII) gave it to the city in 1824. 

Cross the piazza diagonally to the right and follow Vicolo Sdrvcciolo right down the steps back to Corso Mazzini.  The passage opposite (to the right of Ristorante Sabatini) leads to the piano nobile of Palazzo Rosari Spada.  Look down from the elevated passage into the courtyard to see a stretch of Roman wall to the left.

This palace used to house the Pinacoteca Comunale and still contains a few of its pictures.  (The most important are now in the Museo del Ducato di Spoleto).  It is not clear when and where the rest of the collection will be re-exhibited.   The space is now used for the Museo del Tessile e del Costume

Turn left on leaving the museum and walk down the steps into Via delle Terme and the main facade of the palace.  This street runs along the north of Piazza Sordini, which used to be called Piazza Rosari.

Turn right to see the ex-church of San Lorenzo (12th century), the back of which is pictured above.  This was originally a parish church and was documented in 1138, when it belonged to the Abbazia di Sassovivo.  Its facade shows the signs of major modification: the present campanile probably replaced the original, which may well have been directly above the portal and bifore window.  The church was restored in 1972 but it is usually closed.

Turn left past the facade of San Lorenzo, along Via Plinio il Giovane, which once more follows the line of the Roman decumanus maximus.  Turn left along Via San Martino, just before Piazza Collicola.  The ex-church of San Martino (16th century ?) is at the end on the left, at number 1-3 Via Sant’ Agata.

Turn left into Via Sant’ Agata and continue to the junction with Via delle Terme.  Take a short detour by turning right for a nice view of the Roman theatre (see below).  The street was named “delle Terme” when sporadic finds here before the theatre was excavated led people to the mistaken conclusion that this was the site of the Roman baths .  [Palazzo Bartoletti at number 8 contains frescoes (1587) that are the earliest known works by the Perugian artist Benedetto Bandiera.]

Return to the junction and turn right to continue along Via Sant’ Agata.  The relief of the Corvi arms (a pair of birds) high up on on the corner wall on the right denotes Palazzo Corvi (11th century), which became part of the nunnery of Sant’ Agata. 

  1. The portico of Sant' Agata is on the left.

  2. The entrance to the Museo Archeologico and the Roman theatre is just before  it.

  3. The restaurant opposite, on the corner of Piazza Sant’ Agata, occupies the site of the (now demolished) church of Sant’ Apollinare.  A long stretch of Roman wall serves as the foundations of the building to the left of it. 

Turn right at the end into Piazza della Libertà (emerging from the arch pictured here on the left.  [Palace facade and clock to the left]. 

Continue clockwise past Palazzeto Ancaiani, which houses  the tourist office, to Palazzo Ancaiani, which extends across the entire east end of the piazza.
  1. Cappella di San Benedetto (the Ancaiani family chapel) stood to the left until 1865, when it was demolished to allow the widening of the entrance to Viale Matteotti.

  2. The arches to the right are all that survives of the stables of the palace, which were demolished in 1954 to facilitate the excavation of the Roman theatre.  (There is a fine view of the Roman theatre from here: blocks excavated from the site were re-used in parts of the palace facade, particularly in the part behind the Christmas tree in this picture.

The piazza was in effect the private courtyard of the Ancaiani family from the 13th century until 1820, when they sold their property to the papal authorities.  It was named in honour of liberty after the events of 1860: its character changed dramatically in the following decade, when road “improvements” rendered it a major thoroughfare linking Viale Matteotti to Corso Mazzini.

Return past the tourist office and turn right along Via Brignone.  Excavations in 2008 in front of the pharmacy on the left uncovered interesting Roman structures.  These were covered by boards at the time of my subsequent visit (January 2009).

  1. Piazza Fontana beyond on the left is named for Pietro Fontana, who gave orchards here to the Commune in 1802.  The fountain (16th century) came from Piazza Pianciani (above).

  1. Palazzo Mauri is on the opposite side of Via Brignone.

Continue to the junction with Via del Arco di Druso.  The Arco di Monterone, the only surviving gate from the Roman walls, is ahead

Turn left before the Arco di Monterone, along Via dell’ Arco di Druso.   SS Ansano e Antonio da Padova on the right stands on the foundations of the Roman temple; the entrance  Cripta di Sant' Isacco below its tribune is inside the church.

Turn right on leaving Sant’ Ansano and right again along Via del Arco di Druso, which follows the line of the cardo maximus:

  1. the remains of the right side of the Roman temple are embedded in the left wall of the church; and

  2. the Arco di Druso ahead marks the northern entrance to the forum (into which the temple originally faced).

Continue into Piazza del Mercato, where the walk ends.

Return to Walks in Spoleto.