(left) Portico of S. Agata, the XIVth century church of a Benedictine nunnery which was built on the site of the Roman Theatre, making use of some of its columns; (right) nearby medieval house of the Corvi (Raven) family who donated some of their properties to the nuns
The Lombard Duchy of Spoleto was founded in 570, shortly after King Alboin had led his army into Italy. Its first two Dukes were Faraold and Ariulf. They seized one province after another from the Greeks till their Duchy at last comprised the greater portion of Mid-Italy - the Sabina, Umbria, Marsica (the present province of the Abruzzi), and the Marches of Fermo and Camerino. The Popes lived in constant dread of these Lords of Spoleto, whose domination threatened them even more than did that of Benevento, the other great Lombard Duchy established in Italy at the close of the sixth century. When Charlemagne had made an end of the Lombard dynasty, the Lords of Spoleto, though then merely vassals of the French King, remained sufficiently powerful to ensure the maintenance of their dignity by France herself. (..) When the German Othos were reinstated, the Duchy of Spoleto fell to them in reversion, as no heir of the Lombard race then survived.
Ferdinand Gregorovius - An excursion through Sabina and Umbria in 1861 - Transl. by Dorothea Roberts
Museo del Ducato di Spoleto (in the fortress): (above) jewels from a VIth century tomb of a woman from Nocera Umbra (see other Longobard artifacts from that town); (below) capitals from S. Agata (VIIIth century)
I sought in vain, however, for any trace of the Lombard period. "Where did the Palace of the Dukes of Spoleto stand?" was the first question I asked, but no reply was forthcoming; the historian, Giancolombino Fatteschi, declared it to be unknown. Of the Palace of those princes who were once so powerful here, who ruled Spoleto for so long a period, not a stone remains that could attest to their place of residence; all memory of its site has passed away. There is a vague tradition which might lead one to conjecture that it stood in the cathedral square where the Arroni Palace now stands. Yet in that fortress dwelt and reigned successively the Counts Faraold, Ariulph, Toto, Thrasmund, Agebrand, Hildebrand, Gisulph, Guido, and Lambert. Their long line, beginning in 569, ended when Conrad the Swabian swept away their ducal rule in 1198. (..) At last the Papal See possessed itself of all those estates, to which, ever since the days of Charlemagne, a claim had been made, first by Innocent III. Gregory IX finally succeeded in annexing Spoleto and the Marches to the States of the Church. Gregorovius
The Longobards did not leave many traces of their rule over most of Italy. In 2011 UNESCO included seven monuments in their World Heritage List under the caption Longobards in Italy. Places of the Power (568-774 AD). They include Basilica of San Salvatore, outside the walls of Spoleto, Tempio sul Clitunno near Spoleto, Tempietto Longobardo at Cividale, S. Giulia at Brescia and S. Sofia at Benevento.
I proceded to the Neighbouring Hill call'd Monteluco crossing the Vale and stream under it on a
Bridge of a wonderful Height, on which is also a
very great Aqueduct. The Bridge consists of ten
Arches and but nine Piles, which are so high in the
middle, that it amazes those who behold them. The
Bridge having no Breast-work, or Walls on the sides
has of late occasion'd some fatal Accidents. (..) They tell of two Citizens of Spoleto
who in Despair, upon some Disappointments not long
since cast themselves down into that Pit; and that a
Peasant lately riding on an Ass, and being thrown, as
he was falling, first laid hold of the Brambles, and
the Danger adding to his Strength, grasp'd the Ass's
Head, by which means he was saved.
The Travels of the Learned Father Montfaucon from Paris thro' Italy in 1698-1701
At Spoletto, the next town on the road, are some antiquities. The most remarkable is an aqueduct of a Gothick structure, that conveys the water from mount St. Francis to Spoletto, which is not to be equalled for its height by any other in Europe. They reckon from the foundation of the lowest arch to the top of it 230 yards.
Joseph Addison - Remarks on several parts of Italy, in the years 1701, 1702, 1703
This town is still supplied with water, by means of an antique aqueduct, one of the most entire, and the highest in Europe. In the centre, where the height is greatest, there is a double arcade; the other arches diminish in height, as they recede from it, towards the sloping sides of the two mountains which this magnificent work unites.
John Moore - View of Society and Manners in Italy (in 1775)
October 1786. I ascended to Spoleto and went along the aqueduct, which serves also for a bridge fixing one mountain to another. The ten brick arches which span the valley, have quietly stood there through centuries, and the water still flows into Spoleto, and reaches its remotest quarters. This is the third great work of the ancients that I have seen (after the Arena of Verona and the Temple to Minerva at Assisi), and still the same grandeur of conception.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe - Italian Journey - translation by Charles Nisbeth.
(above) Illustration from "Augustus J. C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875" (the church in the foreground is S. Pietro); (below) today
The upper town is connected with Monte Luco by a gigantic aqueduct - a most picturesque object. The town is cut off from the mountain by a ravine 260 feet deep, now spanned by this stupendous bridge, with its ten tall, narrow arches. It was built in 604 by Duke Theodolapius, third of his line, but it has often been renewed. It conveys the water for the use of the town from Monte Luco; a narrow footway, leading from the Citadel, follows the course of the aqueduct out, on, and across the mountain side. Crossing that giddy height on a windy day, you may well cling to the handrail for safety. Gregorovius
Just below the fortress, is the entrance to the footway across the magnificent Aqueduct of Della Torre, which unites the town to Monte Luco. Though often repaired in later times, it was built by Theodelapius, first Duke of Spoleto, in 604. Hare
During the XVIIIth century the aqueduct was thought to have been built by the Romans, in the following century it was attributed to the Longobard Dukes of Spoleto, but today it is dated XIIIth or XIVth century, in the latter case its likely architect was Matteo Gattapone who designed the fortress.
This Monte Luco is the Umbrian Montserrat. A Syrian hermit, St. Isaac by name, had made it his retreat. In the tenth century a Convent had grown up beside his hermitage, and so many Anchorites had come there that the hill then almost resembled the Thebaid. Only one cell is now left in its original form, the Anchorites having long since deserted their Umbrian retreat. Many of their dwellings have been converted by the townsfolk into pretty country villas. A stroll beneath the venerable oaks which clothe the mountain slopes is delightfully refreshing. The air today was filled with the fragrance of the balsams and herbs which clothe the ground. Gentle breezes stirred the leaves of the old trees overhead; scarcely a sound, not even the tinkle of a bell, broke the stillness. Looking down from these heights, the white ribbon of the Flaminian Way can be traced as it creeps up to the city gate, and far away stretches the learning misty valley of the Tiber. Gregorovius
The citizens of Spoleto have always regarded Monteluco as a sacred site and issued laws to protect it (see a Roman inscription at the Archaeological Museum).
Museo del Ducato di Spoleto (in the fortress): (above) sarcophagus of S. Isacco (XIIth century from S. Giuliano a Monteluco); (below) the martyrdom of S. Biagio (XIIth/XIIIth century) from S. Nicol˛ (the relief is cut inside sections of a column)
Isaac fled Syria in the early VIth century because he professed Monophysitism, a Christian doctrine which was declared heretical and was persecuted by the Byzantine emperors. The sarcophagus named after him testifies to the skills of its unknown author who placed the blessing image of Christ inside a circle, similar to what did the Romans; it is surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists.
The frieze depicts scenes of the martyrdom of St. Blaise of Sebaste in Armenia who was tortured under Emperor Licinius in the year 316; from left: the emperor orders his torture; the saint tied to a column is skinned by two torturers; the beasts refuse to devour the body; the decapitation of the saint; Christ sends two angels on his aid. The relief shows a good arrangement of the scenes.
The fresco was detached in 1961 for preservation purposes from the crypt wall of the church, a small building consecrated in 1174, where a remarkable set of wall paintings dated from the last quarter of the XIIIth century to the XVth century are still kept. It represents the martyrdom of the two Roman brothers: to the left, on the background of a building, the emperor seating on the throne orders their decapitation, that is represented to the right of the lunette; at the centre both saints are crossing the door of Paradise under the image of the blessing Christ. The painting is attributed to Alberto Sotio, a local master who signed a Crucifix in the Cathedral.
The painting dedicated to the two saints was part of the most antique decoration of the church which retains other frescoes which were completed approximately by the same time. The Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket and the images of saints are attributed to Sotio. Thomas Becket was canonised in 1173 at Segni and some art historians doubt that his worship was already popular when the little church was decorated; the fresco could refer to a local event.
Spoleto in a late XVIth century fresco at Galleria delle Mappe Geografiche in the corridors of Palazzo del Belvedere in Rome; the rose of the winds indicates T(ramontana)-North, L(evante)-East, O(stro)-South and P(onente)-West
In the XIIIth century Spoleto expanded well beyond the limits of the Roman town: in 1296 the municipal authorities built new walls at the foot of the hill. The area they protected was large enough to accommodate all the houses and some farmed fields.
Medieval gates: (left) Porta Monterone aka Porta Romana or Porta di S. Pietro; (right) Porta S. Matteo aka Porta di Loreto
Porta Monterone has the same name as the Roman gate; they both stood at the southern entrance to the town of Via Flaminia. Since 1598 a yearly fair was held outside Porta S. Matteo (at the south-western end of the walls) and it is likely the tradition had older origins. The northern medieval gate was called di S. Gregorio because it stood near that church. In 1823 Cardinal Annibale Sermattei della Genga was elected Pope Leo XII. He belonged to a family with links to Spoleto and in 1827 the medieval gate was demolished to make room for Porta Leonina, a new gate which was destroyed by bombings in 1944. Porta della Ponzianina, the fourth medieval gate which was named after the nearby convent of S. Ponziano, was demolished in 1940, because it was too narrow for modern needs.
The construction of the fortress in the late XIVth century deprived the walls of their importance and they were not upgraded to the needs of artillery warfare, while retaining their function for administrative and tax collection purposes. The long western walls still exist whereas other sections were pulled down to facilitate communication between the historical town and its modern neighbourhoods.
Towers of the western walls
The fresco in the Vatican shows that this section of the walls was protected by a moat and that the towers had battlements. In their current state they are not very evocative of their past importance.
Torre dell'Olio, a tall medieval tower near Porta della Fuga
According to the legend boiling oil was thrown from this tall tower on Hannibal when he tried to seize Spoleto. As a matter of fact it is dated XIIIth century. Medieval Spoleto is said to have had 100 towers. Many of them were pulled down or cut by Cardinal Gil d'Albornoz when he built the fortress, to ensure the local families could not use them against him. Torre dell'Olio strikes the viewer for its narrow rectangular shape, especially considering that Spoleto is subject to earthquakes.
S. Domenico: (left) fašade seen from Palazzo Collicola; (right) bell tower
The great striped red and white Church of S. Domenico has a chapel covered with 14th-century frescoes, a PietÓ attributed to Lo Spagna, and a good copy of Raffaelle's Transfiguration by Giulio Romano. Hare
The early XIIIth century was marked by the papal endorsement of two new orders: in 1216 that founded by St. Dominic of Guzman and in 1209 and 1223 that founded by St. Francis of Assisi. The new orders promoted the construction of a large number of convents and churches within a short time after their foundation.
The Dominican church of Spoleto was built in 1248-1259; the use of a pink stone is typical of Assisi and Foligno which had easy access to Monte Subasio where the stone was quarried.
The Augustinian Order was the result of the union of several communities of hermits which was endorsed by the Pope in 1256. They followed the rule of St. Augustine and, similar to the Dominicans and the Franciscans, they began to build convents and churches. S. Nicol˛ was founded in 1304 on the edge of the ancient Roman wall. This commanding position however explains the major damages which were caused by an earthquake in 1767. The building was abandoned by the monks and it was used for a variety of purpose. In 1967 the City of Spoleto acquired its property and undertook a lengthy restoration to bring it back to its medieval aspect. It now houses temporary exhibitions.
The church was used as an oratory by the Augustinians and then it belonged to a brotherhood. It is now used by a local charity. One of its portals retains a relief showing a mother pelican striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her own blood, a symbol of the Passion of Jesus Christ. In Rome it was the heraldic symbol of the Santacroce (Holy Cross) and it can be seen both in their palace and in their church.
(left) SS. Simone e Giuda; (right) monument celebrating the conquest of the fortress by the Italians in 1860
SS. Simone e Giuda, the convent of the Franciscans, stood at the eastern end of the town, that of the Dominicans at the western one and that of the Augustinians at the northern one, because the new orders preferred to be at a distance; this can be seen in many medieval towns e.g. at Orvieto. The convent was a very large one and its church had Romanesque and Gothic features. In 1863 it was confiscated and turned into a large barracks and later on into an orphanage. These changes led to the almost total loss of the complex, with the partial exception of the basic design of the fašade.
Maggiore is referred to the church because it was the largest of three churches which were dedicated to St. Gregory from Spoleto, a priest who was martyred at the time of Emperor Diocletian. A small church was built near the site of his martyrdom, i.e. Ponte Sanguinario (Bloody Bridge), the bridge from which he and other Christians were thrown into a brook. In the VIIIth century a new church replaced the old one and in 1079-1146 the current church was erected by using materials from the previous buildings and some other ancient stones. The church was repeatedly enlarged and adapted to the fashion of the time. The current fašade is the result of a 1950s attempt to reconstruct that of the XVth century.
Some ancient columns were used for the VIIIth century church and for the XIIth century one. The capitals, especially those of the crypt, are mainly medieval ones. A similar large crypt with Roman "spolia" can be seen at S. Ponziano, outside the medieval walls of Spoleto.
The interior of the church was repeatedly modified and works of art were added or destroyed or reassembled. A Renaissance tabernacle dated 1523 was moved to S. Gregorio Maggiore, from S. Maria della Stella, a nunnery which stood on the site of the Roman amphitheatre. Its church was dedicated to Sts. Stephen and Thomas.
S. Eufemia: (left) fašade; (right) apse seen from Piazza dell'Arengo
The fašade is inside the courtyard of the Archbishop's Palace which was built in the late XIIth century by incorporating a former Benedictine nunnery of which S. Eufemia was the church. It is dated early XIIth century and its three apses can be seen from the Cathedral. Similar to other churches of Spoleto its current aspect is the result of a long restoration which was completed in the 1950s.
Wandering about: (left) Roman structures in Via dello Spagna; (centre) coat of arms of the Orsini (in the XVIth century two Orsini were Bishops of Spoleto); (right) a madonnella
The image in the background of this page shows a relief near Porta di Monterone portraying a knight, a symbol of Spoleto.
Other pages on Spoleto:
Roman Spoleto - page one
Roman Theatre and Archaeological Museum
Churches without the Walls
Renaissance and Baroque Spoleto
or visit Rocca di Spoleto or move to Tempio del Clitunno and Trevi.