Why to visit Spoleto
Spoleto in one of the most beautiful towns of the whole Umbria. It is located on the Sant’Elia hill and on the shores of the river Clitunno. Ancient capital of the Lombard dukes, Spoleto will leave you breathless because of its stunning landscape. In a postcard addressed to his wife Herman Hesse wrote: “Spoleto is the most beautiful discovery I made in Italy […], there is such a wealth of beauty almost unknown, mountains, valleys, forests of oaks, monasteries, waterfalls”. Spoleto, even if shows evident traces of the Roman era even in its urban structure, substantially maintains a medieval appearance, due to the period in which it was first a flourishing Longobard Duchy, and then an important city within the Papal State. It was built in the 14th century and today it is much loved from the tourists.
1) The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
The Spoleto Cathedral, the city’s most important civil monument, originally built in the Romanic style during the 12th century, has undergone subsequent modifications with the addition of a portico in the Renaissance style between 1491 and 1504 and the remodelling of the interior in the 17th century.
In the upper part of the façade, which is hut-shaped and decorated with rose-windows and ogival blind arches, the great mosaic in the Byzantine style representing Christ between the Virgin Mary and St. Giovanni, and placed between the symbols of the four Evangelists, stands out.
The interior, made up of three naves on columns, contains, among many works of great artistic merit: in the first chapel on the right, a fresco with the Madonna and Saints by Pinturicchio; above the middle portal bronze bust of Urban VIII by Bernini, and in the right transept the tomb of the painter Filippo Lippi. In fact, this last-named personage had realized in the Cathedral, and to be exact, in the apses an important cycle of frescoes: Nativity, Annunciation, the Assumption of Mary and the Coronation.
Furthermore, in the left side of the nave, you can find one of the most precious relics of San Francesco d’ Assisi.
2) The Rocca Albornoziana
The Rocca Albornoziana is on the top of Sant’Elia Hill, was built in 1359, for the will of Pope Innocenzo VI who wanted to restore the authority of the Pope in his territories.
The fortress took the name from the powerful Spanish Cardinal Albornoz, who wanted the building of the Rocca in 1359.
Until the half of the 17th century, the fortress was the residence of the Popes and the main figures of the time. During the 16th and 17th century a period of deep crisis affected the Rocca, since the governors preferred to move inside the town and the original building began to be modified.
In 1817 it turned into a prison up to 1983, after that, it was restored and took again the original shape.
The restoration brought several paintings from the 14th to 18th century to life. Inside the main tower you can find the “Camera pinta”, painted between 1392 and 1416 with scenes based on the courtesan and chivalrous life.
In the middle of the court yard there is a Renaissance pit with two pillars at the side, while on the architrave the emblem of the Pope Niccolò V is carved.
You can enjoy a stunning view on Spoleto from the avenues.
Apart from the historic value, the fortress also has a cultural value. Indeed, inside of the Rocca there is the National Museum of Spoleto, with materials from the civic collections.
3) The Bridge of the Towers
The Ponte delle Torri of Spoleto is 236 m long and 90 m high. It is a huge ten-arcade work that connects Colle Sant’ Elia with Monteluco. It is constituted of a road and a water canal supported by ogival arcades and stone pillars. It can be reached after a long fine-view walk around the Rocca.
The Fortilizio dei Mulini and the Basilica of St. Peter can be visited while crossing the bridge. The historians have not come to a satisfactory agreement about its exact date of construction, yet. Some of them say it was built in the XIII century, probably over the remains of an ancient Roman aqueduct.
The bridge preserved the function of the previous structure to carry the water of the Cortaccione springs to Spoleto. Nevertheless, many think its origins more probably date to the XIV century. At that time, the cardinal Albornoz started its construction works entrusting Matteo Gattaponi with this task. Yet, its quite late-medieval characteristics, since its origin date to before the XIII century (as testified by its central Romanesque pillars), and the absence of any cardinal’s symbols on the bridge, mean that this structure was built before Albornoz. It is certainly acquainted that the name “pons inter torres” was given to it around the XVIII century because of the towers standing at its sides, one on the Fortilizio dei Mulini and the other near the Rocca Albornoziana. Yet, the question of the name is being much debated on, since some scholars think that its name derived from the big stone pillars the bridge lies on. In effect, its two central pillars are hollow on the inside and they have entrance doors. This means that they definitely were well-defended towers.
As a matter of fact, the Ponte had a remarkable strategic position, since it overlooked a vast area and was connected to the Rocca.
What is certain is that the Ponte delle Torri gives the chance to enjoy a much appreciated panoramic view over one of the greenest and purest areas in the territory of the Appenines, near Spoleto.
Without doubt, this view impressed Wolfgang Goethe, too. The XVIII-century German writer and dramatist dedicated one page of his “Viaggio in Italia” to this bridge. An ornamental plaque near the bridge commemorates his promenade throughout the city.
4) The Roman Theatre
The Roman Theatre was built in the second half of the first century b.C. inside the town hall and was used for events in until the 3rd century, undergoing transformations and restorations. In the Roman Age a deep rift appeared in the staircase, maybe because of an earthquake. In1320 400 Guelphs were imprisoned and killed after two years, in the corridors of the theatre, used as a prison. In 1395 the Benedictine nuns settled there and the theatre became their monastery.
The theatre is built on a large artificial terrace and has a 70-metres diametre, delimited by a semicircular ambulatory. From here you enter the cavea through three entries, where the spectators sat.
The orchestra is the central semicircular space, which in the Roman theatres was occupied by the most important people. This area still keeps some polychrome marble slabs dating back to the 4th century and coming from several provinces of the Empire.
Today the Theatre is still used for different exhibitions and events. During the summer, especially in occasion of the festival “Due Mondi”, the Roman Theatre comes back to its original functions, hosting theatre and dance shows.
What to eat in Spoleto
Apart from all the traditional Umbrian dishes, there is one especially prepared in Spoleto: tagliatelle (noodles) with black truffle.
The tagliatelle with black truffle are ideal for a tasty and refined first course for the sweet tooth, thanks to the aroma and the unique taste of the truffle, a very appreciated mushroom from the connoisseurs. It is a dish easy to prepare and with a few ingredients, using thee black truffle as raw food, accurately chosen. It is the main element of this high-quality dish.
The truffle has a very strong and particular smell, therefore this dish will not be appreciated by everyone but only for the most refined palates.
How to reach and move in Spoleto
Spoleto is easily reached by train from Rome (the journey takes about an hour and a half), Ancona, Assisi and Perugia.
The train station is in the modern part of town, below the historic centre on its hill. The distance is walkable, but since it’s a fairly long walk uphill a good idea is to take the bus which runs from outside the station – buy tickets from a bar or newsstand first. The bus stops in Piazza della Liberta, close to the tourist information office.