Spoleto, Italy

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Roman theater, Spoleto
Spoleto was the Roman town Spoletium, colonized in 241 B.C., on the important Roman road the via Flaminia, and it is still well equipped with evidence of the Roman era.  Its 1st century B.C. theater (above), which was partly incorporated into the church of Sant' Agata and a Benedictine convent in the Middle Ages, is now part of the Museo Archeologico.   The museum has archaeological finds from the Bronze Age through the Middle Ages; you can also stroll through the theater including some of its slightly spooky underground passages. The ruins of the Roman amphitheater are in the lower town, near the Torrente Tessino.  A Roman house, with beautifully preserved mosaic floors, can be toured under the Palazzo Comunale.  The house (dating to the time of Augustus) may have belonged to Vespasia Polla, mother of the emperor Vespasian. The house once stood just uphill from the Roman Forum, now Piazza del Mercato. During my visit, extensive renovation work on the Palazzo Comunale itself had closed the Pinacoteca Comunale which it houses.  The Roman house was still open. Another Roman landmark, the Arco di Druso, was also covered with scaffolding in the fall of 2003. Next to the arch, the remains of a Roman temple are visible under the church of San Ansano. Spoleto's more modern claim to fame is the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds), a performing arts festival held every summer since 1958.  The Roman theater is used for dance performances during the festival.

Spoleto's Duomo has beautiful frescoes by Fra Lippo Lippi in the apse; the painter is also buried in the church.  The Eroli Chapel in the rear of the church has frescoes by Pinturicchio (I also have some pictures of the Cappella dell' Assunta, with 15th century frescoes by Jacopo Siculo).  The Museo Dicesano (reopened after repair of earthquake damage) is around the corner from the duomo.  It has an interesting collection of artwork, but its best feature is the church of St. Eufemia, a early twelfth century church that has been restored to something like its original design (minus nearly all the original frescoes) despite being on the receiving end of some of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune through the centuries.  It preserves the matronei, raised galleries which was reserved for women in churches of the period.  Despite (or maybe because of) its lack of decoration, I found this church to be exceptionally beautiful.  A pamphlet about the church handed out at the museum entrance states: "The inside of the church is impressive for the sense of rhythm and proportion which pervades it."  I am not sure that is exactly right but whatever this church has, it has a lot of it.  Besides the pictures of the interior, I have a picture of the apse taken from via dell' Arringo.

The Rocca Albornoz, a medieval fortress built by Cardinal Albornoz in the 14th century to exert papal control over Umbria, stands above the town.  It was used until recently as a prison, and looks like one, too.  Now it is open to the public and being converted to other uses.  Via d. Ponte goes around the Rocca to the south and leads to the Ponte delle Torre, a remarkable medieval bridge over the Tessino. There is an extensive network of footpaths and dirt roads accessible from the far end of the Ponte delle Torre.  If I had known how beautiful it was back there, I would have planned to take a lunch and spend a day hiking.  Maybe I'll have another chance ... there are a couple of cafes on the road to the bridge, and a small hotel, the Hotel Gattapone.  Although I didn't stay there, the guest rooms must have incredible views.  The place I did stay, the Hotel Il Panciolle, had just seven rooms and no English speaking staff, but it was comfortable, spotless, very reasonably priced, and the view was quite good there, too (looking down across the valley).

Spoleto has quite a few good restaurants, probably in part because of the tourist traffic brought in by the Festival.  Umbrian food is simple, hearty, and thoroughly delicious.   

Spoleto is easily reached by frequent trains on the Rome-Ancona line; trains for Assisi and Perugia also stop there.  City buses circulate throughout the town and may serve to save you a twenty minute uphill walk from the train station to the upper town.  

Spoleto links:

10/28/03 § dvandervelde@ku.edu

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