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Saturday 13 July 2024
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Ancient castles and fortresses

Just a year after being elected Pope in Avignon, in 1353 Innocent VI sent the energetic Spanish Cardinal Egidio Albornoz into Italy with the task of restoring order to the Church dominions there. Albornoz cleverly resorted to military architecture also as a means providing the local population with a lasting reminder of papal power, and the fortresses he had erected in Umbria, the Marche and in Romagna still stand as landmarks today.

The cardinal commissioned the well-known architect Matteo di Giovannello, known as il Gattapone, to design the Rocca (fortress) of Spoleto (1362) as a nobleman’s castle, with the exterior walls reinforced by six towers around two internal courtyards, one for the troops and the other surrounded by a two-tier portico for the city’s governor. The large scale restoration works that the fortress required after it ceased to be a prison in 1982 have brought to light several finely painted 15th century Umbrian School frescoes. Today the castle houses the Museo del Ducato di Spoleto and is used for performances and events during the Spoleto Festival.

Gattapone also designed the fortress of Narni, which was built at around the same time as its Spoleto counterpart to stand guard over the Terni basin beneath. Major restoration works financed by the City of Narni and the Province of Terni have brought the castle back to its former glory and it now functions as the main cultural hub of Narni.

In 1364 Albornoz commissioned Ugolino di Montemarte, who had also designed the magnificent fortress of Ancona, to draw up plans for the Rocca of Orvieto. The chosen site was close to the ingenious Pozzo di San Patrizio well, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.

Erected at the summit of the hill that stands over the city, the Rocca of Assisi commands stunning views over the countryside below. Albornoz had it built over the ruins of a previously existing fortified structure erected by order of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, whose trapezoid plan it retained.

Only sections of the ramparts and a tower survive of the fortress of Spello, and that of Todi is in ruins.

"Umbria...Cuore verde d’Italia. Umbria Percorsi d'arte", Agenzia di Promozione turistica dell'Umbria, Perugia, pg. 60, by kind permission.

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