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Sunday 22 October 2017
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Foligno

Via della Spina, An Ancient Roman Road


Near Spoleto the Via Flaminia is crossed by an ancient road allegedly taken by St Peter to reach the Piceni people from Rome. The large quantity of archaeological finds along this road testify to its ancient origins.
An initial section of the road is thought to date as far back as the 4th century BC when it was partially used as the Iron route taken by traders of the metal quarried on the island of Elba and destined for Greece. In past centuries this road ran through the Colfiorito pass at 821 metres above sea level and connected Spoleto with the Adriatic sea. The route grew in importance during the Middle Ages given that it was a much swifter and less steep means of crossing the Apennines towards the Adriatic than the alternative Via Plestina from Foligno (36 km against 50 km.).

The Route of the Via della Spina
Some sections of the ancient road have now vanished or impossible to transit. We will attempt to cover it in the sections that still exist.

From the Via Flaminia, near Spoleto, the Via della Spina runs along the Spina torrent to the San Pietro e San Paolo pass at 938 metres above sea level, between Spina Nuova and Spina Vecchia.
A short distance after taking the road we reach Passo d’Acera, once a horse-changing stop. After his victory over the Romans at Lake Trasimene, Hannibal passed with his army exactly here, under the Torre dell’Olio, where the Roman troops stationed at Spoleto blocked his army by pouring boiling oil down from the tower. Unable to react, Hannibal was forced to make a detour along Via della Spina towards the sea.
After Spina Nuova, Spina Vecchia and Pič di Commoro, teh road leads to Commoro.

The village of Commoro was a Medieval castle. The parish church of Santa Maria Novella is in fact within the old castle walls. The church is flanked by an ungracious bell tower that was formerly the castle's watch tower. An 18th century font stands at the foot of the tower, while the upper floor still contains the old machinery that powered the pendulum clock.

The road to Orsano leads past the church of Santa Lucia, rich in frescoes and the cemetary for the nearby village. Some of the frescoed have been damaged by time, others by man, but the structure of the church and the roof have recently undergone restoration. Further along the road stand the church of Sant'Antonio, followed by the Sant'Antonio hospice.

At Orsano there is the fine church of Maria Assunta. The interior is decorated with precious wood carvings from the 17th century, on the main altar and the four side altars, all gilded and painted in many colours. The valuable but worn and still beautiful “perugine” cloths are kept in the sacristy. The rich decorations in this church are clear proof of the wealth once present in this town. The church of Santa Maria del Castro Alberti, with its imposing bell tower, stands within the castle walls. The interior is paved with large stone slabs and there is an impressive font.

In the past Pič di Commoro was a small stop to rest on the way to the castle of Commoro. A long building on three floors runs parallel to the road and is flanked by stables and a barn. It is typical of the style used in the 15th century for inns. The chapel is below street level and contains frescoes that have been attributed to Paolo Bontulli da Percanestro. The frescoes, depicting St Anthony of Padua, are dated 1515.

Towards San Lazzaro. Further along the Via della Spina stands the church of San Lazzaro, originally a hospice where those suffering from skin illnesses were isolated from the outside world. These hospices were very common at the time when leprosy was rampant. A mention of the San Lazzaro hospice, near Paciana di Foligno, appears in the writings of Beata Angela, while Franciscan manuscripts tell of another hospice near Pietrarossa, between Foligno and Trevi. When San Lazzaro stopped being used as a hospiced for the diseased the church became a place of pilgrimage.

Verchiano marks the half way point on the road to Colfiorito. Although Verchiano was never a free city, it was the only town along the Via della Spina to have a baptistry. Up until the 17th century the children of Cesi, Popola, San Martino and Acquapagana were brought here to be baptised. Interestingly, the altars within the church functioned as family tombs. The installation of these tombs paid for the chaplain to perform masses for the souls of the dead.
Most of the faithful were buried in common burial grounds placed along the nave of the church, a practise that continued up until 1800. Some of the nearby villages such as Croce di Roccafranca and Casale di Tito buried their dead within the church until 1964. Along the road to the sanctuary of San Salvatore, a well known place of pilgrimage, it is possible to observe the entire section of Via della Spina that runs towards the plateau of Plestia.

Onwards to Popola, where there are still remains of the castle build by Foligno in 1264 and restored by the Barugi family.

Finally Colfiorito. Before reaching the plateau of Colfiorito there is the church of Santa Maria di Plestia, a sanctuary placed on a crossroads that was once the the meeting point of the two main streets of Plestia. Remains of a doorway, presumably a public building that faced onto the forum, are clearly visible around the church. In Roman times the street level was where the church's crypt is today. Excavation works carried out nearby in 1962 brought to light the temple dedicated to the goddess Cupra, worshipped as the mother of the citizens of Plestia.

The plane of Plestia is dominated by the Monte Trella (1020 metres above sea level). A fortified village made up of at least one circle of walls and a pit to keep out wild animals was erected on its summit. Opposite the Monte Trella is another summit at Fontaccia (980 metres above sea level), where another fortified village was built. These two fortresses guarded the Spina pass.

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