Visit to the Old Town Centre and the Surrounding Area
First settled by the Umbrians, after the Battle of Sentinus in 296BC Foligno became a Roman city with the name of Fulginium, or Fulginia. Its location at the crossroads of the most important communication routes of the time (the two sections of the Via Flaminia, the road for Assisi and Perugia, and the Via Plestina for Colfiorito and the Marches), as well as its proximity to the river Topino, ensured an uninterrupted development for Foligno under Rome. After being devastated by the Huns and the Saracens, Foligno declared itself an independent comune in the 12th century. In 1177 Emperor Frederick Barbarossa awarded the city control over Bevagna and Montefalco. With the arrival in 1310 of the papal vicar Rinaldo Trinci, the city was ruled by the Trinci family until 1439 when they were definitively wiped out by the cardinal-condottiere Giovanni Vitelleschi. Vtelleschi had Corrado Trinci and his children all beheaded at Soriano nel Cimino, near Viterbo, confiscated all the family’s possessions and took them to his palazzo at Corneto, as Tarquinia was known then. But Vitelleschi himself did not meet a much happier end: after surviving an ambush near Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, he was eventually poisoned in 1440. Since then Foligno came under direct rule of the Church, in Rome. In 1472 the first printed edition of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy was printed here. Contrary to other cities in Umbria, however, Foligno continued to flourish under the Papal dominion. After the unification of Italy, the newly built railway line near the city and the growing industrialisation (steelworks, railway and airplane hangars, as well as sugar factories), caused the city to be severely bombed by the Allies during the Second World War.
The hub and geographical centre of Foligno is Piazza della Repubblica, where the most important monuments stand. Construction of the Duomo of St Feliciano, dedicated to the 4th century evangelising bishop, was started in 1133. The main façade of the church, with the small loggia and three-mullioned window, are from this period. Restored in 1903-04, little remains of the original white and pink strip decoration used in the original design. The mosaic is from 1904. In 1201 a transept was added to the church. Its façade, designed by Rodolfo and Binello (the architects of San Michele in Bevagna) is much richer than the main façade and is also better preserved. The five-ordered, splayed entrance is richly sculpted and decorated. Among the decorations there is a bas-relief effigy of Frederick Barbarossa, in honour of the privileges he granted the city, and of the commissioner of the work, Bishop Anselmo. Two twin rose-windows frame a delightful loggia, which is in turn surmounted by the large central rose-window. The two-mullioned windows on the sides were added in the Gothic period, while the drum was re-fashioned in 1904. The single-nave, Romanesque interior has undergone a number of alterations. First in 1204 with the addition of the transept, then in 1457-65 with the addition of the choir and apse, then in 1515 again with the transept (Cola da Caprarola). The dome was added in 1546, to an initial design by Giuliano da Baccio d’Agnolo. The Neo-Classical décor we see today was carried out by Giuseppe Piermarini to a design by Luigi Vanvitelli (1770-1800). The sacristy contains two busts by Lorenzo Bernini (1620-30), of Bartolomeo and Diana Rosciol, as well as a relief ‘Crucifixion’ of the 14th century, completed with figures and background by Nicolò di Liberatore (l’Alunno) in 1460. A life-size silver statue of St Feliciano, by Giovanni Battista Maini, stands in a niche to the right of the presbytery. The altar canopy is an imitation of the canopy designed by Bernini for St Peter’s in Rome. The crypt predates the church and already appears mentioned in documents of the 10th century when Bishop Theodoricus of Metz removed some reliquaries of St Feliciano. Some of the capitols are pre-Romanesque, while some others and a few of the columns were taken from other previously existing buildings. The vault is 18th century. The Cappella del Sacramento opens into the left hand arm of the transept and is a design by Antonio Sangallo the Younger. It contains a cycle of frescoes depicting the life of St Feliciano by Vespasiano Strada (early 17th century), as well as a copy of Raphael’s ‘Madonna of Foligno’. The original is in the Vatican Museums, after it being hung in the church of the St Anna convent from 1565 to 1797.
The Palazzo dei Canonici, built in the 14th century, stands inserted between the lateral façade and the main façade. It was restored between 1923 and 1926. On the opposite side of the square stands the imposing Palazzo Comunale, built between 1262 and 1265 and altered between 1547 and 1620. The late Neo-Classical façade is early 19th century. During the earthquake of 1997 the crenellated tower on top of the building, originally erected in the 15th century, became a symbol of the devastation wreaked by the natural calamity as it crumbled live on television. Next to the Palazzo Comunale stand the 15th century Palazzo Orfini and the 13th century Palazzo del Podestà.
Further along, the square is closed off by Palazzo Trinci, the opulent town house of the family that once ruled over this city. It is structured like a small princely court and was built incorporating some other buildings where the family had resided previously. The Neo-Classical façade was added between 1841 and 1847, to join together the dismembered sections of the building following the serious damage caused by the 1832 earthquake. The building suffered further damage during the Allied bombing in 1944. A raised passageway leads from Palazzo Trinci directly to the Duomo. The facades in the interior courtyard are built in brick and are Gothic in style, along with the loggias. The three-mullioned windows are similar to those of Palazzo dei Priori in Perugia. A large flight of steps leads up to the first floor. The second floor is decorated with a series of cycles of frescoes, some by unknown 14th century artists and others by Ottaviano Nelli and his school (1449). They represent characters from ancient Rome, the founding of Rome, episodes from the life of the Virgin, a cycle on the liberal arts and a cycle on the planets and the life of man. The Pinacoteca is also on the second floor and includes works by Nicolò di Liberatore, known as l’Alunno (‘Stigmatisation of St Francis’, ‘Pietà’, a copy of a tryptich in the Vatican Museums). There are also works by l’Alunno’s son Lattanzio di Nicolò (‘The Archangel Michael’), Bartolomeo di Tommaso (‘Martyrdom of St Barnabas’, 1449), and Benozzo Gozzoli (‘The Angel of the Annunciation’). Among the other interesting exhibits there are two detached 14th and 15th century frescoes, by Pierantonio Mezzatris. The Museo Archeologico is also in the same building and contains one of the oldest collections in Italy, part of which belonged to the Trinci family. The exhibits include plaques, funerary urns sarcophagi and epigraphs, but the most interesting piece is without a doubt the fragment of a 3rd century sarcophagus with a bas-relief depicting the chariot races at the Circus Maximus in Rome. Palazzo Trinci also houses the city library, the state archives and the Archivio Notarile.
The church of St Salvatore stands in Piazza Garibaldi. Initially a Benedictine construction, the 14th century façade with three entrances conceals an interior that was redesigned by Luigi Vanvitelli between 1748 and 1757. Some 14th and 16th century frescoes have survived, however, along with a 1437 triptych by Bartolomeo di Tommaso (‘Virgin with Child and Saints’) and some Flemish tapestries from the 16th century.
The Oratorio della Nunziatella is in Via Garibaldi, opposite the church of Santa Maria del Suffragio. Erected in 1494, the interior of the oratory is Renaissance and features a fresco by Perugino of ‘The Baptism of Jesus’ (1505-07).
Via Garibaldi runs into Via Mazzini, which eventually opens up onto Piazza San Domenico. The church of San Domenico was built in 1251. It features a single nave and a 14th century bell tower. The construction has been recently restored after a long period of neglect and now functions as an auditorium. The interior contains frescoes from the 14th and 15th century, as well as a sinopite of ‘Crucifixion with Saints’ by Mezzastris. The church of Santa Maria Infraportas also looks onto the square. It is the oldest church in Foligno to have retained its current appearance. Built in the 11th or 12th century, its façade is decorated with pink and white strips of stone that terminate in a drum that has been subsequently remodelled. The large two-mullioned window at the centre has replaced what was once a rose-window, while the imposing Romanesque bell tower has in fact been reduced from its original height. A portico with three supporting arches precedes the façade itself. The central arch is taller than the other two and rests on columns that have been recycled from previously existing buildings. The interior is structured around three naves, the central being covered in barrel vaulting and the lateral ones in cross vaulting. The two lateral naves were not completed until the 15th century. A ‘Crucifixion’ by Antonio Mezzastris is in the first altar in the right hand nave. A copy of the same by an unknown artist is at the second altar, while a third ‘Crucifixion’ by an unknown Foligno artist who displays the influence of Gozzoli and l’Alunno is in a niche further on. A ‘St Catherine of Alexandria’, by an unknown 16th century artist, is under the third arcade, along with a ‘St Jerome with Two Angels’ by Mezzastris. Also by Mezzastris, a ‘St Rocco’, carried out according to a project by l’Alunno, is at the third pilaster of the left hand nave. A ‘Madonna with Child’, of the school of Ottaviano Nelli, is at the first pilaster. In the Romanesque chapel of the Assunta there are some poorly preserved Byzantine school frescoes, including a ‘Blessing Christ Between St Peter and St Paul’, with an oriental carpet. The wooden statue of a ‘Madonna with Child’ is from the same period.
Leaving Piazza San Domenico by following the side of the former church into Via Frezzi, Via Scuole Arti e Mestieri leads off to the left towards the church of San Nicolò. The original layout of this church is Gothic from the 14th century but subsequent modifications in the 16th and 18th century include an impressive entrance (16th century). Two important works by l’Alunno are inside. The first, at the second right hand altar, is a polyptich with ‘Nativity, Resurrection and Saints’ (1492), while the second is at the last altar and depicts the ‘Coronation of Mary, St Anthony and St Bernardino’. A panel depicting the Madonna by the Senese artist Luca di Tommè, from the second half of the 14th century, is in the sacristy.
Outside the old town centre, on the road towards Trevi, the largely modern village of Sant’Eraclio features a 14th century castle that still retains its fortifications, two towers, two gateways, the lord’s house and the chapel. The interior of the castle has been filled with houses built at a later stage but still ancient.
Back towards Foligno, just 400 metres before arriving at Porta Romana, turn right for the church of Santa Maria in Campis, probably of Paleo-Christina origins. This was one of the four churches erected in four different directions one mile away from the tomb of St Feliciano. The Via Flaminia once passed here. The building was considerably renovated after the 1823 earthquake but the interior still conceals a number of votive frescoes and some private chapels, one of which belonged to the Trinci family and contains frescoes by Nicolò di Liberatore. The first chapel to the left was added in 1452 and contains frescoes that have been attributed to Pier Antonio Mezzastris: ‘Crucifixion’.
From here one can take the new Via Flaminia towards the abbey of Sassovivo, founded by the Benedictines around the year 1000. The unadorned church was renovated in the 19th century. The convent is planned around a dazzling cloister designed in 1229 by Pietro di Maria, who was assisted by Nicola Vassaletto (the architect of the cloisters of St Paul’s Without the Walls and St John in the Lateran in Rome). The 158 small paired columns, either smooth or sinuous, along with the trabeations containing cosmatesque mosaics and the 58 arches were all sculpted in Rome and brought here along the river Tiber to Orte and then over land until Sassovivo. They are comparable to those in the church of I Santi Quattro Coronati, in Rome, which at the time also belonged to the abbey of Sassovivo. Among the abbey’s many possessions there was also the 1460 castle at Scopoli, on the way to Colfiorito. The mineral water springs of Fontanelle di Sassovivo, which still provide water that is sold on the market, are immersed in a beautiful ilex grove near the abbey.
The village of San Giovanni Profiamma stands on the spot once occupied by the Roman city of Forum Flaminii. Founded in 218BC, Forum Flaminii was placed at the meeting point of the old and new Via Flaminia. The church that stands here today is from the 12th or 13th century. The three-nave, basilica layout of the interior was completely rebuilt. The crypt contains parts of previously existing Roman and High Medieval buildings.
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