The Upper Part of the Old Town Centre
From Piazza della Libertà, Via Brignone leads to the upper part of the old town centre.
Opposite the Renaissance fountain in Piazza Fontana stands Palazzo Mauri, built between the 16th and 17th century, which today houses the Accademia Spoletina (founded in the 17th century), the Biblioteca Comunale and the Archivio di Stato. The façade of the building features elegant windows and a number of 17th and 18th century frescoes still adorn the interior.
The Via Flaminia led into the city from the right, under the Arco di Monterone (also known as Porta Romana), an imposing gateway that was part of the 3rd century BC Roman fortifications, built in partially buried square blocks. From here the Via Flaminia continued under the Arch of Drusus, erected in 23AD by will of the Spoleto senate, in honour of the adopted son of Emperor Tiberius (as reported on the inscription). The arch constituted a ceremonial entrance that opened up onto what was the city’s Forum, now Piazza del Mercato.
Today the arch is flanked by the church of Sant’Ansano and the crypt of Sant’Isacco, whose structure includes the remains of a 1st century AD Roman temple. The apse contains the vestiges of a paleo-Christian church erected on the same spot.
A church dedicated to St Ansano and St Isacco was consecrated here in 1143. The crypt is in fact still dedicated to St Isacco, while the 17th century upper part of the construction is dedicated exclusively to St Ansano. This upper section was in fact totally rebuilt to designs by the Milanese architect Antonio Dotti, towards the end of the 18th century. The restoration works carried out in 1957 did away with a Medieval entrance that had been added to the side of the church, revealing the pronaum of the previously existing temple with four columns. Only part of the columns are authentic, however – the missing parts having been completed in plasterwork.
Inside the church of Sant’Ansano, at the first altar to the right there is a fresco of the Virgin, one of Spagna’s later works. Two lateral passages that make use of what were formerly the steps leading up to the Roman temple lead downwards to the crypt of Sant’Isacco. The interior is divided into three small naves with cross vaulting supported by plundered columns and capitals from the 8th and 9th century. The fragments of frescoes depicting episodes from the life of St Isaac date from when the church was built, between the 11th and 12th century. This saint, a Syrian hermit, enjoyed a considerable following in Spoleto.
Although Piazza del Mercato occupies the area once covered by the Forum, its current layout bears no relation to the proportions of the Roman plan.
The imposing Palazzo Leti (later Sansi), built in the 17th century on the area previously occupied by the Palazzo del Podestà, stands to the left of the square. The main floor of the building still features the magnificent original wooden ceilings and a large ballroom with decorated walls and an internal balcony for the orchestra.
At the short end of the square there is the striking Fonte di Piazza, built by order of the Comune between 1746 and 1748 to a design by the Roman architect Costantino Fiaschetti, who made use of the four coats of arms and the plaque in honour of Pope Urban VIII that had adorned the previously existing fountain designed by Carlo Maderno in 1626.
Via dei Duchi leads into the square from the left, with its Medieval workshops inserted in the arches of the church of San Donato on the right. The stone slabs either side of the workshops, which are all identical, were used for displaying merchandise. The street takes its name from a half-buried basilica-shaped Roman building from the 1st century BC on the corner with Via Fontesecca, which until the 19th century was believed to be the palace of Theodoricus and the former ducal residence. Access to the building is from Via Fontesecca, at the crossing with the so-called Casa dei Maestri Comacini, with its ogival doors and arched windows in brick.
Via Saffi leads off to the right. On the right hand side stands the 16th century Palazzo Martorelli-Orsini. The fine inner courtyard is lined with a double-arched loggia and contains a well and a fountain. The long façade of Palazzo Comunale is also on the same street, although the main entrance is from the opposite side.
Opposite there is the Archbishop’s Palace. Its current appearance is the result of renovations carried out in the 16th century by Bishop Bernardo Eroli (south side, towards Via Saffi) and further work a century later. The eastern Renaissance wing was demolished in 1952 to offer more space to the apses of the church of Sant’Eufemia, inside the courtyard. The main floor of the palazzo houses the Museo Diocesano, with works from the 13th to the 18th century including an early 14th century altar step attributed to the Maestro di Cesi. Other works present in the collection are a ‘Crib’ painted on wood by Domenico Beccafumi and the ‘Mystic Marriage of St Catherine’ by Francesco Ragusa (1618).
A 1st century BC Roman construction has been brought to light at the perimeter wall of the palazzo, made up of a right angle corridor with barrel vaulting and arrow slits. Excavations carried out by American archaeologists in 1963 and 1964 have revealed that this was probably a substructure built to terrace the sloping land beneath and could have been the base of a temple
In Roman times a building stood here that was believed to be the palace of Theodoricus, later used as a residence by the Longobard and Frank dukes of the city. An order of nuns occupied the building in the 9th century but after they were dissolved in 1017 the structure became the residence of the city’s bishops, who moved here from their previous residence near the cathedral.
Inside the courtyard of the palazzo stands the church of Sant’Eufemia, previously incorporated into the structure of the building until it was separated during restoration works that lasted from 1907 to 1954. The existing Romanesque building dates from the second half of the 12th century and stands over a previously existing church that could have been the chapel of the ducal palace.
After the Palazzo Arcivescovile, a long flight of steps fans out strikingly downwards along Via dell‘Arringo, towards Piazza del Duomo. Few squares in Italy can boast such an effectively theatrical effect..
The left hand side of the square is occupied by what is known as the Palazzo della Signoria, which was never finished. Massive arches in the style of Matteo Gattapone (~1362) support the building, believed to have been erected under by order of the Medieval magistrate Pietro Pianciani and therefore named “Palazzo della Signoria”. The upper floor of the building is accessible from the Caio Melisso theatre and is made up of an imposing hall divided into two unequal naves. This formerly housed the Museo Civico before it was moved to the former convent of Sant’Agata.
In 1419 the Casa dell‘Opera del Duomo was added. On the opposite side, towards the Duomo, the Comune erected the church of Santa Maria della Manna d‘Oro in 1528 in gratitude for escaping the 1528 invasion that ended in the Sack of Rome.
In 1664 the Nobile Teatro, one of the oldest theatres in Italy to have boxes, was built entirely in wood between Palazzo della Signoria and the church. It was completely renovated between 1877 and 1880 and renamed Teatro Caio Melisso. The theatre seats 300 and was designed by Giovanni Montiroli. The ceiling and drop-curtain are the work of Domenico Bruschi. After years of abandon, the theatre was reopened for the first edition of the Two Worlds Festival in 1958. The theatre is named after Caius Melissus, a freed slave and friend of Maecenas who became librarian of the imperial court under Augustus, in the 1st century BC.
Opposite stands Palazzo Racani (later Arroni), built in the early 16th century to designs by an unknown architect. The entrance and two rows of Renaissance windows are reminiscent of Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. The third floor of the building is occupied by a long loggia. The interior courtyard is small but elegant, with a nymphaeum.
The Duomo, or cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is Romanesque. Construction work started around 1175, over the ruins of the previously existing church destroyed by Frederick Barbarossa in 1155. The new church was consecrated by Pope Innocent III in 1198 and reached completion between 1216 and 1227.
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