The Rocca Paolina
Serafino Siepi (1776-1829) wrote that the building of the Rocca Paolina was practically finished in just three years. The fortress covered a vast area over the Colle Landone district, formerly known as one of the finest quarters of the city. Very little remains of the fortress today, although a number of period prints, drawings and paintings give an idea of just how imposing this structure must have been once.
An Impregnable Fortress. The Tough Side of the Vatican
The fortress, vaguely square in design, stood in the area now occupied by Piazza Italia, facing more or less in the same direction as the existing Palazzo della Provinca. Two defence towers looked guarded the main facade, looking down over Piazza Grande and Piazza Piccola, now Piazza IV Novembre and Piazza Matteotti). The keep, surmounted by three large crenellations, stood between the two defence towers. The middle of the three crenellations contained the flag pole.
The upper section of the facade contained a niche with a life-size terracotta statue of a seated Pope Paul III in the act of blessing. Five marble coats of arms carved by Simone Mosca da Settignano and Ludovico Scalza da Orvieto adorned the massive entrance to the fortress. A deep moat surrounded the entire perimeter of the fortress, which was also equipped with a drawbridge. A wall extended from the Piazza Grande defence tower, stretching towards the Porta del Soccorso. A little further onwards a fortified corridor led downwards.
A Symbol of the Dominion of the Popes
Although for the inhabitants of Perugia the Rocca Paolina epitomised their rancours towards the Church, it never actually had to perform the function for which it was erected. The garrisons of Papal troops stationed at the fortress were in fact nicknamed “smoke guards” on account of the utter pointlessness of their vigilance. Presumably, however, they would have been the first target should the citizens of Perugia have decided to rebel against the Pope.
When Napoleon's armies descended through Italy, in 1798 the city of Perugia saw its chance to throw off the Papal dominion. The statue of Paul III was hurled down into the moat, part of the inscriptions on the fortress were erased and the coats of arms that had decorated the keep were damaged.
But a number of years had still to elapse before the citizens of Perugia were able to completely rid themselves of their hated fortress. In 1800 Cardinal Rivarola ordered the moat in front of the keep to be filled in, thereby creating a large square (now Piazza Italia) that was named after him. In 1805 work got underway to restore the fortress and fill in all the remaining moats, to open up new access roads into the city.
Anyone feeling a bit peckish after their visit to the ruins of the fortress should seek some restorative solace at the Osteria del Gambero, Via Baldeschi 17 (Duomo) Perugia. Closed Mondays. Tel. (+39) 075.5735.461.
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