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Spoleto: A Place of Encounters

A town of East Central Umbria: 42°44N, 12°44E. Altitude: 386 m. Population in 2003: 38,000.

[image ALT: A very large square fortress with at least 5 towers on the top of a built-up hill, overlooking an agricultural valley traversed in the background by an arched aqueduct several hundred feet long. It is a view of the eastern fringes of Spoleto, Umbria (central Italy).]

The Rocca and the 13c aqueduct as seen from the church of S. Pietro.

Spoleto's fate, apparently, is to be almost large, and almost central, and almost convenient.

The town lies up against the W flank of the Apennines about 110 km NNE of Rome by today's roads, an easy two hours by train or car; and in fact the whole point of Spoleto has always been to be a way-station, whether on the Via Flaminia in the 3c B.C., or on the successor railway brought up from Rome in the mid‑19c by Pope Pius IX, a native of Spoleto who was Pope at just the right time to push the railway line thru: a good bust of him is prominently featured in a little garden at the railway station.

Historically, in Late Antiquity, when everything around it was Byzantine or belonged to the Church, Spoleto was a Lombard duchy. For six centuries it remained a sort of anomalous enclave, successfully living its own life without much interference: it was never quite so powerful that it absolutely had to be attacked and taken, but its defenses are good, and so it stayed independent; yet a meeting-ground between Lombards, Franks and Germans on the one hand, and Greeks, Latins on the other; eventually between Church and Empire, until it finally fell under the sway of Rome altogether and its history resorbs into the general history of central Italy.

For similar reasons, Spoleto is now world-famous for the Festival of the Two Worlds, founded in the 1950's by Giancarlo Menotti. It's near enough to Rome, but it's in the country. It has enough hotels and performance spaces, good roads and railroads but, except during the Festival, the bustle and traffic are well managed. It thus serves as an agreeable base for exploring some of the most attractive hilltowns and the most scenic areas of central Italy.

Spoleto is 29 km N of Terni and 12 km S of the famous paleochristian Tempietto and the source of the Clitunno at Campello, 18 km S of Trevi, and 28 km S of Foligno — all these towns on the Flaminia; 18 km W and 29 km SW of Cerreto di Spoleto, along a scenic road thru the Valnerina area on the way to Norcia (47 km) and the Monti Sibillini, the highest mountains in this part of Italy.

In addition to its beautiful cathedral and a number of other interesting churches, some of them unusually old, Spoleto has both a Roman theatre and a Roman amphitheatre; and a truly spectacular aqueduct — of the thirteenth century. (For an exhaustive history and monuments of the city in 8 volumes, online in its entirety, see Achille Sansi's Storia di Spoleto; for a formal and fairly thorough presentation of the city's chief monuments in a single webpage, see the Encyclopedia Britannica article.) Several of these monuments will dribble onto this website in the fulness of time.

For now:

[image ALT: A Roman theater repaired with reinforced concrete, and with iron railings along the aisles up; surrounded by a church and a two-story cloister.]

[ 1 page, 3 photos ]

The Roman theatre seems somewhat ill-starred. In Antiquity it collapsed almost as soon as it was built, and had to be restored; then it lay buried for over a millennium. It was only dug up again about forty years ago; heavily restored, it's in use again.

[image ALT: A wide stone arch partly blocked up by a stone wall. It is one of the three surviving arches of the Roman bridge of Spoleto in Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 1 page, 1 photos ]

The Roman bridge probably carried the Via Flaminia into town. It's a beautiful piece of masonry, but in a very sad sort of pit under the busiest traffic circle of Spoleto — except for one arch, which is still completely buried.

[image ALT: A sunny space crowded with buildings, prominent among which is a large building preceded by a six-columned portico, with a pointed square stone belfry about 18 meters tall; on the right of the picture, the scene is bounded by a darker patch of houses. It is a view of the Duomo and its piazza, in Spoleto in Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 2/16/07: 14 churches, 12 pages, 59 photos ]

The churches of Spoleto: the town, like many others in Umbria, has accumulated some good architecture. Currently, S. Pietro, S. Nicolò and some of the outlying churches have full sites; for the others, a photosampler (click on those thumbnails).

I've spent a fair amount of time in Spoleto, at least by foreign visitor standards, and at the same time the more formal Spoleto pages of this site are still in the offing; so for a few more good photos and an idea of the atmosphere of town, you should definitely see my diary: 21 Sep 97 • 8 Sep 98 • 11 Oct 98 • 5 Jul 00 • 9 May 04; and for the immediate area and some of the smaller towns in the comune: 20 Oct 97.


For historical reasons, Spoleto is one of the larger comuni in Umbria, and has carried with it from its aggressive Middle Ages into modern times a long list of subject towns and hamlets. Many of these places are very small, a few hundred inhabitants if that; as elsewhere in Italy, those that have a certain administrative identity of their own are frazioni of the comune (singular: frazione, literally a "fraction"): a complete list of them follows. I've crossed quite a few of these small places in trains, cars, and buses, but very few on foot. Still, in the list below, links do represent more information, if not necessarily of the kind you might expect.

Acquacastagna • Acquaiola • Ancaiano • Azzano • Bazzano Inferiore • Bazzano Superiore • Beroide • Camporoppolo • Cese • Collerisana • Cortaccione • Crocemaroggia • Eggi • Fogliano • Forca di Cerro • Madonna di Baiano • Messenano • Monte Martano • Montebiblico • Monteluco • Morgnano • Morro • Ocenelli • Perchia • Petrognano • Pompagnano • Pontebari • Poreta • Protte • Rubbiano • S. Anastasio • S. Angelo in Mercole • S. Brizio • S. Croce • S. Giacomo • S. Giovanni di Baiano • S. Martino in Trignano • S. Nicolò • S. Silvestro • S. Venanzo (not to be confused with the comune by that name, a much larger town in the province of Terni) • Silvignano • Somma (marking the highest elevation along the ancient Via Flaminia in the area) • Strettura • Terraia • Terzo la Pieve • Terzo San Severo • Uncinano • Valdarena • Valle San Martino • Vallocchia

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Site updated: 24 Aug 12