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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

 Vol. XXI

Perugia (anc. Perusia), a city and archiepiscopal see of Italy, the capital of the province of Perugia (which forms the entire compartimento of Umbria)​a situated 1444 ft. above sea-level. Pop. (1906), 22,321 (town); 65,527 (commune). The town is finely situated upon a group of hills nearly 1000 ft. above the valley of the Tiber. Its outline is very irregular; from the centre of the town, at the junction of several ridges, parts of it extend for a considerable distance along their summits, being divided from one another by deep valleys. This is the extent enclosed by the medieval walls; within them are considerable remains of the lofty terrace walls of the Etruscan period. The so‑called Arco di Augusto is a town gate with a decorated superstructure, perhaps of the Etruscan period, bearing the inscription Augusta Perusia; above this again is a Renaissance loggia. The superstructure of a similar gate (Porta Marzia), which was removed in 1540 to make way for the citadel, but is depicted in a fresco by Benedetto Bonfigli (between 1461 and 1477), was re-erected in the substruction walls of the citadel itself. It bears the inscription Colonia Vibia Augusta Perusia, so that the town must have become a colony in the reign of the emperor C. Vibius Trebonianus Gallus (A.D. 251‑253), who was a native of it. Four other gates of the Etruscan period can still be traced (F. Noack in Römische Mitteilungen, 1897, 166 sqq). In the garden of the church of S. Elisabeth was found in 1876 a fine mosaic in black on a white ground representing Orpheus in the midst of the beasts (Notizie degli scavi, 1876, 181; 1877, 309).

The citadel was erected by Pope Paul III in 1540‑1546, after the plans of Antonio da Sangallo the younger, and demolished in 1860 (see Bacile di Castiglione in L'Arte, 1903, 347). The Piazza del Duomo is at the north of the Corso. On one side stands the cathedral of San Lorenzo, a Gothic structure of the 14th and 15th centuries, in the plan of a Latin cross,  p279 with nave and aisles of equal height; on the other the Palazzo del Municipio, presenting two fine Gothic façades, of the 14th century (though the building was not completed till 1443), with the figures of the Perugian griffin and the Guelph lion above the outside stair; and in the centre the marble fountain constructed in 1277‑1280 by Arnolfo di Cambio, and adorned with statues and statuettes by Niccolò and Giovanni Pisano. The cathedral contains the burial-place of Urban IV and Martin IV — the remains of Innocent III were removed to Rome in 1892 and placed in the basilica of S. Giovanni in Laterano — and the Virgin's wedding-ring; and at the north-east corner is a sitting statue of Pope Julius III by Vincenzo Danti, erected in 1555 by the people of Perugia in gratitude for the restoration of their civic privileges. On the decoration of the Sala del Cambio, or old exchange, Perugino put forth the full force of his genius. Most of the movable paintings have since 1863 been collected in the Pinacoteca Vannucci, established in the Palazzo del Municipio; besides a considerable number of pieces by Perugino, there are specimens of Niccolò Alunno, Bonfigli, Pinturicchio, &c. A very interesting and important exhibition of Umbrian art was held here in 1907. The pictures, the needlework with some splendid pieces of embroidery from S. Francesco at Assisi, the vestments of Pope Benedict XI, and the majolica of Perugia and Deruta, a village 10 m. south, were especially noteworthy (see U. Gnoli, L'Arte umbra alla mostra di Perugia, Bergamo, 1908). The illuminated MSS. of the communal library, the cathedral and the church of S. Pietro, from the 7th century onwards, were also exhibited.

The formation of the Pinacoteca Vannucci has impaired the interest of several churches but in others it remains undiminished. San Domenico, a Gothic edifice originally designed by Giovanni Pisano but rebuilt in 1614, contains the monument of Pope Benedict XI (attributed, but probably wrongly, to Giovanni Pisano by Vasari), and in its east front a Gothic window with stained glass by Fra Bartolommeo of Perugia (1441). San Pietro de' Cassinensi (outside the Porta Romana) is a basilica with nave and aisles, founded in the beginning of the 11th century by San Pietro Vincioli on the site of a building of the 6th century, and remarkable for its conspicuous spire, its ancient granite and marble columns, its walnut stall-work of 1535 by Stefano de' Zambelli da Bergamo, and its numerous pictures (by Perugino, &c.). The oratory of S. Bernardino has an early Renaissance polychrome façade, richly sculptured, of 1457‑1461, by Agostino d'Antonio di Duccio of Florence. S. Severo contains Raphael's first independent fresco (1505), much damaged by restoration. The circular church of S. Angelo, with sixteen antique columns in the interior, probably dates from the middle of the 6th century. The university dates from 1307, and has faculties of law, science and medicine; it had 318 students in 1902‑1903. It contains an important museum of Etruscan and Roman antiquities. Three miles to the SSE the Etruscan necropolis of the ancient city was discovered in 1870. The large tomb of the Volumni (3rd century B.C.) hewn in the rock, with its carved cinerary urns, is interesting.

The ancient Perusia first appears in history as one of the twelve confederate cities of Etruria. It is first mentioned in the account of the war of 310 or 309 B.C. between the Etruscans and the Romans. It took, however, an important part in the rebellion of 295, and was reduced, with Vulsinii and Arretium, to seek for peace in the following year. In 216 and 205 it assisted Rome in the Hannibalic war, but afterwards it is not mentioned until 41‑40 B.C., when L. Antonius took refuge there, and was reduced by Octavian after a long siege. A number of lead bullets used by slingers have been found in and around the city (Corpus inscr. lat. XI.1212). The city was burnt, we are told, with the exception of the temples of Vulcan and Juno — the massive Etruscan terrace-walls, naturally, can hardly have suffered at all — and the town, with the territory for a mile round, was allowed to be occupied by whoever chose. It must have been rebuilt almost at once, for several bases exist, inscribed Augusta sacr(um) Perusia restituta; but, as we have seen, it did not become a colony until A.D. 251‑253.

[image ALT: An L‑shaped stone, about one meter tall, 70 cm wide and 10 cm thick, the lower bar of the L jutting forward about 40 cm. On the upright face it bears a brief, primitive inscription, readable despite the damage to the stone. It is one of four inscribed bases erected by Augustus in Perugia.]
The best preserved of the four bases in the Museo Archeologico of Perugia.
(A closer look at the inscription here.)

It is hardly mentioned except by the geographers until the middle of the 6th century, when it was captured by Totila after a long siege. In the Lombard period it is spoken of as one of the principal cities of Tuscia. In the 9th century, with the consent of Charles the Great and Louis the Pious, it passed under the popes; but for many centuries the city continued to maintain an independent life, warring against many of the neighbouring lands and cities — Foligno, Assisi, Spoleto, Montepulciano, &c. It remained true for the most part to the Guelphs. On various occasions the popes found asylum within its walls, and it was the meeting-place of the conclaves which elected Honorius II (1124), Honorius IV (1285), Celestine V (1294), and Clement V (1305). But Perugia had no mind simply to subserve the papal interests. At the time of Rienzi's unfortunate enterprise it sent ten ambassadors to pay him honour; and, when papal legates sought to coerce it by foreign soldiers, or to exact contributions, they met with vigorous resistance. In the 15th century power was at last concentrated in the Baglioni family, who, though they had no legal position, defied all other authority. Gian Paolo Baglioni was lured to Rome in 1520 and beheaded by Leo X; and in 1534 Rodolfo, who had slain a papal legate, was defeated by Pier Luigi Farnese, and the city, captured and plundered by his soldiery, was deprived of its privileges. The citadel was begun six years later "ad coercendam Perusinorum audaciam." In 1797 Perugia was occupied by the French; in 1832, 1838 and 1854 it was visited by earthquakes; in May 1849 it was seized by the Austrians; and, after a futile insurrection in 1859, it was finally united, along with the rest of Umbria, to Piedmont, in 1860.

See G. Conestabile, I Monumenti di Perugia etrusca e romana (Perugia, 1855); M. Symonds and L. Duff Gordon, Perugia ("Medieval Towns Series"), (1898);º R. A. Gallenga Stuart, Perugia (Bergamo, 1905); W. Heywood, Hist. of Perugia (1910).

[T. As.]

Thayer's Note:

a No longer. On Jan. 2, 1927, the compartimento (now termed a regione autonoma) was subdivided into two provinces: Perugia the larger, with two-thirds of both area and population, and Terni to the south.

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Page updated: 9 Aug 17