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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. XXV

Spoleto (anc. Spoletium), a town and archiepiscopal see of the province of Perugia, Italy, 18 m. NNE of Terni, and 88 m. N by E of Rome by rail. Pop. (1901), 9631 (town); 24,648 (commune). It is situated on a hill, so that the lowest part is about 1000, the highest 1485, ft. above sea-level, at the south end of the open valley of the Topino, a tributary of the Tiber, which it joins near Assisi. The principal industries are the collection and preparation of truffles and preserved foods, also tanning and the manufacture of earthenware. Spoleto is also the centre of an agricultural district, and contains a government experimental olive oil factory. There are few towns of Italy which possess so many Roman remains in good preservation under the medieval buildings, and few medieval towns with so picturesque an appearance. There are considerable remains of perhaps pre-Roman polygonal walls — in one place a piece of this walling has masonry of rectangular blocks superposed, with an inscription of two of the Roman municipal magistrates (quattuorviri). There are also a few traces of an inner enceinte of the Roman period. There are remains of a Roman theatre, over 370 ft. in diameter, and an amphitheatre 390 by 205 ft. A Roman bridge of three arches, 80 ft. long and 26 ft. high, exists at the lower (north) entrance to the town, under the modern road to Foligno, in the former bed of a torrent — which has now changed its course. A Mithraeum was found outside this gate in 1878. The rock above the town was included within the polygonal walls: but Totila fortified, not this rock, but the amphitheatre, which remained the citadel until 1364, when Cardinal Albornoz destroyed it and erected the present Rocca, which was enlarged by Pope Nicholas V; it is now a prison.​a The Porta della Fuga (the name alludes to the repulse of Hannibal) occupies the site of a Roman gate, but is itself medieval: while the medieval enceinte encloses a somewhat wider area than the ancient. The Piazza del Mercato represents the Roman forum; close by is a triumphal arch of Drusus and Germanicus, and a temple (?) into which is built the church of S. Ansano. A Roman house in the upper part of the town, with mosaic pavements, probably belonged to Vespasia Polla, the mother of the emperor Vespasian. The Palazzo Municipale, close by, contains the archives and picture gallery. The cathedral of S. Maria Assunta, much modernized in 1644, occupies the site of a church of the Lombard dukes erected about 602. The present church was consecrated in 1198; the façade belongs to the middle of the 12th century. Over the main entrance is a large mosaic of Christ enthroned, with the Virgin and St. John, by the artist Solsernus (1207). The Early Renaissance vestibule (after 1491) is fine. In the choir and on the half dome of the apse, are the finest frescoes of Fra Filippo Lippi (scenes from the life of the Virgin) completed after his death by Fra Diamante: his tomb, erected by Lorenzo de' Medici, with the epitaph by Politian, is on the left of the choir. The fine stalls and panelling in the winter choir date from 1548‑1554. In and near the Piazza del Duomo are the unfinished Palazzo della Signoria, of the early 14th century, which contains the archaeological museum, the small Renaissance church of the Manna d'Oro (1527), the façade of the Romanesque basilica of S. Eufemia (in the archbishop's palace) and the fine Early Renaissance Palazzo Arroni with its graffito frieze.

The church of S. Pietro, outside the town on the road to Rome (wrongly supposed to have been the cathedral before 1067), was founded in A.D. 419 by Bishop Achilles. Its façade is remarkable for its richly sculptured decorations of grotesque figures and beasts, which are of two different dates, about 1000 and about 1200. S. Domenico is a fine example of later Italian Gothic with bands of different coloured stones. Both the church and its crypt contain 14th‑century frescoes. The triple-apsed crypt of S. Gregorio probably dates from the 9th century: the upper church was consecrated in 1198 and the Romanesque work covered with stucco in the restoration of 1597. S. Nicolò is a beautiful example of Pointed Gothic. The basilica of S. Salvatore (il Crocefisso) at the cemetery belongs to the 4th century A.D. The fine sculptures of the façade, with its beautiful windows, as also the octagonal dome, all belong to this period; Meliorantius, the sculptor of the portal of the cathedral (after 1155), took his inspiration hence. S. Ponziano, not far off, belongs to the 13th century, but its interior has been restored: the crypt contains frescoes of the 15th century. The city is still supplied with water by an aqueduct, to which belongs the huge bridge called the Ponte delle Torri, crossing the ravine which divides the town from the Monte Luco (2723 ft.). The bridge is 253 ft. high and 755 ft. long and has ten arches: the ground plan is Roman; the stone piers are in the main later (the work is often attributed to Theodelapius, the third Lombard duke, in 604), while the pointed brick arches belong to a restoration of the 14th (?) century. The Monte Luco, which commands a splendid view, has several hermitages upon it.

The first mention of Spoletium in history is the notice of the foundation of a colony there in 241 B.C. (Liv. Epit. xx; Vell. Pat. i.14), and it was still according to Cicero (Pro Balb. 21) — "colonia latina in primis firma et illustris" — a Latin colony in 95 B.C. After the battle of Trasimenus (217 B.C.) Spoletium was attacked by Hannibal, who was repulsed by the inhabitants (Liv. XXII.9). During the Second Punic War the city was a useful ally to Rome. It suffered greatly during the civil wars of Marius and Sulla. The latter, after his victory over Crassus, confiscated the territory of Spoletium (82 B.C.). From this time forth it was a municipium. Under the empire it again became a flourishing town, but is not often mentioned in history. It was situated on a branch of the Via Flaminia, which left the main road at Narnia and rejoined it at Forum Flaminii. An ancient road also ran hence to Nursia. Martial speaks of its wine. Aemilianus, who had been proclaimed emperor by his soldiers in Moesia, was slain by them here on his way to Rome (A.D. 253), after a reign of three or four months. Rescripts of Constantine (326) and Julian (362) are dated from Spoleto. The foundation of the episcopal see dates from the 4th century. Owing to its elevated position it was an important stronghold during the Vandal and Gothic wars; its walls were dismantled by Totila (Procop. Bell. got. III.12). Under the Lombards Spoleto became the capital of an independent duchy (from 570), and its dukes ruled a considerable part of central Italy. Together with other fiefs, it was bequeathed to Pope Gregory VII by the empress Matilda, but for some time struggled to maintain its independence. In 1155 it was destroyed by Frederick Barbarossa. In 1213 it was definitely occupied by Gregory IX. During the absence of the papal court in Avignon it was a prey to the struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines, until in 1354 Cardinal Albornoz brought it once more under the authority of the Church. In 1809 it became capital of the French department of Trasimene. In 1860 it was taken by the Italian troops after a gallant defence. Giovanni Pontano, founder of the Accademia Pontaniana of Naples, was born here.

See A. Sansi, Degli Edifizi e dei frammenti storici dell' antichità di Spoleto (Foligno, 1869), and other works;​b G. Angelini Rota, Spoleto e Dintorni (Spoleto, 1905); and various articles by G. Sordini, in Notizie degli Scavi.

[T. As.]

Thayer's Notes:

a and so it continued to be at least thru 1978; but in the late 20c the inmates were relocated and it was painstakingly restored. The Rocca is now a cultural center used for exhibitions and the like.

b This author's exhaustive work on the city, Storia di Spoleto (7 vols., Foligno, 1879; plus 1 vol. unpublished) has been put online in its entirety as PDF documents at Spoletostoria; the title given above is Volume IV.

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