With its thousand-year history, museums, monuments and historical buildings, churches, theatres and nature trails, Spoleto offers visitors days filled with art, culture, nature and sport. Strolling through narrow alleyways in the historic centre, visiting landmarks and winding through the surrounding countryside on nature trails, one is immersed in an environment rich with history and beauty.
Spoleto is the city of theatres: the Roman Theatre, built in the 1st century BC, was rediscovered by Spoleto archaeologist Giuseppe Sordini in 1891; the 18th-century Caio Melisso Theatre, the oldest theatre in Spoleto, and one of the oldest Italian theatres with boxes; the Teatro Nuovo, built in the 19th century and in 2010 named after Gian Carlo Menotti, founder of the Festival dei Due Mondi; the small Teatrino delle 6, named after Luca Ronconi in 2015. These locations are testaments to Spoleto’s rich performing arts tradition, which has seen many abandoned buildings transformed into theatre spaces, for example with the Theatre ex Chiesa di San Nicolò, the Auditorium ex Chiesa dei Santi Stefano e Tommaso, now better known as the Auditorium della Stella, and the ex Chiesa di San Simone.
Teatro Caio Melisso Spazio Carla Fendi
Spoleto’s historic centre is one of the largest in Italy, and its monuments embody the grandeur of this Umbrian town’s thousand-year history. The Rocca Albornoziana towers over the city, dominating the Spoleto valley from above. At its side stands the Ponte delle Torri, a 13th-century aqueduct which is 230 metres long and connects Colle Sant’Elia to Monteluco. The Arco di Druso e Germanico, the majestic entrance to the ancient Roman forum (now Piazza del Mercato), dates back to Roman times and was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century by Spoleto archaeologist Giuseppe Sordini – the same man who in 1885 rediscovered the ruins of the Roman House, which probably belonged to Vespasiana Polla, mother of Vespasian, a native of Norcia. The Ponte Sanguinario (Bloody Bridge) earned its name as the scene of the brutal murder of Christian martyrs, including St. Ponziano, patron saint of the city.
Other sites that are worth visiting include the 13th-century Torre dell’Olio (Oil Tower), an outpost from which boiling oil was poured on invading enemies, and the Mascherone fountain, which is found on the charming Piazza del Mercato.
Rocca Albornoziana and Ponte delle Torri
Continuously inhabited since prehistoric times, Spoleto has acquired an impressive artistic heritage over the centuries. The Archaeological Museum, located in the Church of Sant’Agata, documents the origins of the city with artefacts dating from the Bronze Age and Roman times. The Museo Nazionale del Ducato is housed in the Rocca Albornoziana, an imposing fortress perched on the Sant’Elia hill. Precious early-medieval objects indicate the political and cultural importance of Spoleto, which was capital of one of the most important Lombard duchies to be found on the Italian peninsula. The seven monuments of the ‘Lombards in Italy’ trail, a UNESCO heritage since 2011, include the Tempietto sul Clitunno, located about 15 km from Spoleto, and the Basilica of San Salvatore in the historic centre. The aristocratic Palazzo Collicola is home to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Giovanni Carandente, the largest and most diverse museum of modern and contemporary art in Umbria, with works by important Italian and international artists including Alexander Calder, David Smith, Sol Lewitt, Beverly Pepper, Richard Serra, Isamu Noguchi, Anthony Caro and Alberto Burri. The Casa Menotti, home to the documentation centre of the Festival dei Due Mondi, is well worth a visit, as are the Museo del Tessuto e del Costume, the Museo Diocesano with the adjoining Basilica di Sant’Eufemia, the Museum of the former Spoleto-Norcia Railway and the Mines of Morgnano Museum.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta stands out against the surrounding landscape and houses important pieces of art, from frescoes by Pinturicchio and Filippo Lippi to the Santissima Icona, a Byzantine work donated to the city by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. In addition to the Cathedral and the jewel of the Basilica of Sant’Eufemia, highlights include the Church of Santa Maria della Manna d’Oro, the Church of San Filippo Neri, the Church of Sant’Ansano and the Crypt of Sant’Isacco, the Church of SS. Domenico and Francesco, the Church of San Gregorio Maggiore, the Church of the Madonna di Loreto and the Church and Monastery of San Ponziano.
Duomo of Spoleto, detail, © Regione Umbria
The classic and contemporary worlds collide at Spoleto, an extraordinary blend of old and new. That is partly down to the legacy of artists who over the years have chosen Spoleto as a place to exhibit their work. The exhibition Sculptures in the City. Spoleto 1962, conceived and curated by Giovanni Carandente for the Festival dei Due Mondi, brought some of the most illustrious 20th-century sculptors to the Umbrian town, for over 100 sculptures which were displayed all over the town. Seven are still visible today: Alexander Calder’s Teodelapio, Lynn Chadwick’s Stranger III, Pietro Consagra’s Colloquio spoletino, Nino Franchina’s Spoleto 1962, Leoncillo Leonardi’s Le affinità patetiche, Beverly Pepper’s Il dono di Icaro and Arnaldo Pomodoro’s La colonna del viaggiatore. At the gates of the city, Spoletosphere, a framework in the shape of a dome by American architect Buckminster Fuller, was donated to Spoleto for the 10th Festival dei Due Mondi in 1967.
Spoletosphere, Richard Buckminster Fuller
Sport and Nature
Spoleto offers numerous nature and sporting itineraries: the ups and downs of the historic centre are a trekking route in themselves, while the surrounding area, from Monteluco to the Spoleto-Norcia cycle and pedestrian path along the former Spoleto-Norcia railway, offers woods, unspoiled landscapes and breathtaking views. The Via Francigena, a historical and cultural route in which pilgrims follow in the footsteps of Saint Francis, also passes through Spoleto. It was in this city that the Saint was converted, and one of his only two surviving autograph letters is preserved in its cathedral.