I recalled really liking Spoleto way back when, finding it a lively, “real” town where the boys enjoyed a great playground, climbing steep streets, and poking into a variety of sights during our day. I had a long list of places I wanted to visit, and figured I’d be happy to get to just a few on a daytrip.
As you approach Spoleto, you can see the dramatic Rocca at the top of the hill, with the old city spilling down the slope to the newer city at the foot. There are several interesting churches that were built around the old city walls. We first tried to find San Salvatore, where the first church was built in the late 4th century, then rebuilt in the 7th or 8th using much older Roman elements. The church abuts a cemetery, and driving up the pitted road I was sad to see the church is closed for reconstruction.
Just beyond is another old church, the 12th century San Ponziano. There is a small community of nuns in the attached house, and we lucked into a caretaker who was only to happy to take us inside and show us around. The original but crumbling facade has carvings with symbols of the Evangelists, and finely detailed Cosmatesque inlay.
The church was heavily remodeled in third-rate late Baroque, but the real treat is downstairs in the 10th century Crypt. You go down a steep flight of stairs, past a Lombard sarcophagus. Here are some early frescoes, some untouched, others rather clumsily restored. A few had a definite Byzantine style to them. Roman pillars support the structure, including two strange triangular ones. I’ve read that these are likely turning posts from a Roman racetrack. We tipped the friendly caretaker, and continued on, parking at the Spoletosfera lot.
By the way, the Spoleto tourist map you can get from the tourist office is very useful. It pretty accurately details the major sites and streets, as well as the awesome system of three routes of sloping walkways or escalators you can use to save your knees.
The walkways dropped us at Piazza Liberta, where we picked up some maps and brochures from the tourist office. Just in back is the 1st century Roman Theater and the Archaeological museum. Since the drizzle was stopping, we decided to spend the morning walking, and perhaps later go to one of the museums in town.
We navigated through the streets, passing through the Arco di Druso, built in 23. Nearby is Sant’Ansamo which has a crypt with Roman fragments and 6th century frescoes, sadly closed up tight. We walked through the market square, then circled until coming to the stairs leading down to the lovely Duomo. Very few tourists; in most places we were the only obvious visitors.
I find the exterior mashup of Romaesque and Gothic more beautiful than the Baroque interior, but the intricate floors and the Lippi frescoes of the Virgin are wonderful.
We visited the 12th century Basilica di San Eufemia, which has a wonderful carved Lombard column and a soaring two-tiered gallery. The spare interior just has a few fresco fragments but is beautiful in its stone simplicity.
Casa Romana is worth visiting, the remains of a wealthy home decorated with mosaic floors.
We walked and took the walkways up to the 15th century Rocca and walked around it to view the Ponte delle Torri, a medieval bridge and aqueduct based upon an earlier Roman one. Sadly, it has been closed since last year’s earthquake.
By now it was past lunchtime, so we took the walkway down and crossed town. A few of the moving walkways were stopped due to some flooding, with the tiling dangerously slick. Someone didn’t think things out very well, wonder if this is a usual occurrence?
We found our way to a restaurant someone had recommended, 9Cento. Cute place with modern takes on traditional food. We shared a great antipasto salad of fresh beans with nuts and pecorino, and then all had different pastas. Evan had the winner, a meat-filled ravioli in a light sauce.
We were all drooping by the time we finished, so decided to leave off a museum and just hunt out one more of the lower town churches on my list, San Pietro. As we approached, the hearse and cars in the lot showed a funeral was in progress, luckily the major reason to visit are the magnificent Romanesque carvings on the facade.
Readers of this blog know how much I adore Romanesque symbolic and narrative carvings, and this 12th century church is a fantastic example. Death to sinners, Death of a Just Man, a wolf disguised as a monk, work and heaven, many allegories. We spent some time looking, until the cigarette smoke from those taking a break from the funeral drove us off.
We stopped back at Madonna delle Lacrime outside Trevi to see if it was open. Third time’s the charm–one of the nuns from the medical office next door unlocked the door for us so I could finally see the Perugino fresco inside.
Back home, hung out and read, cooked a simple dinner, then we had a gorgeous sunset from our little porch. I could definitely see spending some more time in Spoleto as a base for a future trip to focus on Southern Umbria.