Spello the mesmerizing gem in verdant Umbria

June 10, 2021 | By

Spello is an Italian medieval village of 8.521 inhabitants. Declared by Cesare “Splendidissima Colonia Iulia”, it is today one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. City of art and flowers, it lies on the offshoots of Mount Subasio between Foligno and Perugia and it will leave you breathless for the richness of its extraordinary heritage of works of art, cultural heritage, monuments and architecture that it offers. In the quiet and romantic alleys, the stones exude centuries of history.

Spello

Spello is part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy and boasts the Orange-Tourism quality mark, awarded by the Italian Touring Club.

The surface of the municipality extends into the mountains, hills, and plains. The municipality rises, together with nearby Assisi, on the western slopes of the Monte Subasio chain, in the Umbria-Marche Apennines.

Spello is a splendid medieval village characterized by arches and pervaded by an ancient atmosphere. Smell of olives and truffles, pink limestone cut in the shape of a cube and parallelepiped, like those of Assisi, used to build walls, houses and almost all of the buildings.

Visiting it for the first time, one is struck by a great sense of harmony with the surrounding nature that smells of elm, cedar, and pine.

Spello was founded by the Umbrians and was later called Hispellum in Roman times; later, it was enrolled in the Lemonia tribe. Subsequently declared “Colonia Giulia” by Cesare and “Splendidissima Colonia Julia” by Augusto, later it was called “Flavia Costante” by Costantino.

Ancient Spello was considered one of the most important cities in Roman Umbria.

Spello is known, above all, for its magnificent Infiorate, floral compositions created every year on the occasion of Corpus Domini. Paintings of petals and flowers that are real works of art, created by artists and inhabitants of the village, in collaboration with the many tourists who go to Spello to participate in this unique event and admire paintings and floral decorations.

But Spello is an enchanting village to visit all year round, in fact, it is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Among alleys and unique views, immerse yourself in its atmosphere and be ready to experience its beauties.

Let’s begin our visit in this enchanting small medieval village!

Villa dei Mosaici

In the center of Umbria, the Villa dei Mosaici of Spello is an exceptional archaeological treasure for the reconstruction of the ancient history of the city. Unique in its kind, the archaeological site of the imperial age still preserves refined mosaics and traces of frescoes and stuccos.

The Villa dei Mosaici in Spello is a modern and multimedia museum, where you can go back in time thanks to technology.

It all started by chance when, in July 2005, just outside the walls of Spello, in the Sant’Anna area, a monumental Roman complex of considerable size came to light. The remains of an ancient mosaic emerged from the earth, which gave way to excavation and, later, restoration.

An accurate work, carried out in synergy by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Umbria Region, Superintendence of Archeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Umbria and the Municipality of Spello, has allowed to recover and display one of the most prestigious archaeological discoveries of the last years.

Archaeological investigations have identified twenty rooms, probably related to the central body of a villa of the late imperial age. The recovered floor mosaics are splendid. The fluidity of the design and the color rendering, especially of the larger environment, testify to the high technical quality of the shop, whose workers could come from Rome to meet the needs of a particularly wealthy client and a specific social location.

The splendid mosaic floors, unique in Umbria with these representations, make the Villa dei Mosaici of Spello one of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries in the region. In the decorations, you can admire figures of wild and fantastic animals, a scene of wine pouring, male characters with plant attributes depicting the Seasons, figures of satyrs and polychrome geometric elements.

The iconographic choices are probably related to the owner’s wine production.

The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore

The church of Santa Maria Maggiore (also known as collegiate church) is in Spello, in the province of Perugia.

Probably erected on the remains of a pagan temple dedicated to Juno and Vesta, the church, later named after the Nativity and then to the Madonna, in 1025 belonged to the Camaldolese abbey of S. Silvestro di Collepino.

Later,  it was dedicated to the Nativity and then to the Madonna and was subject to the Abbey of San Silvestro di Collepino, run by a Camaldolese congregation. In 1159, it passed to the management of the diocesan clergy and found a property of some importance. Its construction was completed towards the second half of the thirteenth century.

In the fifteenth century, the church went through a period of great autonomy and prosperity, in which the main altar was also consecrated (1513), the canteen was reconstituted and the restructuring was completed.

The church was part of a large complex that included on the right the priory building which is now inhabited by the parish priest and on the left the Palazzo dei Canonici (from 1522), now the seat of the Pinacoteca Civica di Spello. The actual church has a facade on the outside with a beautiful stone face interrupted by the portal: the original facade, from the 13th century, was redone and advanced compared to the previous one around the middle of the 17th century. Thus the portico that ran on the front of the church (and the adjacent Palazzo dei Canonici) was eliminated, the rectangular window and the central portal were built, which however preserves elements of the Romanesque precedent. Next to it, you can see the first medieval bell tower.

The baroque interior preserves an authentic treasure: the Baglioni chapel paved with splendid majolica from Deruta (1566) and decorated with one of the most colourful fresco cycles created by Pinturicchio (1501) depicting the Annunciation, the Adoration of the shepherds and the Dispute of Jesus with the Doctors. At the pillars of the presbytery there are two frescoes by Perugino.

The church is inserted in two large complexes; on the right stands the priory building now home of the parish priest with rooms used for recreational activities for the parish, to the left of the bell tower, next to the church is the Palazzo dei Canonici built in 1552, now home to the Pinacoteca Civica di Spello Museum (whose visit is certainly recommended for the many testimonies it contains, both for the general artistic interest and for the city history they tell).

Civic Art Gallery of Spello

The art collection is located in the rooms of the Palazzo dei Canonici. The works on display include some magnificent examples of Gothic and Baroque gold smithery, an interesting section of medieval and Renaissance wooden sculpture and paintings from the end of the thirteenth century to the eighteenth century with some excellent presences: a triptych by the Master of the Assumption of Amelia, a diptych of Cola Petruccioli, some choir panels by Zaccaria di Filippo Mazzola, brother of the most famous Mannerist painter Parmigianino, and a splendid fresco by Andrea d’Assisi called Ingegno.

Among the works that testify to artistic production and local devotion, a polychrome wooden sculpture stands out, the Madonna on the throne (XII – XIII century) even if mutilated by the theft of the Child in 2008; the Madonna and Child between San Girolamo and San Bernardino, a detached fresco attributed to Andrea d’Assisi, a pupil of Pinturicchio, dated around the beginning of the sixteenth century; the panel with Christ Crucified between the Virgin and Saints Francis, John the Evangelist and Crispolto Vescovo, made by the Bottega folignate del Mazzaforte in the 15th century.

The most important work is the Madonna and Child of the early sec. XVI attributed to Pinturicchio from the nearby Church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

The work was stolen in 1970 and returned to Spello on 21 November 2004, 34 years after the theft. The Pinacoteca also displays the urn of San Felice containing the relics of the patron saint of Spello.

The current tour, divided into seven rooms, is inspired by chronological and typological criteria that allow you to appreciate the relationships between Spello and the other artistic centers of Umbria over the centuries.

Church of Sant’Andrea

The first news of the church dates to 1025, when it is noted among the possessions of the Camaldolese monks of S. Silvestro on Mount Subasio.

In the mid-thirteenth century, however, the church was dependent on the bishop of Spoleto who in 1253 granted it to the friars of S. Francesco, together with the houses, the vegetable garden, and the adjacent lands.

It is likely that the construction of the convent was also started in the same year.

In 1254, Innocent IV, at the request of his secretary Menco da Spello, bishop of Sutri, confirmed the transfer to the friars. In 125, Alexander IV also confirmed the donation and, the following year, granted a hundred-day indulgence to the devout visitors of the church, on the feast day of s. Francesco, of s. Chiara and of s. Antonio. In 1258, the same pontiff, given the conditions of poverty of the friars who were expanding the primitive church, granted another indulgence of one hundred days, for ten years, to those who contributed to the expenses for these renovation works.

A decisive weight for the foundation and the first development of a regular and stable seat for the Friars Minor in Spello was certainly assumed by Blessed Andrea Caccioli (1194-1254), of an ancient Spellan family and entered in the rank of 72 disciples of Francesco d ‘ Assisi: in fact, he was the first guardian of the Convent of Spello and, a century after his death, in 1360, he was proclaimed co-patron of the city, although the cult of which he was immediately subject was officially recognized by the Roman Curia only in 1738.

New transformation works, both church and of the adjoining convent, were carried out in the XVI century, in the XVII century and, again, in the Ten-Twenties of this century. The convent was state-owned, for the first time, in the Napoleonic era (1810) and, later, with the well-known subversive laws of the Italian State (1860 and 1866), when it became a women’s orphanage; on these occasions the friars’ book and archival patrimony was forfeited by the Municipality of Spello, who continued to hold the church and the parish even when they were only granted the ground floor of the convent complex (1896). Since 1982, the Franciscan community has been engaged in the consolidation, restoration and revitalization of the ancient convent.

The numerous historical events that have affected the church and its convent have inevitably also affected the entire architecture of the building, which still today shows aspects that are not entirely clear and difficult to read both historically and artistically. The facade does not reveal the historical origins of the church and in the different modernization phases it has lost its characteristics: Romanesque remains the marble decoration of the portal with its arch surrounded by an overhang and three mouldings embellished by a stiacciato with a Wicker braid. The Latin cross interior has a single nave with a cross roof, only the first span is covered with a barrel. In 1913, Benvenuto Crispoldi and Giovanni Tucci, on behalf of the friars, took care of the restoration and decoration of the church, in particular the figures of the saints in the apse and all the ceiling ornaments. The repaintings were carried out following a Gothic style.

Following the celebration for the VIII Centenary of the birth of Blessed Andrea Caccioli di Spello, the church and the convent have been the subject of in-depth studies from which important historical and historical-artistic innovations have emerged. We refer to two fourteenth-century frescoes discovered on the left head of the transept. It is a Madonna and Child Enthroned, two angels, Sant’Antonio Abate, San Giacomo Pellegrino and two patrons whose authorship Fratini tries to attribute to the Maestro di Santa Giuliana. The other fresco, of superior quality, depicts the Madonna and Child, two angels and the client Fratini himself associates with a tablet signed by Cola Petruccioli today at the Cini Collection.

Another novelty is the Chapel of the Baptistery (on the left immediately after the entrance), on which Fratini conducted an interesting study, on the basis of which this would be the chapel made frescoed by the Baglioni in Spello, even before the intervention of Pinturicchio in that of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Chapel of Sant’Anna or Tega

The chapel was built as the seat of the brotherhood of the disciplines of Sant’Anna, who ran a hospital that has been reported since 1362.

From the notarial deeds of the fifteenth century. it is precisely that the Confraternity managed the hospital of Sant’Anna or Sant’Angelo which was to be located on the public road, near the Sant’Angelo church and for this reason called with both appellations.

Besides the management of the hospital, the Confraternity was responsible for the care of the intramural churches of Sant’Angelo and San Sisto.

The historian Lodignico Jacobilli from Foligno claims that the hospital welcomed pilgrims, poor and sick; the apostolic Visitor Pierre de Lunel in 1571, because of the very small capacity (three beds only), ordered its suppression.

The chapel was used since 1895 and until the beginning of the twentieth century as a workshop and owes its name to the tailor Pietro Tega who, together with the master Umberto Perini, accidentally discovered the frescoes that decorated it in 1911.

In fact, the presence of the paintings was already known, as Urbini, at the end of the nineteenth century stated that the workshop showed “for various peeling off of the plaster, which was all freshly painted”.

The small size of the classroom contrasts with the conspicuous presence of frescoes placed on the internal walls of the chapel.

The pictorial layout is visibly inserted in decorative compasses that are still clearly visible today, and the entire apparatus is believed to have been part of a precise larger iconographic project.

The authors of the decorations are two painters from Foligno: Nicolò di Liberatore known as l’Alunno and an anonymous artist of archaic culture, conventionally called Master of the Baptist stories (Todini), perhaps identifiable with Pietro di Mazzaforte, son of the well-known artist from Foligno Giovanni di Corraduccio and father-in-law of Nicolò (Scarpellini) himself.

The chapel became municipal property, underwent a first restoration in 1970 and was opened to the public in 1968; a second conservative restoration was carried out in 2017.

The Springs of Clitumno

The source of the Clitunno river creates a lake with crystal clear waters with emerald reflections.

In ancient times it was believed that the god Clitunno lived in the depths of these waters, in honor of which three temples were built which were then lost. A water garden source of inspiration for poets: Properzio, Plinio, Virgilio, Byron and Carducci.

They are formed by underground springs that emerge from cracks in the rock through numerous pools, identifiable, at times, in the bottom of the pond.

The body of water, with intense and iridescent colors, is rich in numerous plant species (phanerogam, ponytail, musk, aquatic nasturtium …) which create a luxuriant and rare suggestion aspect; dense vegetation, in particular weeping willows and poplars, surrounds the banks.

For their rare beauty, they were a source of inspiration, since ancient times, for painters, poets and writers. Virgil reported the legend of the oxen which, by immersing themselves in the waters of the river, would become even more white. Pliny the Younger wrote an epistle recalling the sacredness of the river, its navigability, the division between a non-swimmable part (the ‘Sources’) and a swimmable one; in fact, the area was full of villas and spas that overlooked the waterway and numerous sacred sacelli. Even the emperor Caligula was a frequent visitor of the “Sacra Clitumnalia”, or the spring celebrations in honor of the god Clitunno, who was believed to reside in the depths of the waters.

This enchanted place has also been admired in more recent times: Corot, Gorge Byron and Carducci, who dedicated the famous “Ode to the Fonti del Clitumno” to them. A marble memorial stone, carved in bas-relief and with an inscription by Ugo Ojetti, recalls his visit, which took place in 1910.

The springs, as Pliny reminds him, were so copious that they formed a large navigable river to Rome, continuing on to the Tiber. In 440 AD a violent earthquake radically changed the area by dispersing most of the veins; still today the Clitunno is among the most conspicuous springs in Umbria, with 1300-1500 liters per second.

The current arrangement today is due to the work of Count Paolo Campello della Spina who, between 1860 and 1865, created the pond and planted poplars and willows around it. In addition to fish, the fauna is mainly composed of the characteristic swans, as well as some species of aquatic birds.

Porta Venere and Torri di Properzio

Spello has the best preserved walls of Roman origin in Italy. In this wall several doors open, and 3 have particular importance. The first is the Consular Door, with 3 entrances, three funerary statues and a tower with an olive tree on top, a symbol of the most famous local product.

Then, there is Porta Venere, erected in the Augustan age and inserted in a considerable number of buildings. It was first studied and designed by the Bolognese architect Sebastiano Serlio in 1540 and, in the seventeenth century, by local historians who put it in close relationship with the remains of a temple dedicated to Venus, discovered at the Villa Fidelia, outside the circle of the urban walls of Spello: the name, in fact, derives from the street “Trionfale” (as evidenced by an inscription found in Bevagna in 1589) dominated by the door and that connected this temple with the interior of the city.

The two towers that flank the door and which an ancient tradition has linked to the name of the Latin poet, were generally believed to be from the Middle Ages. The identification of the tower upstream of the gate with the place of the Orlando prison is also legendary.

The tower-holder complex has undergone at least two restorations in this century: in the ten – twenties, when many medieval buildings were demolished, and again in the years 1940-1941. Porta Venere is closed on the sides by two towers called “Properzio” with a dodecagonal plan.

Except for the towers that impose themselves for the volumetric space they occupy, what ennobles the complex is certainly the urban door dedicated to Venus: made of white travertine it bears witness to a glorious past peel that marked the beginning of the Splendidissima Colonia Julia.

Typologically built with three arches, it is decorated with Doric pilasters, interposed between one arch and another. In the upper part there is an entablature for the entire length of the door, a unifying motif in the sign of a compositional harmony.

It is also equipped with a cavaedium, a fortification building which has a double door. The whole area on which the complex now stands was once rich in other buildings whose remains are now visible in the cellars of the houses that wind along Via Torri di Properzio (there is also the presence of a cryptoporticus).

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