Travel to Todi

Todi, the elegant and unique small medieval village in Umbria

August 5, 2021 | By

Todi is an Italian town of 16.296 inhabitants in the province of Perugia. It stands on a hill 411 m above sea level, which overlooks the middle valley of the Tiber.


The municipal territory, among the largest in the Umbria region, is mostly hilly and is composed of a myriad of small settlements. In the Tiberina valley it ranks in 2nd place for number of inhabitants after Marsciano. The main centers, in addition to the city of Todi, are Pantalla and the Ponterio – Pian di Porto area, which also includes the industrial area of the city.

Known as “the most livable city in the world” (although Tuderti prefer to call it the “ideal city”!), Todi is a medieval town of unique beauty and elegance, which stands on top of a hill overlooking the enchanting valley of the Tiber.

Located a few kilometers from Perugia and Orvieto, the town is circumscribed between three circles of walls (Etruscan, Roman and medieval) which contain countless treasures.

It was founded between the eighth and seventh centuries BC. by the Umbrians on a hill located on the left bank of the Tiber, at about 400 meters above sea level and a short distance from the territory inhabited by the Etruscans, with the name of Tutere, which means “border town”.

According to legend, initially the city was to be built at the foot of the hill, on the left bank of the Tiber, but the tablecloth with which the founders were having breakfast was taken by an eagle which, flying, dropped it on the top of the hill. This event was interpreted as a sign of the gods, so the founders decided to move and build the city on top of the hill.

It developed mainly between the fifth and fourth centuries BC, receiving strong Etruscan influences or probably being annexed by the Etruscans itself, according to what was handed down to us by the historian Stefano di Bisanzio . In the third century BC the Romanization process began while respecting local autonomies including the right to mint own money. He obtained Roman citizenship (after 89 BC) with the membership of the Clustumina tribe, later being renamed with the name of Colonia Julia Fida Tuder (about 60 BC). Starting from the Augustan age it received a vigorous building impulse with the construction of an amphitheater, civic buildings and villas.

After the barbarian invasions and the Gothic war (535-553), Todi was annexed, with the rest of Italy, to the Byzantine Empire. It will remain Roman-Eastern even after the Lombard invasion, becoming part of the so-called Byzantine corridor with Perugia and other Umbrian towns.

Another suggestion on what to do in Todi is to experience a dip in the Middle Ages: cross the three medieval villages of Ulpiano, Nuovo and Porta Fratta and the lower Valle dei Pontigli area; inside the narrow alleys, the round-headed doors of the ancient artisan shops frequently open, belonging, in medieval times, to the twenty-three guilds of arts and crafts that dominated the entire economic life of the city; it was often the same guilds, in addition to the monastic orders, who commissioned the construction of the numerous small churches and oratories whose traces are still visible.

Let’s start our tour in this gem of Umbria!

Temple of Santa Maria Della Consolazione

The temple of Santa Maria della Consolazione is an important Catholic place of worship in Todi, located outside the thirteenth-century walls of the city.

Architectural work of international importance, it is considered one of the symbolic buildings of Renaissance architecture. Its construction began in 1508 and ended after a hundred years. For those coming from Orvieto, the church is visible in the distance before entering the city. Its classical architecture contrasts with that of the historic center, of a medieval character.

The temple still remains in a relatively peripheral position. This makes it clear that an innovative urban planning principle has been introduced for Santa Maria della Consolazione, in some ways comparable to the medieval one of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (also outside the walls).

However, it is above all since the Renaissance that buildings of this kind are placed outside the city walls, according to the architectural theories proposed by Leon Battista Alberti. Often the medieval city no longer had building areas within the walls and the municipalities found in the external places the possibility of creating new urban solutions and free from the canons of space and shape imposed by the surrounding buildings.

Legend has it that a miracle occurred in Todi at the beginning of the 16th century. A worker in charge of cleaning a fresco of the Madonna would have miraculously been cured of a serious eye disease. At this point, it was possible to make the miracle known even in distant regions by building a Marian temple nearby: the church was to host the image of the Madonna and thus become a pilgrimage point for sick of all kinds, rising on the site of a medieval chapel already present.

From a political point of view, the municipality of Todi was in a competitive relationship with other nearby cities. Several of them had behind them the construction of prestigious medieval cathedrals: for the municipality of Todi the prospect of building a very representative church in Renaissance style was advantageous, therefore, to be considered modern. The peripheral position of the church also offered the advantage of presenting the city with an object of prestige visible from afar. The financing of the project was possible thanks to various sources: among these, great importance must have been given to the offerings paid by the sick pilgrims. Among other things, the construction of an infirmary was also started.

The authorship of the architectural project is not sure. Since the sixteenth century it has been attributed to Donato Bramante, but there are no documents that can prove this attribution. It is certain that Bramante never attended the works, while the names of the masters (almost all representatives of his school) who succeeded in the various construction phases are certain: at the beginning, and until 1512, the works were directed by Cola da Caprarola, subsequently succeeded Baldassarre Peruzzi (until 1518), Vignola (until 1565) and finally Ippolito Scalza.

Other architects also contributed to the construction: among them Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Galeazzo Alessi and Michele Sanmicheli. The project began to approach the finish in 1586, when the construction of the drum began followed by the rest of the dome. The latter was already meeting the architectural forms that would become typical of the Baroque (the oval shape of the dome is one of the few architectural elements that subtract the church from the architectural dictates of the Renaissance).

Church of San Fortunato

The church of San Fortunato is located in the historic center of the city, near Piazza del Popolo.

The news on the construction of this church is prior to 1198, the year in which Innocent III consecrated an altar to San Cassiano inside this church, therefore the church appears to be paleo Christian, as evidenced by the lions on the entrance portal, two objects called pulvini transformed into stoups.

In June 1292, the church was transformed into a Gothic style, work interrupted only during the plague of 1348 to be resumed after the municipal reform of 1405 which imposed a 2% tax on all internal road entrances and transits to the city for the purpose of to fund further interventions on the renovation and reconstruction of the church of San Fortunato.

The new workers were the architects Giovanni Santuccio di Firenzuola with his nephew Bartolo. However, only the lower part of the facade was finished in the first half of the 15th century.

The interior has three naves of equal height, according to the Hallenkirche typology, each with an entrance from the facade and gates embellished with decorated bas-reliefs depicting saints, biblical prophets and floristic ornaments (the vine to represent the good, the fig to represent Evil).

From the two naves there are 13 chapels adorned with frescoes and statues, among which the fresco of the Madonna and Child and two angels by Masolino da Panicale stands out, located in the fourth chapel.

The apsidal choir is from 1590, created by Antonio Maffei from Gubbio. In the crypt located under the altar, whose two entrances open to the sides of the altar, there is a mausoleum with the remains of saints including San Cassiano. Initially the sacellum was for Jacopone da Todi, as per the will of Bishop Angelo Cesi, who had been buried in Todi since 1432 in the sacristy of this cathedral.

Subsequently, the Ferraù da Faenza, called the Faenzone, made a fresco on a wall of the crypt depicting the face of Jacopone inspired by an earlier painting.

In front of the church, there is a square with a slope and a garden in which flights of stairs depart for access to the church from the main road.

Cathedral of Santissima Annunziata

The co-cathedral of Santissima Annunziata is the most important Catholic place of worship in Todi, co-cathedral of the diocese of Orvieto-Todi. It is located in Piazza del Popolo and is also known by the name of Duomo.

The church was built in the thirteenth century on an area where a Roman era building stood. It was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1190. It was completed in the 14th century and remodeled several times.

The cathedral is located at the top of a staircase. At the top of the stairs there are 2 terraces.

The facade dates back to the thirteenth century but was subject to several modifications, the last in the sixteenth century.

The valuable central rose window was started in 1515 and was completed under Bishop Billioti between 1517 and 1523. Its windows are not original and date back to the nineteenth-century restoration works.

The main portal, with a pointed arch, has a door by Antonio Bencivenni from 1521 and consists of four upper panels (depicting the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel, San Pietro and San Paolo) and six lower panels added in 1639.

To the right of the facade stands the bell tower, from the 14th century.

Inside, the co-cathedral has a Latin cross structure. The church is divided into four naves, with three larger naves and the fourth one flanked by the right nave. There are two rows of round arches supported by columns with Corinthian capitals. Both the main nave and the two lateral aisles are covered with exposed wooden trusses. The transept, however, is covered with a cross vault.

At the beginning of the right external nave there is the baptismal font, made by Piero di Moricone da Lugano in 1507.

In the interior, on the counter-façade, there is a fresco by Ferraù Fenzoni called “il Faenzone” depicting the Last Judgment, a work carried out in 1596, which takes its cue from Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.

The superb wooden choir was built between 1521 and 1530 by Antonio Bencivenga and his son Sebastiano.

In the apse, there is a crucifix painted on a panel, dating back to the mid-thirteenth century while on the left of the presbytery there is the Cesi Chapel, commissioned by the bishop Angelo Cesi has frescoes by Faenzone from 1599 in the vault. The painting is also by the same author on the chapel altar.

The crypt houses three sculptures that were previously located on the facade and attributed to Giovanni Pisano and Rubeus in addition to the wooden Madonna and Child, the Sedes Sapientiae, until recently preserved and venerated in the church of Santa Maria in Camuccia.

Along the corridor that flanks the left side of the cathedral and accessible from the staircase leading to the crypt there is an exhibition of sacred art and the Treasury of the Cathedral.

Collevalenza Sanctuary of Merciful Love

On September 18, 1951, Mother Speranza Alhama Valera, Founder of the Family of Merciful Love, settled with her sisters and with the Sons of Merciful Love in the small town of Collevalenza, south-east of Todi. Here, according to the indications of the Good Jesus, the construction of the Sanctuary dedicated to the Merciful Love of God began.

The design of the Sanctuary was entrusted to the Spanish architect Julio La Fuente, the construction of the complex began in 1953 and ended in 1975, and is one of the most daring examples of modern architecture.

On 22 November 1981, His Holiness Pope John Paul II visited the Shrine and on 17 April 1982 he raised it to a minor basilica.

The facade of the Sanctuary is characterized by a portico consisting of a large concrete canopy overhung by a large window; the bell tower rises for 46 meters on the opposite staircase.

The complex is made up of three parts: The Sanctuary of Jesus of Merciful Love where the large polychrome wooden crucifix stands, which attracts and makes you understand divine and merciful love.

The Basilica of the Merciful Love with a single nave with six chapels on each side, consisting of cylinders slightly spaced from each other to let light penetrate, and covered by a large reinforced concrete slab that gives unity to the whole. Raised a few steps compared to the rest of the church we find the presbytery area, entirely in white marble which houses the main altar, the lectern and the tabernacle in the center. Behind the altar there is a grandiose pipe organ by the Pontifical Organ Company Tamburini di Crema.

The crypt is dedicated to Maria Mediatrice and houses the tomb of Blessed Mother Speranza, who died in Collevalenza on February 8, 1983.

The Sanctuary, the Basilica and the Crypt are all one: everything speaks of this tender paternal and maternal embrace of God that awaits and welcomes.

On May 31, 2014, the Beatification of Mother Hope was celebrated in the Shrine of Merciful Love (following a miracle that occurred through her intercession in 1999).

On the left of the Sanctuary it is possible to reach the well, 122 meters deep, excavated by Mother Hope, by the express will of the Lord at the point where he indicated them. The works were completed at the end of the 1960s. The water of merciful love flows continuously from the well, feeding the pools and the nearby fountain, where pilgrims can dive and quench their thirst.

Underground Todi

Underground Todi is the complex of cisterns, drainage tunnels and wells built, as well as for water supply, also to dispose of groundwater and avoid landslides and landslides in Todi. In 1925 with the construction of the modern aqueduct, the Todi underground canal system, already largely in disuse, was definitively abandoned and if memory was lost.

In the “Restricted estimate inferred from the execution plan of the works to repair the ruins of the city, chap. II ° – 1858 “, preserved in the Municipal Historical Archive of Todi, restoration work is indicated in 4,578 linear meters of underground tunnels, (then drawn on a map by Leandro Astancolle in 1859), this data indicates that at least up to half of the nineteenth century, the tuderte underground network developed for over 5 km in the area of ​​the historic center alone. To this figure must be added some passages unknown at the time and which were discovered during the modern explorations of the Todi Speleological Group.

Under the streets and houses of Todi, hidden in the shadows, in fact, there is another city, dug underground.

The underground Todi is formed by cavities of all types and sizes made by man over the centuries and which today can be visited in part.

Over 3 km of tunnels and tunnels, dozens of pre-Roman, Roman and medieval cisterns, hundreds of wells from various eras, as well as a hardly quantifiable number of cellars and undergrounds of other types, form the rich underground heritage of the city.

This articulated system of underground structures that runs through the hill, made up of layers of sand and gravel, was built inside to convey surface waters downstream. In fact, the main function of these undergrounds was the reclamation of the slopes, today as in the past tormented by the hydrogeological instability. In practice, tunnels defuse the mechanism that causes landslides, reaching critical points where water accumulates in the subsoil, draining it and transporting it to the surface where it cannot cause damage.

Since Todi stands on an isolated hill, surrounded for kilometers only by lower peaks, the city was unable to have an aqueduct coming from outside. For this reason, the tunnels also became an important water supply system, and some were explicitly excavated for this reason. The public fountains fed by the tunnels helped quench the city along with the wells through which the groundwater was drawn and the dozens of cisterns where rainwater was stored.

After the completion of the modern aqueduct equipped with cast iron pipes and motor pumps in 1925 and after that in the following decades running water reached all the houses, the ancient dungeons, kept for centuries by the fountains who took care of maintenance and cleaning , became useless and were slowly forgotten. The immobility of the underground world has mostly excluded these spaces from the changes that have affected the city on the surface, transforming them into precious testimonies of past times: custodians of stories that are just waiting to be deciphered to be told again.

Many of these galleries and underground spaces can be visited. The itinerary includes: the Roman cisterns of Piazza del Popolo, the galleries of the Fabbrica della Piana and the Neviera della Valle.

Castle of San Terenziano

On the Gualdo Cattaneo-Todi road, 500 meters above sea level, there is this castle built in the 14th century. to defend the population. The origins of the locality are very ancient (1st century AD).

From the Romans it was called “loco petroloso” for the quarries rich in limestone and travertine.

The castle, in fact, was built according to a traditional square layout, using local stone.

It took its name from Terenziano, first bishop of Todi, beheaded by the emperor Hadrian together with Flacco, high priest of the College of the Augustali: the following night some Christian women collected the remains of the martyrs and transported them to the Petroso plateau that from that moment was called S. Terenziano.

The castle always followed the political and military vicissitudes of Todi who installed special castellans there. A house inside the walls still bears the coat of arms of the Acts on the architrave.

It belonged to the plebate of Todi and belonged to the Colle, Valle and Cammucia districts.

In 1354 he was attacked by the militias of Fra Moriale d’Albarno, who after having unsuccessfully attacked Spello and Beroide and sacked the territories of Trevi and Montefalco, was heading towards Todi.

Il Moriale, Provencal leader and captain of the “Great Company”, after the attack on S.Terenziano was convinced by his brothers to go to Rome, where Cola di Rienzo had recently returned.

Unjustly accused by the tribune, he was arrested together with his brothers and beheaded on 29 October 1345.

In 1440, after the destruction of the castle of Castelvecchio by Francesco I Sforza, the priors of Todi assigned the church bell to the community of S. Terenziano.

During the Renaissance it also became the residence of the Cesi family of Acquasparta, who built several noble palaces in the villages of the Todi area. The historic center preserves a beautiful example in which Duke Cesi lived.

After the first period of belonging to the Tuderte influence, from 1815 it first passed under the jurisdiction of Collazzone, and then from 1829 it was a municipality in its own right; finally, from the Unification of Italy (1861) it became part of the Municipality of Gualdo Cattaneo.

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