Medieval Spello – history and art in the heart of Umbria

Spello

Spello (Italy) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Spello, videos and map.

City of Spello (Italy)

Spello is a small ancient town in Central Italy in the region of Umbria, which is included “in the list of the most beautiful medieval Italian villages”. It is an amazing synthesis of the architecture of several historical periods and Umbrian landscapes, charming streets and old stone houses. Spello is still surrounded by the ruins of ancient Roman walls and other structures built centuries ago during papal rule.

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Geography and climate

Spello is located in Central Umbria on the southern slopes of Mount Subasio, between Assisi and Foligno.

The streets of Spello

The streets of Spello

Tourist information

  1. Population 8.5 thousand
  2. Area – 61,65 km 2
  3. Language – Italian
  4. Currency – Euro
  5. Visa – Schengen
  6. Time – UTC +1
  7. Height above sea level – 280 m

Spello is famous for its olive oil, handmade olive products and wine. You can also buy fine ceramics and fabrics.

History

The city was founded by the Umbrian tribes and conquered by the Roman Emperor Augustus. Ancient Spello was considered one of the most important cities of Roman Umbria. The remains of the walls, which in the past looked much larger, testify to the greatness and importance of the city.

Spello

Spello

Spello was devastated by the fall of the Roman Empire, when barbarians turned the populous and rich city into a poor village. During the period of the Lombards and the Franks, Spello was part of the Duchy of Spoleto, and later it came under the papacy. Yet, as if remembering the prosperity and relative autonomy it enjoyed during the Roman Empire, the town quickly became a free municipality with its own laws. In 1516 Spello was given by the Pope to the Baglioni family of Perugia, to whom it belonged until 1648.

How to reach

The town is located on the Florence – Foligno railway line. All trains coming from Perugia or Foligno stop in Spello. Long distance trains from Florence and Rome do not always stop here, so you need to study their route carefully. The nearest airport is in Perugia, which has connections to London, Milan and Tirana.

Attractions

The main attraction of Spello is the city itself, its hundreds of steep medieval streets and staircases, arches and alleys, set in a surprisingly beautiful countryside.

The Walls of Spello

The Walls of Spello

In Spello you can find landmarks from more than three millennia. Outside the town there is an ancient Roman amphitheater, but unfortunately it has not been excavated and is actually closed to the public. There are also some of the best-preserved city walls in Italy, some of which were built by the Romans, including several city gates.

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Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore is the most important church of Spello, founded at the end of the 11th century. The church got its present form in the 13th century and was enlarged in 1644, designed by Belardino, using ancient materials such as some Romanesque friezes. This religious structure has a beautiful interior, the pearl of which are the ancient frescoes of Pinturicchio.

We recommend a visit to the Spello Art Museum, which has a collection of paintings and frescoes, sculptures and jewelry. Among the most important artifacts is the polychrome wood sculpture “Madonna on a Throne”, created between the 12th and 13th centuries, and which is the oldest exhibit in the museum’s collection.

Next to the art museum is the church of San Andrea, famous for its Romanesque portal and for the presence of some frescoes of the Umbrian school in the apse of the main altar, as well as paintings by Pinturicchio.

City Hall

Town Hall

The central square of Spello is Piazza della Repubblica which hosts the medieval town hall built in the 13th century in white and pink limestone and enlarged in the 16th century. There is now an archaeological museum within its walls.

San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo

On Piazza Umberto I is the ancient church of San Lorenzo, dating back to the 12th century and rebuilt in the 16th century. The interior of the church is decorated with beautiful frescoes.

Porta Romana

Porta Romana

Porta Romana is a fragment of an ancient Roman gate. Not far from them is the Gothic church of Santa Maria di Vallegoria, famous for its frescoes by Asensidonio Sporta.

The path through the archway will lead to the upper part of the city, called “Rocca”. It is a former medieval fortress, of which some towers have been preserved. Nowadays there is a Capuchin monastery and the ancient Romanesque church of San Severino.

Venus Gate

The Gate of Venus

The Gate of Venus is Spello’s most famous landmark, a monumental arched gate built by Emperor Hadrian. The two mighty towers that enhance the impression of this structure were built in the Middle Ages, probably before the reign of Frederick II.

From the Venus Gate begin the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, dating back to the 1st century AD. There is also another entrance to the Roman city, the port of Urbica.

San Claudio

San Claudio

Nearby is the interesting church of San Claudio, an example of Romanesque architecture, probably built on an ancient temple dedicated to Saturn. Since 1025, the church belonged to the Order of the Camaldoli.

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Spello: The sights, the flowers and gastronomy of Umbria

If you decide to go to Umbria, do not miss Spello. Spello is a type of village for which the Italian language has a special word: borgo, which means “little town, usually surrounded by a walled enclosure, and in the past belonged to a feudal lord”.

There are many Borgos in Italy, there is even a rating of “The most beautiful small towns in the country”, which includes Spello, so if you love the Italy “as if from a tourist postcard”, then we recommend you to visit Spello very, very strongly. The more so, if you are traveling by car, the way from Assisi will take you less than a quarter of an hour, because the distance between the towns is some 12 kilometers.

Spello

From Assisi, Spello can also be reached by train in the direction of Terni, a trip that takes only 8 minutes and from the railway station to the town only 10 minutes at a leisurely pace. The second half of the day can be taken to enjoy the local cuisine which, as they say, is well worth it.

WHAT TO SEE? SPELLO’S MAIN ATTRACTIONS

Like many Borgos, Spello is built on an elongated hill, it was founded by the Umbrians and the Romans called it Hispellum. In Augustus’ time, city walls interrupted by six gates were built here. Later, the city was conquered by the Duchy of Spoleto, then divided into three quarters and destroyed by Frederick II in 1238. In 1389 the city came under the influence of the Pope, and then was given to the Baglioni family as a feoffee.

Spello

The best way to get to Spello is through the Porta Consolare, which is a wonderful example of Roman architecture. They date from the first century A.D. and consist of one large central gate and two small side arches, and of course the Consular Gate was the main entrance into the city during Roman times. Interestingly, the gate was built by the “dry method”, that is, without the use of mortars, and the three statues that today adorn the central arch were installed on the gate only in the 16th century. The statues themselves are also curious; they were found in an amphitheater near Spello, and were used in this way.

 The consular gates of Spello

Photo: Consular Gate in Spello

If you turn left and walk along the via Roma, you will see parts of the city walls from Roman times, the main material for the houses in the historical center of Spello was the same pink stone from Monte Subasio that was also used in Assisi.

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Spello flowers in the streets

Photo: Pink stone and flower pots in the streets of Spello

One of the main local attractions is the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The church was built in the 11th century and was completed in 1285, but the façade was redesigned in the 17th century using the same materials.

Santa Maria Maggiore church

Photo: Spire of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore

The church owes its fame to the Chapel of Baglioni (on the left side of the nave), decorated with frescoes by Pinturicchio. Considered to be the most successful series of frescoes by the artist, Pinturicchio painted it between 1500 and 1501, with sibyls on the vaults and scenes from the life of Christ on the walls.

 Cappella_baglioni,_volta_con_sibille

Pictured: sibyls on the ceiling of the Baglioni Chapel

The most important is the scene of the Annunciation, where, if you look closely, you can also see a self-portrait of the artist. The Adoration of the Magi (Adorazione dei Magi) and the Disputation of Jesus in the Temple (Disputa nel Tempio) are also worth paying attention to.

Pinturicchio fresco - Annunciation Pinturicchio,_cappella_baglioni_02

Pinturicchio’s famous fresco The Annunciation with a portrait of the artist (right)

The floor of the chapel is decorated with Umbrian pottery from Deruta, and in the 1970s the chapel was restored and equipped with a special air-conditioning system to protect its treasures from humidity.

Jesus' dispute with the doctors (Disputa nel Tempio) 800px-Pinturicchio_Spello_Among_doctors

Pinturicchio fresco “Disputa nel Tempio” (Disputation of Jesus in the Temple)

After walking along Via Cavour you find yourself in the heart of the city, in Piazza della Repubblica, here it is worth lingering to admire the building of the Palazzo Comunale, built in the XIII century.

Spello, Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica in full bloom

If you go along Garibaldi Street from the square, you will first see Palazzo Cruciani, today the seat of the municipality, and then the church of San Lorenzo, which was founded in 1120. Also noteworthy is the church of S. Andrea, built in 1258, that was the location of a Minorite community founded by Andrea Caccioli, a follower of St. Francis.

 Church of St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo)

Photo: Church of San Lorenzo in Spello

If you turn off in via Torri di Properzio you will reach the Gate of Venus, so called because presumably it was adorned by a statue of the goddess of love and maybe in the past there was a temple of Venus nearby.

Spello Venus Gate

Photo: The famous Venus Gate in Spello.

The gate is characterized by two medieval twelve-sided towers, called Properzio Towers, hence the name of the street – via Torri di Properzio. The gate itself dates back to Augustus, but over the centuries it has undergone countless reconstructions and alterations, and it is this gate that overlooks the road that leads to Assisi and Perugia.

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View of one of the towers of the Properzio

Pictured: view of one of the Properzio towers

The panoramic view of the surrounding hills and valley, with a strip of highway in the distance, is more like a mirage because the medieval walls, silence and desertion of the place will make anyone feel out of time.

View of the hills and valley of Spello

Pictured: view of the hills and Spello Valley

If you leave the gate and go straight ahead, after a while you will see the little preserved ruins of a Roman amphitheater and in Spello you can also visit the Roman house of Domus Romana, which dates back to the first century A.D. The house has been restored in the II century AD and was discovered in 1885 during excavations under the municipality.

Floor mosaic in a Roman house

On the photo: a floor mosaic in a Roman house

Judging by the inscription on the wall of the building, the house belonged to the most Vespasian Polles – mother of Emperor Vespasian. It has a very well-preserved atrium, an original black and white mosaic floor, an impluvium decorated with a mosaic depicting waves, four rooms and a large room where all family members met. We can also visit the triclinium, the dining room with the three table beds, and the peristyle, the inner courtyard surrounded by covered galleries.

SPELLO – CITY OF FLOWERS

Another important ingredient of Spello’s image is flowers, flowers, and flowers. The fact is that all of Spello’s residents, without exception, are madly enthusiastic about floristry; they carefully place flower pots along houses and stairs, hang flowerpots on the walls, and decorate balconies with plants.

Spello

When I was buying cards at the tobacco shop, the smiling saleswoman asked me if I liked Spello. “Well, of course! – I replied. – It’s something incredible, there are no words! The atmosphere is amazing, and all those flowers around, the jasmine is fragrant!” “That’s nothing! Come back when there’s an Infiorata!” – they told me.

Someone is combining business with pleasure. One store decorated its wall with flowers in brightly colored homemade ceramic pots

In the photo: someone combines business with pleasure, one store decorated the wall with flowers in bright homemade ceramic pots

Flowerpots in the streets of Spello.

Pictured: Flowerpots in the streets of Spello

In fact, one of the most important events in Spello is Infiorata, an annual flower festival. It takes place on Corpus domini in May or June.

A floral carpet of rose petals on Spello.

In the photo: A carpet of flower petals in Spello street during the “Infiorata”.

On this day all the streets of the medieval town are transformed into one huge magical carpet of flowers, the total length of which is 1.5 km!

an evening street in Spello with flowers.

Picture: Spello in full bloom!

At the same time the streets are decorated with floral arrangements on a religious theme, created exclusively from the petals of fresh flowers – a prerequisite. It is the “Infiorata” that allowed Spello to win the title “Flower Capital”.

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victory plaques in many different areas

Pictured: plaques announcing the victory in different categories

The fantasy of the people in Spello is limitless and at the end of the year there is always a prize for the most beautiful flowered area, as evidenced by the numerous ceramic signs at the entrances to the houses.

GASTRONOMIC ATTRACTIONS IN SPELLO

You can wander through the streets of Spello endlessly, as you can spot something interesting at every corner, like the fresco depicting Santa Veronica Giuliani, the official patron saint of photographers.

A mural depicting St. Veronica Giuliani, the patron saint of photographers.

Pictured: Mural of St. Veronica Giuliani, the official patron saint of photographers.

In the case of Spello, however, attention should be paid not only to the city’s sights, but also to the local gastronomic specialties. The town is surrounded on all sides by fertile soils, with grapes, pulses and, of course, olives.

olive groves in Spello

Pictured: olive groves in Spello by Frantoio di Spello

The local olive oil is a real gastronomic attraction of Spello, it has a mild taste and, by the way, Spello is not only considered one of the most beautiful Borgos of Italy, but it is also a member of the National Association of Olive Oil Producing Cities.

The colored olives of Spello

Pictured: colorful olives from Spello

Not surprisingly, the most authentic Olive Oil Festival is also held here, and it’s as important a town event as the “Infiorata” or Hispellum, a costume show that transports viewers back to Roman times.

Pictured: the inscription on the wall of the house in Latin – “Without olive oil I suffer.”

If you decide to have lunch or dinner at one of the city’s many trattorias or oenotecas, you’re sure to find all sorts of legume dishes on the menu. In Umbria, lentils, chickpeas, spelt and beans (lenticchie, ceci, farro, fagioli) are important components of the traditional cuisine and are usually used to prepare thick and fragrant soups.

Traditional Umbrian lentil soup

Pictured: Traditional Umbrian lentil soup

In addition, here, as in Tuscany, bruschetta and a variety of boar dishes are common. For example, Cinghiale alla cacciatora is a meat stew with tomatoes and wine, seasoned with herbs and juniper berries, and sometimes mushrooms or olives are added to the dish. Also very popular in Spello are the salumi di Norcia (sausages from Norcia).

Hunting boar

On the photo: Hunting boar.

If you like truffles, Umbria is the perfect place to treat your taste buds to the full. Here grows a valuable species of black truffle from Norcia: Tuber melanosporum. Tuber melanosporum or Perigorsky truffle is an all-black, summer truffle that has a nutty color.

White and black truffles

Pictured: white and black truffles

Valuable white truffle can also be found in the shops and trattorias of Spello, because it grows around Citta di Castello, Fabro and Orvieto. As for wine, we recommend a red wine from the Umbrian town of Montefalco (Sagrantino di Montefalco).

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