Long Ago in Spoleto | When piazza della Signoria did not exist yet

A couple of snapshots from the early 20th century, kept at the City Photographic Archives in Palazzo Mauri, return a famous glimpse of Spoleto; we are talking about the area just underneath piazza Duomo, presently known as piazza della Signoria.

It was no square then, just an unsurfaced street bordering on the mighty substructions of piazza Duomo and leaning on the wide downward slope toward Madonna degli orti. It was, and still is, the perfect place to enjoy stunning views of one of the most typical quarters of the city, the whole lower Spoleto, and the Spoleto valley to Mount Subasio and beyond.

The view hasn’t changed much since then, but the overlook is certainly easier and safer than it used to be; today’s wide, pleasant flat space, close to the city’s underground travelators’ network, has become a public garden and is one of the most sumptuous belvederes in town.

Piazza della Signoria is one of the city’s most recent urban developments; it became a public garden between the late 1920s and the early 1930s, yet it had been decided for at the beginning of the century, by will of then-mayor Giuseppe Sordini, who ordered the area’s renewal to give breath to an admirable though mysterious monument, a mighty building which had been the object of Sordini’s passion as an archaeologist and scholar: Palazzo della Signoria, which ostensibly ended up giving the name to the new square.

A mysterious monument, in that Sordini himself commented in a 1903 essay of his on the periodical “Rassegna dell’arte” «[…]a renowned building in one of the city’s most frequented spots, by the very ancient Duomo, yet largely unknown».

The mighty round arches and spurs that support the Teatro Caio Melisso and Church of the Golden Manna are just what remains of a grandiose 14th-century structure above which – as explained in “Spoleto. Manuali per il territorio” – «the noblest part of the building should have risen. The series of arches is interrupted by a hefty protrusion destined for becoming a tower, as it would be clearer, hadn’t a few of the arches on the right been covered by later constructions».

Attributed by Sordini to Pietro Pianciani, by others to Matteo Gattaponi, the palace-to-be would have its main façade rise above piazza del Duomo, but in fact remained unfinished, and ended up reaching the square’s level only. It would become the base for the construction of the Casa dell’Opera del Duomo in the early 15th century, the Church of the Golden Manna halfway across the 16th century, and a public theatre one century later, that would become the Teatro Caio Melisso.

At the ground floor of Palazzo della Signoria, there is now the Six o’ clock Theatre, while the first floor is presently used for temporary exhibitions, an adaptation favoured by Sordini himself when around 1910 he acted to turn this part of the complex into the City Museum.

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