Long Ago in Spoleto: the new tunnel under the Rocca

In December 1961, the variant of the road was inaugurated, which would improve connections with Spoleto and change the surrounding landscape forever.

Until not so many years ago, there was no road cutting lengthwise the green valley of the Tessino between Spoleto and Monteluco, no work of man that markedly separated the offshoots of the city from the slopes of the sacred Lucus, nothing that interrupted the visual continuity of a landscape so sublime that Saint Francis exclaimed «Nil (Nihil) Jucundius Vidi Valle Mea Spoletana».

This landscape was destined to change dramatically in 1961, when the large-scale works to widen and change the Flaminia were completed, with the construction of a road in the Spoleto section that cut through the valley, passing under Colle S. Elia.

In his “Cronaca di Vita Cittadina” (Spoleto, 1991), taken from the collection of articles by the journalist Antonio Busetti, Carlo Alberto Berioli first informs us that the major works for the Flaminia Way, in the Spoleto section, also included a “grandiose bridge over the Tessino (seven 31-metre spans for a total length of 240 metres)” and “a tunnel of over 520 metres under the Colle di S. Elia, underneath the Rocca” and then shows us a shot of the inaugural ceremony of the tunnel, which took place in the presence of the Mayor Gianni Toscano and the Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani, on 8 December 1961.

The section from the Somma pass to Strettura was completed in 1957. The following year the works began on the section between Strettura and Spoleto, which was completed in 1961. Two years of work, according to the newspapers of the time – also reported in Berioli’s book – for a new artery destined to offer “greater prospects for the development of tourist and commercial traffic, making it possible to dispose of the chaotic flows to and from Rome”.

This view is consistent with the conclusions of a dense article on the history of the Flaminia consular road in the Umbrian territory by engineer Piero Grassini entitled “Tra Roma e Spoleto non c’è più la Somma” (“Between Rome and Spoleto there is no longer the Somma”) published in the magazine “Spoletium” in April 1966, a few years after the completion of the work: “We would not like to go into economic evaluations of the return on the investment made here, although we are sure that with today’s traffic it is certainly considerable. On the other hand, we would like to emphasise that having changed the face of the Somma was a bit like taking Spoleto out of its isolation, bringing it closer to neighbouring cities, linking it to the metropolis. And we, who don’t like hive cities and large metropolises, think that if a new breath of life comes to cities that can’t live only on beauty and the past but need to fit into the modern rhythm of life, this can give greater value to those ‘traditional minor cities’ that can remain residential and that, if they are no longer capitals of territories, will still and always be capitals of the soul – which is what matters.”

Postcard courtesy of Massimo Coccetta

A splendid visiting card for Spoleto in the eyes of those passing through, with the Rocca and the Ponte delle Torri towering above the road, the Flaminia variant has also received criticism for having broken up a fragile balance in the landscape, as shown by an old postcard and a photo kept in the Carducci library photo library.

By way of example, one of the most authoritative guides produced on the heritage of the Spoleto area (“L’Umbria – Manuali per il territorio” by Gentili, Giacchè, Ragni and Toscano, published in 1978) states how that landscape has been “completely transformed by the variant of the Via Flaminia, which has broken the existing natural continuity between the course of the Tessino and the slopes of Monteluco. The wide asphalt straightaway, which continues in a tunnel under the S. Elia hill, and the intense, fast-moving traffic that takes place there cannot assimilate with the widely modulated lines of the landscape and its quiet solemnity.”

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