The Rocca Albornoziana is an imposing fortress that stands on Colle Sant’Elia, strategically towering over the whole Spoleto valley. Its construction started in 1359 and it belongs to a series of fortresses whose construction was ordered by Pope Innocent VI to re-affirm the papal authority in central Italy.
To realize his project, the Pope delegated the influential Spanish cardinal Egidio Albornoz, hence the fortress’ name, who commissioned the direction of the works, which lasted until 1370 ca, to Matteo di Giovannello da Gubbio a.k.a. “il Gattapone”. The Spoletan fortress thus became the cornerstone of the defensive system that controlled the Via Flaminia, from which the military campaigns to recover lost areas of Umbria, Marche and Romagna used to start.
As time went by, the fortress also became the residence of the duchy’s rectors, of the city governors and of the papal legates. It was decorated with frescoes, many of which were lost after 1816, when the Rocca was turned into a jailhouse. Such use would then last until 1982. The huge recovery and restoration works could bring back the Rocca to its original layout, though with unavoidable losses, especially on the pictorial decorations.
The castle has a rectangular shape and it’s defended by six imposing towers; inside, it features two wide courtyards, the Cortile delle Armi, originally the headquarters of the troops, and the Cortile d’Onore, reserved to the administrators and the governors, adorned by a beautiful hexagonal well and surrounded by a double portico, where a number of papal coats-of-arms remain.
The two courtyards are connected to each other by a barrel vault, decorated at the end of the XVI century with frescoes representing six cities of the States of the Church. Remarkable spaces surround the Courtyard of Honour, such as Salone d’Onore, the Rocca’s widest space, destined for banquets and ceremonies, and the Camera Pinta, a.k.a “picta”, that keeps two extraordinary cycles of frescoes, of secular genre, that date to the XIV – XV centuries, among the most remarkable ones in central Italy.
The remembering of the legendary presence of Lucrezia Borgia is still alive; daughter of pope Alexander VI, at the age of 19 her father appointed her rector of the Duchy of Spoleto. In 1499 she stayed three months in Spoleto; the city’s archives keep a file with a few words in Latin written by herself. In 1502, on her way to Ferrara, she would stop once more in this princely dwelling. The central tower on the side of the fortress facing the city is called Tower of the possessed lady, possibly a hint of the cruelty and vengefulness of the castle lady.
Today it is possible to visit various spaces inside the fortress: the Courtyard of Honour, the Courtyard of Arms, the Hall of Honour and the Painted Room (Camera Pinta).
Inside the Rocca Albornoziana there is the National Museum of the Duchy, opened in August 2007 after the restoration of the fortress’ inner spaces. It occupies 15 historical halls on two levels, at the ground floor and at the first floor of the Courtyard of Honour. The works are on display following a chronological order and testify to the artistic vitality and the cultural unity of the wide area that has been known for centuries as the Duchy of Spoleto, between the IV and XV centuries AD. Finds dating to the IV-V centuries AD, coming from funerary areas and from cult locations, testify to the growth of the earliest local christian communities and in particular, of monasticism, that was widely spread all over the Spoleto mountain.
The valuable early Middle Ages works show the political and cultural importance that Spoleto used to have, being the capital city of one of the most important Longobard duchies in Italy. The section dedicated to the funerary outfits, coming from the necropolis in Nocera Umbra, is absolutely remarkable, not only because of its artistic value, but also for the knowledge of Longobard social organization. The second section includes a number of sculptures and paintings, some of which of great value, that date to the period between the Romanesque and the Renaissance and show the artistic evolution of the city. The exhibition itinerary is provided with introduction labels providing the historical context of each space.
To access the parco della Rocca (free entrance) it is possible to make use of the pedestrian entrance in piazza Campello or the comfortable, wide elevators placed at the end of the short tunnel opened along the Giro della Rocca, on its northern side, from where you can also enjoy a splendid sight on the Spoleto valley an on the Cathedral. The elevators are part of the mechanized system that, through 8 blocks of escalators, quickly connects this area to the lower part of the city (Ponzianina, Garibaldi, Basilica of S. Salvatore, ecc.) and to the Parcheggio Ponzianina.
Around the fortress runs the so-called Giro della Rocca, a 900-m-long ringroad that is one of the most beautiful and attended promenades in town, offering glimpses of some of its main monuments. Starting from Piazza Campello and going anticlockwise, you soon notice the remains of the old Roman walls.
Shortly after you discover the splendid panorama on the Ponte delle Torri, built in the Middle Ages on the remains of a previous Roman structure.
The Ponte delle Torri stands out among the greatest works in stone of the Antiquity. 80 m tall and 230 m long, it worked as aqueduct, bringing water to town through a canal placed on top of it. It still works as a bridge between the centre of the city and Monteluco, thanks to the walkway on the northern side.
Realized in local limestone and supported by nine pillars connected to each other by ogival arches, its dating is still hardly determinable, yet its present aspect is usually agreed upon around the XIII – XIV centuries.
The two central pillars are hollow and the spaces inside were used as lookouts. Just before the big, central window there is a recess with well-visible hinges, a niche that was once used for surveillance purposes. More recently, when the town was provided with excise tolls, it was used by the excise men who had to inspect those who were about to enter the city.
The bridge has always been fascinating travellers and important historical characters across the ages, and it’s still one of the most famous and remarkable monuments in Spoleto.
On the other side of the bridge there is the Fortilizio dei Mulini, the aqueduct’s garrison where water used to feed two mills, before being directed through the bridge. It is here that the Giro dei Condotti and many other footpaths toward the Spoleto mountain begin (cfr. Monteluco e oltre).
Past the bridge, you go on along the Giro, from which you can admire the Spoleto flat, whose beauty pushed St. Francis to say “Nihil jucundius vidi valle mea spoletana” (Never I saw anything more joyous than my Spoleto valley), words that are still carved on the belvedere’s marble slab in Monteluco. Halfway though the path, where Colle S. Elia is closer to the mountain, upon a cliff, there is the so-called Pope’s Chair, a boulder carved in shape of easy-chair, from which the sight of the bridge reaches its highest magnificence.
Notice: the Ponte delle Torri is not currently accessible
Address: via del Ponte
Tel: 0743 224952
For opening times and fees, please visit Spoleto Card
L’Umbria, Manuali per il Territorio, Spoleto, Roma 1978
L. Di Marco, Spoletium: topografia ed urbanistica, Spoleto 1975
A. Sansi, Degli edifici e dei frammenti storici delle antiche età di Spoleto, Foligno 1869.