Long Ago in Spoleto: Annibale della Genga and Porta San Gregorio

It’s 1825: Pope Leo XII, born Annibale della Genga, orders the reconstruction of Porta San Gregorio.

Soon after being elected pope with the name of Leo XII, Annibale della Genga decided that the city of Spoleto would welcome travellers entering the city from the north through a new, monumental gate, which from that moment on was also known as Porta Leonina.

During his brief tenure from 1823 to 1829, the Pontiff was generous towards the city, since its noble Marche family of origin had made Spoleto their habitual place of residence and the centre of radiation of their social and economic power. His generous donations included – as Sansi recalls in his history of Spoleto – “the endowment with which he enriched the Public Gymnasium and the creation of the male and female elementary schools to which he donated his palace” (palazzo della Genga, the current seat of the City’s technical offices).

Among the things he granted the city was the rebuilding, completed around 1825, of the old San Gregorio gate, which had already been identified as one of the main gates to Spoleto when the new city walls were built at the end of the 13th century.

The turreted appearance of the mediaeval gate can still be seen in the drawings (housed in the British Museum) that the great artist William Turner made during his trip to Italy in the autumn of 1819, a few years before the ancient donjon-like entrance was finally demolished, to make way for a gateway that the Pope and his artists wanted to be slimmer and more elegant.

During the same years of Leo XII’s papacy, the Dolphin fountain was also built in front of the new Porta Leonina, but in the early 1930s, following the urban development of the area, it was moved to the nearby Piazza Vittoria, where it still stands today.

That is how the fountain could escape the gate’s fate, which was hit and blown up in the 1944 German bombing.

An evocative and dramatic shot, taken from the material kept in the Carducci Library, shows a view of Piazza Garibaldi that surprises the usual observer precisely because of the dizzying absence of the door.

Porta Leonina, Annibale della Genga’s tribute to Spoleto ‘Caput Umbriae’, was rebuilt after the war as a new two-arched entrance.

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