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La Rocca di Narni: Papal Power Reigns

Date: April 4, 2021 - categories: , , , , - Leave your thoughts

During the late 9th to early 10th century, Narni was both a stronghold of, and threatened by, the Saracens –  the appellation in the Middle Ages for Muslim Arabs – as was much of central Italy:

As of the 11th century, Narni began to increase in wealth and power, opposing Papal dominance in the early 12th century and then the power of Frederick Barbarossa in the mid-12th-century.  Narni’s insubordination infuriated the Emperor’s chancellor, Archbishop Christian of Mainz.

In 1242 Narni formed links to the Guelf party – those supporting the Papacy, rather than the Emperor (Ghibellines) – and allied with Guelf Perugia and Rome in opposition to imperial authority.

In the 14th-century, Narni was firmly under Papal authority:  testament, the mighty Rocca…

…built by the Gubbio builder Matteo di Giovanello – called “Gattapone” –  under order of the Papal delegate, Cardinal Gil Alvarez Albornoz:

In 1352, after the election of Pope Innocent VI,  Albornoz was appointed Papal legate and sent throughout Italy to restore Papal authority. He was soon given the epithet “Angel of Peace,” which quickly became an ironic misnomer given his future campaigns leading a small mercenary army throughout the Papal States, in the present-day regions of the Marches, Emilia Romagna, Umbria and Latium.

His rocche throughout the Papal States are symbols of Papal soverignty: Albornoz meant them to form the backbone of Papal dominance throughout central Italy.

An Albornozian mid-14th-century fortress towers over Spoleto, also constructed by Albornozian architect from Gubbio, Gattapone:

The Albornoz Rocca Maggiore of Assisi was built on the foundations of a pre-existing imperial fortress of Barbarossa attacked and leveled in 1198 by the assisani when Assisi shifted to Guelf allegiance. (Francesco di Assisi was a young teen-ager at the time).

The Rocca di Narni, too, is built on site of a pre-exiting Barbarossa fortress where a convent for the followers of St. Clare of Assisi, the Clarisse (Poor Clares), had later been constructed on the imperial fortress site.

The imposing Rocca Albornoziana -as were the other Papal fortresses – was built after the Papal re-entry from Avignon in order to protect the territory just recently re-conquered: a clear sign that the Papal States would oversee control of Perugia, Terni, Amelia and surrounding areas.

Work started in 1367 and four years late, the first castellano took up residence. Construction concluded in 1378.

The four-cornered fortification was once surrounded by a moat and another outside wall to assure even further protection.

Corbels crowned the walls and towers…

…as well as the largest of the four towers, the keep:

The towers of la Rocca di Narni encircle a courtyard…


…and an elegant staircase led to the noble residences above, for from 1370 to 1449, the Rocca was residence of popes, cardinals and condottieri (military leaders).

Trusted Papal builder, Gattapone of Gubbio, carried out the work on the fortress – and built other monuments in Narni, including the Palazzo dei Priori with elegant loggia in the centro storico of Narni:

In the Middle Ages, the palazzo was seat of the magistrature and traces under the arches of frescoes, insciptions and coats-of-arms attest to its centrality in the civic life of Narni.

From la Loggia del Banditore (the Pulpit of the Town Crier), important declarations were announced:

And in this piazza, the Corsa all’Anello (the Race of the Ring) was run in honor of patron saint, San Giovenale. The beloved narnese celebration was stipulated in 1371 by the Papal legate, the very year that the Papal fortress, la Rocca di Narni was first inhabited.

Those residing in that Papal fortress for centuries afterwards were revered no doubt with places of honor during the San Giovenale festivities.

And the elegant porticoes of Gattapone’s Palazzo dei Priori still  backdrop the Corsa dell’Anello celebration:

(Thanks, Marco Santarelli, for the lead photo of La Rocca – and your photo of the pulpito. Thanks to Marco Menciotti, Fabio Oddi, and Emiliano Luciani as well for your photos).

Read about the Corsa all’Anello and 14th-c stipulation of the celebration, frescoed in Narni’s cathedral

Click here to read about Narni’s underground wonders

Read about the splendor of Narni’s cathedral.

Read about my first experience of the Corsa all’Anello

Read here about Narni Roman treasures

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