Anne's Blog

That Roman Hispellum: Our Glorious Spello

Date: November 13, 2020 - categories: , , - 1 Comment

We’ll explore Spello together in my next ZOOM on November 21st – and until then, I’ll be sharing blog notes as introduction; after all, there’s so much to share on this medieval hill town treasure.
Spello – pink limetone Umbrian medieval hilltown gem – nestles into the southern flank of Mount Subasio. Viewed from the valley below, you’ll note three church belltowers. They rise along the one main street of Spello which follows the traces of the Roman road, probably once flanked by temples – the site of the churches.
Spello is surrounded by 14th-c. walls.  A sizable section of the walled perimeter conserves the 1st-c. A.D. Roman wall, one of the best examples in Italy of such a stretch of Roman fortification walls: about 1900 meters.  You’ll note it adjoining the 1st-c. A.D. city gate Porta Urbica:
Settled by an Italic people, the Lemonia tribe –  probably as early as the 6th B.C. –   this ancient city of the Umbrians, Hispellum, was known to Greeks and Latin historians. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) made some notes about Hispellum, describing it as “Colonia Julia Hispellum.”  As  thanks for Hispellum‘s support during the war in Perugia in the 1st B.C., Augustus Caesar  bestowed an honorific appellation in honor of the imperial family, Splendidissima Colonia Julia.
A medieval entryway to Spello bears that honorific title:
Entering this arch, you’ll come to the Piazza J.F. Kennedy flanked by an imposingRoman arch, Porta Consolare, the entrance to Roman Hispellum for those heading here from the nearby Via Flaminia.
This consular  road built in 220 B.C. and connecting Rome to its territories in the east, ran from Rome to the present-day city of Rimini on the Adriatic coast and passed Fulginium (Foligno) – just about six kilometers from Spello.
Topped with three figures in togas, this “Gate of the Consuls” – erected in about 60 B.C. –   in fact dates to the pre-imperial Republican period (6th-c. B.C. – 27 B.C.) dominated by the sovereignty of  the consuls, elected officials who ruled the Roman territories for terms of one year:
Some archaeologists theorize that the trio might represent three consuls, although one figure seems to be a woman.  The statues were found in the area of the Hispellum amphitheater, dating to the period of the reign of Augustus (1st A.D.)   The three were placed over the arch of Porta Consolare in the 16th c. A.D.
Do note the remains of the Roman road winding up towards the town under the arch:

The Roman entryway to Spello is a splendid backdrop to the Infiorate festival of Spello when glorious floral tapestries welcome the Host carried across the carpets by the bishop on the Feast of  Corpus Cristi (sixty days after Easter):


Another Roman arch – built under the reign of Augustus Caesar (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.) –  opened from the Roman municipium, Hispellum, over the road which led west of the town to the amphitheater, the baths – probably to a theater – and  to temples, an important one dedicated to Venus.   In solid blocks of travertine, this “gate of Venus,” Porta Venere, is flanked by two dodecagonal medieval towers built in the pink limestone of Mount Subasio.
Called “le Torri di Properzio,” the appellation of the two towers indicates Spello’s claim as birthplace  of the 1st-c. A.D. Latin poet, Properzio, though the assisani will assure you that Properzio was born in the town of St. Francis.
The temple to Venus no longer exists but archaeologists affirm it was on the hill near the amphitheater and not far from the Villa Fidelia, once the 16th-c summer residence of the landowners, the  Urbani family.
They adapted the terraced hillside to the planting of vineyards and olive trees and on the foundations of a pre-existing Roman temple, they built agricultural building and their villa.   In the 18th-c., the Villa passed to a  Genovese noblewoman Donna Teresa Grillo Panfili who oversaw the design of a giardino all’italiana,”  a late-Renaissance Italian garden based on symmetry and order.
Across the road from the Villa Fidelia (built on the foundations of another Roman temple), the grass-covered remains of the vast amphitheater built by Augustus Caesar in the 1st – c A.D. stretch out:
On this re-creation of Roman monuments just outside of Roman Hispellum, note the location of the amphitheater with theoretical location of a nearby Roman theater:

Until the 16th-century,  a section of the amphitheater wall was still standing as evidenced by a mid-16th-c. fresco of Federico Zuccari in Spello’s city hall:

Alas, stone from the amphitheater was used as foundation for roads built in the 18th-century. Some archaeologists theorize that limestone to build the 13th-c San Claudio church across the road was quarried from the amphitheater.
In this photo,  the amphitheater remnant seems like a bent-old man gazing forlornly at the church of San Claudio just up the road.
Augustus Caesar was responsible for the construction of the thermae (baths) of Hispellum, possibly on the site of the foundations of San Claudio.
As you stand in front of San Claudio and look up the hill towards Spello, do note a tower, just to the right of a copse of trees:
I took that photo when Pino’s crew was still restoring that 15th -c tower, la torre di San Severino,  adjacent to another Roma arch of Spello.  In the photo above, in fact, you see the tower scaffolded and covered with protective netting.
Here’s the tower near the copse of trees – site of a pre-existing 14th-c Papal fortress –  prior to restoration:

…and here’s Pino near the 1st-c. A.D. Roman arch as he looks at the scaffolded 15th-c tower under restoration by his team:

From this 1st-c. A.D. Roman city gate, citizens of the municipium Hispellum could head up to the mountain behind, Subasio.

This city gate is sometimes referred to as  “Arco dell’Arce” (“arch near a fortified structure”) as nearby once stood the 14th-c Papal fortress built under direction of Cardinal Albornoz during central Italy’s domination by the Papal States (Albornozian fortresses still tower above Assisi and Spoleto).

The spellani also refer to the Roman entryway at times as the Arco dei Cappuccini for its proximity to the Capuchin church, la Chiesa di San Severino…..

…standing just to the right of that Torre di San Severino  – which I now always call “Pino’s tower.”  You can see the tower here, rising to the left of  the Church of San Severino….

….and here, rising behind the Roman arch:

Now, though,  that “Torre di Pino” (aka, “la Torre di San Severino, stands proudly in all its glory: restored.

Grazie mille, Pino and team.

1 Comment

  • Janet Eidem says:

    Spello is full of beautiful and unique sights. In your writing I discover so much more than I knew of. Grazie!

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