Anne's Blog

Spoleto’s Rocca Albornoziana: Papal Stronghold

Date: July 23, 2021 - categories: - Leave your thoughts


Like squatting stern guards, massive medieval fortresses dominate many an Umbrian hilltown, including Narni ….

…and Assisi:

Spoleto as well.

Each rocca (fortress) was meant to be an evident sign of Papal sovereignty for all were commissioned in the mid-14th-century by Spanish cardinal and trusted Papal legate,  Gil Alvarez Albornoz, as points of Papal dominion in the Papal States.

Heading the construction of Spoleto’s Rocca was Giovanello da Gubbio, a.k.a. “il Gattapone” (architect also of Gubbio’s magnificent Palazzo dei Consoli)  and work started in 1359 (concluding in 1370), mandated by Pope Innocent VI in preparation for the imminent return from Avignon (Papal residence for about seventy years).
The Spoleto Rocca Abornoziana  became focal point of the defensive system controlling the Via Flaminia (built in 220 B.C.) travelled by the military campaigns centered on re-gaining  lost areas of Umbria, Marche andRomagna.

As years passed, the fortress  became the papal governor’s residence and was embellished with decorations and frescoes, although many were lost in 1817 when the Rocca Albornoziana became a prison, remaining one until 1982.

After 1982, the vast restoration project was able to recreate the original layout of the fortress, though with inevitable losses, especially regarding the frescoes.  As of 2007, the Rocca is now seat of the Museo Nazionale del Ducato di Spoleto and visitors can explore the edifice housing art treasures spanning centuries.  The fortress has six imposing guard towers as well as two inter courtyards, one for the troops, il Cortile d’Armi (Court of Arms) and one for the papal governors and other administrators, il Cortile d’Onore (Court of Honors).  A barrel vault frescoed in the late 16th-century with images of the main cities of the Papal States is a passageway connecting both courts.

Overlooking the Court of Honor…..…the Hall of Honor (for banquets and ceremonies) and the Camera Pinta (Painted Room) – the private apartment of the castellano –  both showpiece 14th-and 15th-century fresco splendor:

Fifteen other rooms house the Museo opened in August, 2007: a gran finale to full restoration work.  The displays illustrate the vitality and cultural impact of the vast territory from the 4th to 15th centuries (for many centuries, the Duchy of Spoleto).

Artifacts of the 4th-5th century trace the birth of the first local Christian communities and the monastic settlements of the Spoleto mountain areas.

Very early medieval masterpieces give evidence of the political and cultural prominence of Spoleto, seat of a powerful Lombard dukedom from the late 8th-century to the late 12th-century – one of the most powerful kingdoms in this peninsula.

From 1499 -1502, Lucrezia Borgia resided in the Rocca when in Spoleto as governatrice for her father,   Pope Alexander VI.

And her preferred room of la Rocca?
It certainly must have been la Camera Pinta:
Read about the Duomo of Spoleto
Read about the Albornozian fortress of Narni
Read about Gubbio’s Palazzo dei Consoli, another Gattapone masterpiece

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Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)