1902 Encyclopedia > Spoleto, Italy


SPOLETO (Lat. Spoletium), a city of Italy, in Umbria, placed in a commanding position near the Via Flaminia, between Borne and Perugia, is said to have been colonized in 240 B.C. (Liv., Epit., xx.; Veil. Pat., i. 14), and is called by Cicero (Pro Balb., 21) "colonia Latina in primis firma et illustris." After the battle of Trasimenus (217 B.C.) Spoletium was attacked by Hannibal, who was repulsed by the inhabitants (Liv., xxii. 9). During the Second Punic War the city was a useful ally to Eome. It suffered greatly during the civil wars of Marius and Sulla. The latter, after his victory over Crassus, confiscated the territory of Spoletium and reduced it to the rank of a military colony. Under the empire it again became a flourishing town (Strabo, v. p. 227; Plin., H.N., iii. 14; Ptol., iii. 1, 54). Owing to its elevated position it was an important stronghold during the Vandal and Gothic wars; its walls were dismantled by Totila (Procop., Bell. Get., iii. 12). Under the Lombards Spoleto became the capital of an independent duchy (from c. 570), and its dukes ruled a considerable part of central Italy. Together with other fiefs, it was bequeathed to Pope Gregory VII. by the empress Matilda, but for some time struggled to maintain its independence. In 1881 it had a population of 7969 (commune, 21,507), many of whom are occupied in the weaving of woollen stuffs. It is the seat of an archbishopric for the three dioceses of Spoleto, Bevagna, and Trevi.

The city contains many interesting ancient remains,—traces of an early polygonal wall, a Roman theatre, and parts of three temples, built into the churches of S. Agostino, S. Andrea, and S. Giuliano. Remains of a fine Roman bridge were found a few years ago buried in the former bed of a torrent, which now runs along a different line. These remains have recently been buried again under a newly made road. On the citadel, which commands the town, still stands an ancient castle, originally built by Theodoric. This castle was mostly destroyed by the Goths, but was afterwards rebuilt and enlarged at many different times, especially by Pope Nicholas V. The existing building contains work of many different dates. The cathedral of S. Maria Assunta dates partly from the time of the Lombard duchy, but was much modernized in 1644. Over the main entrance is a very interesting and large mosaic of Christ in Majesty signed "Salsernus," 1207 ; at the sides are figures of the Virgin and St John. In the choir and on the half cupola of the apse are some of the finest frescos of Lippo Lippi, representing scenes from the life of the Virgin. Lippo died in 1469, leaving part of the work to be completed by his assistant Fra Diamante. The fine stalls and panelling in the choir are attributed to Bramante. The church of S. Pietro is a fine early example of Lombard architecture, though much modernized. The facade is remarkable for its rich sculptured decorations of grotesque figures, dragons, and foliage. S. Domenico is a fine example of later Italian Gothic with bands of different coloured stones. The three-apsed crypt of the church of S. Gregorio is of great interest; it probably dates from the founding of the church in the 9th century. S. Niccolo is a beautiful example of Pointed Gothic.

The city is still supplied with water by a grand aqueduct (see vol. ii. pi. IV.) across the adjacent gorge; it has stone piers and brick arches, and is about 268 feet high and 676 feet long. It is said to have been built in 604 by Theodelapius, the third Lombard duke, and the stone piers belong probably to that time. The brick arches are later restorations.

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