You may wish to see some pages on the monuments of the town and its history first.
View of the fortress (la Rocca) from Ponte delle Torri, actually an aqueduct which enabled the filling of a moat around the fortifications
Spoleto is a city of Italy in the ecclesiastic state, capital of the province of Spoleto or Umbria. It is situated on the side of a hill near a dangerous brook called La Marogia. It is almost surrounded by rocks and mountains on one of which stands the castle of a very difficult access and much stronger by nature than art.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
The mighty mass of the Citadel rises majestically above the town, commanding all the district. This is a noble building, of the best Renaissance period, one of the most beautiful now left in Italy; its dark quadrangle is broken by low turrets. The once famous Cardinal Gil d'Albornoz, a contemporary of Cola di Rienzo, the People's Tribune, began the restoration of this Spoleto fortress (already old in 1356); Pope Nicholas V completed it later on. (..) No soldiers are garrisoned there now; it has become a State prison.
Ferdinand Gregorovius - An excursion through Sabina and Umbria in 1861 - Transl. by Dorothea Roberts
An inner wall protected by the two central towers divided the fortress into two sections of approximately the same size; the northern one housed the residence of the governor and his officers whereas the southern one was used by the lower ranks of the garrison.
In 1982 the property of the fortress was transferred to the Ministry of Culture and a lengthy and careful restoration activity started to bring back as much as possible of its original structure and decoration. Today it houses two museums of the City of Spoleto, one of which is named after the Duchy of Spoleto which was founded by the Longobards, in addition to temporary exhibitions, conferences and other cultural events.
(left) Main gate protecting the access to the top of the hill; (right-above) coats of arms of Pope Urban V and of popes of the period 1460-1510; (right-below) coats of arms of Pope Urban V and Cardinal Albornoz above the passage between the first and the second courtyard
The fortress was designed by Matteo Gattapone, an architect from Gubbio where he worked at Palazzo dei Consoli. The initial purpose of the fortress was to restore the actual authority of the Popes on the territories of the Papal State and to facilitate their return from Avignon to Rome. Cardinal Albornoz built a series of fortress (e.g. at Assisi, Narni and Viterbo) and he managed to convince Pope Urban V to make an attempt to return to Rome in 1367. In the second half of the XVth century the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 led the Popes to strengthen this and other fortresses and to build new ones, e.g. at Nettuno to cope with a much feared Ottoman invasion of Italy. The coats of arms of Pope Pius II, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Alexander VI (also as a cardinal) and Pope Julius II were added to that of Pope Urban V to celebrate the improvements they made.
The fortress is decorated with an extraordinary number of papal coats of arms (and most likely other ones were destroyed by the French during their occupation in the early XIXth century). This is partly due to the fact that the governors of Spoleto as well as the bishops of some nearby towns were relatives of the ruling pope and they felt they had to celebrate their patrons and their own family (in case of need you can have a look at a catalogue of the coats of arms of the Popes).
"Camera Pinta" (Painted Room)
In 1444 a record of all the facilities, weapons and furniture was prepared for Eugenio Coldumer, the new governor of the fortress and a relative of Pope Eugenius IV; it mentioned a Painted Room of which there was no evidence when the building was handed over to the restorers in 1982. The room had been divided into two, the height of the ceiling had been lowered and the walls whitewashed. When eventually these modifications were removed a very interesting cycle of frescoes was unveiled. Their subjects and style and a coat of arms of the Tomacelli made art historians come to the conclusion that they had been painted for Marino Tomacelli, a relative of Pope Boniface IX who was appointed commander of the fortress in 1392 and who held that position for 24 years.
Camera Pinta (2)
Marino Tomacelli grew up at the court of the Angevin (French) Kings of Naples and the papal court was still imbibed with French culture after the long period spent at Avignon. It is likely that Marino knew some paintings of the Papal Palace of Avignon, in particular the frescoes which depicted courtly hunting scenes. The frescoes of Camera Pinta recall the subjects of the miniatures which decorated French books. Even when they depicted the life of an early saint, the scene was set in medieval buildings, the personages wore contemporary clothes and the horses contemporary harnesses. Other miniatures showing scenes of courtly love illustrated passages of French chivalric romance books. The frescoes are most likely the work of local painters to whom Marino Tomacelli made available some illustrated books for guidance. They are unique in Umbrian painting.
Courtyard of the palatial part of the fortress
Bernardo (Rossellino) was much esteemed for his knowledge of architecture by Pope Nicholas V, who loved him dearly and made use of him in very many works that he carried out in his pontificate (e.g. the restoration of S. Teodoro in Rome), of which he would have executed even more if death had not intervened to hinder the works that he had in mind. (..) At Spoleto, he enlarged and strengthened the fortress, making within it dwellings so beautiful, so commodious, and so well conceived, that nothing better could be seen.
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects - transl. by Gaston Du C. De Vere
Pope Nicholas V promoted an improvement of the palatial part of the fortress by commissioning Bernardo Rossellino, a Florentine architect, with the redesign of the courtyard. A similar grand courtyard in a more evident Renaissance style was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder in the newly-built fortress of Civita Castellana at the beginning of the XVIth century.
(left) Well in the courtyard with the coat of arms of Pope Nicholas V or of the Papal State; (right) coat of arms of Pope Pius V celebrating an improvement to the courtyard
The well is generally attributed to Rossellino and the coats of arms are assumed to be those (see image below) of Pope Nicholas V, but it might be part of the original XIVth century construction and the coats of arms be generic papal insignia, similar to those which can be seen at Montefiascone. The ground floor housed administrative offices, workshops, kitchens, rooms for the servants, while the upper floor was reserved to the governors and their court and occasionally to the Popes.
Frescoes in the ground floor depicting the coats of arms of: (left) Pope Nicholas V; (right) Pope Paul II
A large coat of arms of Pope Nicholas V was painted on a wall of the ground floor of the portico and it inaugurated a practice which was followed by some of his immediate successors. The decoration of the ground floor was greatly damaged by the changes of purpose of the fortress, whereas that of the upper floor, also based on frescoes depicting coats of arms, was more easily restored. Nothwithstanding the similarity of their subjects the frescoes testify to the changes in art which occurred between the XVth and the XVIIIth century.
The main halls of the palatial part of the fortress had a more varied decoration, very similar to that of a Renaissance palace; the subject of some frescoes were taken from the ancient myths; the same thing had occurred in the Papal Apartments inside the fortress of Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. Of the many governors who made use of these halls, one is especially famous.
Its former lords are now forgotten, but a fascinating and world-famous woman who once looked forth from its lofty casements is still a vivid personality to the world. Her name was Lucrezia Borgia. She was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, and he appointed her châtelaine of Spoleto, for, at least, a brief period. Lucrezia was the Cleopatra of the fifteenth century. In the year 1499 her father gave her the regency of this district, an unexampled honour for any woman to attain to under the Papal government. The beautiful Duchess left Rome on horseback, with a splendid retinue, on the 8th of August 1499, to assume the command bestowed upon her. The magnates of Spoleto received her outside the gates, and escorted her up to the Citadel. Here she took up her abode, after delivering to her lieges an apostolic brief from her father, which ran as follows: - "To my well-beloved children greeting, and our apostolic benediction. We have delivered to our daughter, beloved of Christ, the noble dame Lucrezia di Borgia, Duchess of Bisceglia, the office of guardian of our Citadel, as well as regent of our towns of Spoleto and Foligno, together with all their lands and provinces, for the good and peaceful government of our said towns. Relying on the unusual wisdom, distinguished truth and uprightness of the said Duchess Lucrezia, as is set forth and more fully declared by us in divers briefs, also on your obedience to us and to our holy office, we hereby exhort you to receive your regent the Duchess as you are bound in duty to do. To give her all honour and observance, to obey her in all manners and ways and under all circumstances; and as we desire the said Duchess should be reverenced and received with full acceptance by you, so we command you to obey the said Duchess Lucrezia, your regent, as you value our favour and hold it of worth. If you would avoid our disfavour, obey her in all that concerns her rule and the rights and customs thereunto appertaining both in particular and in general, also in all she may think fit to command you to do, as if she were ourselves in person, showing yourself zealous and apt to carry out all her ordinances, giving her due and joyful service as it beseems you to do. "Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, under his signet, and the symbol of the fish, this eighth day of August in the year 1499." Lucrezia must have found her life dull and intolerable when suddenly installed successor of the Lombard Dukes in this old fortress of Spoleto. The only fact which has been recorded of her brief tenure of office is that she reconciled the contending municipalities of Spoleto and Trevi. A deed is still extant in the archives of Trevi bearing on it this formula in her handwriting, Placet ut supra Lucretia di Borgia. Her residence, however, as governor, was but brief. When the Pope came to Nepi, his beautiful daughter went to visit him on the 21st of September, and she returned finally to Rome during the following October. Gregorovius
Upper floor: fresco depicting the coat of arms of Pope Pius V between Justice and Charity
This coat of arms was placed in a set up typical of many papal monuments where the statue of the Pope was flanked by those of two virtues. The latter were identified by a precise iconography. Occasionally the same approach was used for coats of arms on the façades of palaces, e.g. at Palazzo Spada and at Palazzo di Tizio da Spoleto.
Upper floor: stuccoes and frescoes in the upper floor depicting the coats of arms of Pope Urban VIII (left) and Pope Clement X (right) and of cardinals, prelates and noblemen who held positions in Spoleto
Cardinal Maffeo Barberini was appointed to the see of Spoleto in 1608 and he resigned from it in 1617. In 1623 he was elected Pope Urban VIII and he promoted the redesign of the Cathedral and of a fine fountain in town. He appointed many of his relatives to important positions, e.g. governors, bishops, priors of the Order of Malta, etc. as shown by the many Barberini coats of arms which surround his own.
Because the Popes did not have legitimate children, the practice of appointing their relatives is known as nepotism (It. nepote meaning nephew) and Pope Urban VIII was not the only one to adopt this practice.
Upper floor: fresco depicting the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII inside an imaginary architecture
Pope Alexander VII was very interested in architecture and he personally discussed the design of the Colonnade of Piazza S. Pietro with Gian Lorenzo Bernini. His pontificate saw the peak of the Baroque period in Rome and most of Bernini's important architectural designs belong to that period. A particular feature of the sculpture of that period was the wind which animated the garments of saints and angels and made them loose the character of real material (e.g. the angels of Ponte S. Angelo). In the fresco at Spoleto even the six mountains of Pope Alexander VII are windswept.
Passage to the main courtyard and to the palatial part of the fortress: (left) coat of arms of Pope Gregory XIII; (right) frescoes depicting Spoleto and Orvieto (you may wish to see a detailed view of Spoleto in Rome)
The passage to the palatial part of the fortress was decorated at the time of Pope Gregory XIII. The ceiling is similar to those which can be seen in the Vatican Palaces. The walls shows views of Spoleto and some nearby papal towns, in line with what occurred in many Roman palaces, e.g. at Villa Mattei where frescoes depicted the fiefdoms of the family.
Large hall near Camera Pinta: fresco depicting the coat of arms of Pope Gregory XIV, a rather surprising one because he was Pope for a very short period
In 1764 the residence of the governors of Spoleto was moved to the town and the fortress was utilised only by the garrison and as a prison. The latter in 1817 was enlarged so that it could house over 500 inmates. The change required the construction of many facilities which were nested inside the former papal apartments and halls.
Coats of arms in the ceilings: (left) Pope Pius II; (right) Pope Pius VII
In 1860 the French commandant Lamoricière chose Spoleto as his headquarters on account of its central position. (..) Lamoricière set out for the Marches, leaving 300 Irishmen under the command of Major O'Reilly, with two cannons, to guard the Citadel of Spoleto. This little fortress was attacked by the Piedmontese under General Brignone. According to Lamoricière, the Irishmen defended themselves valiantly, repelling many assaults, and only yielding after twelve hours' hard fighting. He also reported that the Piedmontese lost 100 killed and 300 wounded, while the Papal troops had only three dead and six wounded. It was strange enough that the last stand by this ancient fortress should have been by the Irish. It retains marks of the battle still. Gregorovius
The Italians erected a monument in town to General Brignone and his soldiers; according to its inscription the Italian casualties were not as high as reported by Lamoricière.
S. Giacomo di Spoleto
The plan devised by Cardinal Gil de Albornoz to restore the papal authority was not limited to building fortresses to control the insubordinate towns of the Papal State: he wanted to have a grip on the countryside too: for this reason he forced the farmers in the valley to live in fortified villages. S. Giacomo, one of these villages, a few miles north of Spoleto, retains the rectangular structure of its old fortifications, with high towers at each corner.