Ancient history

Discovering Hispellum, "Splendidissima Colonia Julia"

An itinerary to admire the important and impressive evidence of the town’s Roman period. 

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Lying on the southern slope of the Subasio Mountain, between Assisi and Foligno, Spello is part of the club of “Italy's most beautiful villages”, thanks to its rich environmental, cultural and artistic heritage. 

Ancient centre of Umbrian origin, it was elevated to Roman municipality in 90 B.C.: remembered as "Splendidissima Colonia Julia", the town known today for flowers preserves important and impressive evidence of the Roman period which combine perfectly with its current medieval urban aspect. 

 

The Venus Gate and Properzio Towers

The Venus Gate was erected in the Augustan age. In the 17th century some local historians closely related it with the remains of a temple devoted to Venus, that were discovered at the Villa Fidelia, outside of the external Spello urban walls. Indeed its name derives from the “Triumphal” street (as evidenced in an inscription found in Bevagna in 1589) surmounted by the door and that connected this temple to the city centre.

The two towers flanking the door and linked by an ancient tradition to the name of the Roman poet, have been generally considered of medieval origin. It’s likewise legendary the identification of the tower on the top of the door with the place where Orlando was  imprisoned .

The gate, with three supporting arches, is adorned by pilasters of Doric order, placed among the arches.

It’s also provided with a cavaedium, a fortified building equipped with a double door. All the area that today hosts the complex was once rich with other buildings whose remains are currently visible in the cellars of the houses winding through via Torri di Properzio (the presence of a cryptoporticus should also be noted). 

 

The Roman Amphitheatre

It was probably built in the first century A.D. on an area that in ancient times had several sacred buildings, located along the road linking the nearby Flaminia Road to the internal centres of Asisium, Arna and Perusia.

Symbol of the Roman colony’s glorious period, nowadays it’s possible to see the hints of steps and sections of the original road surface. Furthermore there are quite a few remains of the wall built mainly in opus vittatum (quadrangular blocks on the surface with the inner core made of concrete mortar).

The whole structure was originally of notable dimensions: about 16 m high with two rows of tiers, the major axis of the ellipse of 59.20 m, the minor axis of 35.52 m. 

 

The Roman Arch

Traditionally the Arch allowed the communication of the upper part of the town with Mt. Subasio. It’s also known as Gate of Arce and as the Capuchin Gate, because of its proximity, respectively, to the remains of Federico I Barbarossa’s fortress and to the Capuchin Monastery of St. Severino.

It probably dates back to the pre-Augustan age, has just a single passage and a drainage slot. It is still today partially underground, indeed the bottom of the doorway is about 1 m below the road level. Located in the highest point of the town, it was closed with a portcullis. The transit point for the communication with Mt. Subasio was placed in the western section of the walls. 

 

Walls

Following Via Roma, it’s possible to walk along a tract of the Augustan walls, among one of the best-preserved ancient fortified structures in Italy.

The walls belt (about 2 km long), built in limestone coming from Mt. Subasio, was reused in the Medieval period.

The Via Roma leads to the Urbica gate, dating back to the Augustan age and provided with a Tuscan order fornix.  

 

Villa Fidelia

The villa is located not far from the Spello historical centre, near the Roman amphitheatre and the Romanesque Church of St. Claudio.

The very ancient Roman settlement where the villa stands was made up of a wide sacred area hosting the so called Venus temple, the Theatre and the spas. The primitive plant was raised in the 16th century on the orders of the Counts Acuti Urbani of San Lorenzo. In the 18th century the villa was owned by Donna Teresa Pamphili Grillo who transformed and enlarged the residence built by the Urbani and built the Italian-style garden. After her death, the estate was owned at first by the Counts Sperelli and later by the rich landowner Gregorio Piermarini, who made significant transformations and enlargements between 1805 and 1830.

After various vicissitudes, in 1923 the villa was bought by the engineer Decio Costanzi who sold the most ancient part to the Missionary Sisters of Egypt and the remaining part, including the small house, the gardens and outbuildings, to the Province of Perugia.

The most significant aspect of the villa is represented by the extraordinary external areas that gave origin to the Vesuvian garden at the entrance, to the horse track, to the Italian-style garden and to the park with a wood of cypresses.

The focal point of the so called “Vesuvian” or Baroque garden, located near the entrance, is the beautiful fountain with an exhedra, situated in a central position and equipped with a statue representing Diana, goddess of the hunt, and closed on its top with an elegant decoration hiding the tank, adorned with niches and surmounted by a clock. The wide horse track in the shape of the circus was built in the 1900s and was juxtaposed to this particular garden. An older feature is the Italian-style garden, dating back to the 18th century and placed on the back of the small house. The garden, with a narrow rectangular shape extended on over 150 metres, is currently divided into four main flowerbeds double bordered with box hedges and in turn spread over four small flowerbeds. 

 

 

[Source: http://turismo.comune.spello.pg.it/]