The large town of Terni is situated near the southern border of the Umbria region, in central Italy and to the north of Rome. Terni as a city is deeply rooted in the past, and is a town where new buildings merge perfectly with the old ones.
An interesting place to begin a visit to Terni is with the church of San Salvatore, an early Christian Basilica of circular shape, in the Old Town near Palazzo Spada.
Church of San Salvatore
The Church of San Salvatore is of Romanesque style, although the overall structure was probably built at various times between the 11th and 12th centuries. The church is formed by a chancel with a circular apse covered by a rectangular barrel-vaulted nave, and follows a longitudinal plan with vaulted ceilings. The presbytery, of very ancient origin, probably dates back to Classical or early Christian times.
The Menassei Chapel in the church has some frescoes on the walls, thought to be from the 14th century. In the 17th century the Filerna Chapel was added and decorated with frescoes by Andrea Polidori* and Ludovico Carosi*.
An ancient artifact in Terni which recently revealed precious artistic documents is the Palazzo Spada. This building is of great historical and artistic inportance and was built by Michelangelo Spada*, who attracted some great artists to Terni.
Among these was Karel van Mander (1548-1606), the author at Palazzo Spada of “St. Bartholomew's Night Massacre”, an event reminiscent of the massacre of the Huguenots in 1570.
The medieval side of Terni can best be seen by looking at the characteristics of some of the buildings, such as the Tower of the Barbarasa. This tower, of Romanesque style and dating from the 13th century, is a military structure demanded by the Popes to defend the city.
The top is decorated with a series of arches and in this tower the dead bodies of executed criminals were hanged.
In Piazza Duomo you can see the remains of the so-called Fausto Amphitheatre, an oval arena of elliptical shape. The Roman Amphitheatre in Terni, presumed to date from 32 AD, was attributed to Sevirus Augustalis Faustus Titius Liberalis* - the monument was originally built as the arena where gladiators fought.
* A famous inscription was found in the Amphitheatre: “Faustus Titius Liberalis Sevirus Augustalis , at his own expense built and dedicated this monument to the liberation and salvation of the Roman people and to the genius of the ‘Municipium’, in honor of Tiberius Caesar, who was born for eternity, after killing a very harsh enemy...". However it is now thought that Faustus Titius Liberalis was not the founder of the Amphitheatre, and this is a sacred inscription not relevant to the Amphitheatre.
Churches of Terni
Also worthy of mention is the Romanesque Church of Sant'Alò, built in the 11th century, that once belonged to the Order of Malta. The church is of Romanesque style, and the staircase is flanked by two lions from Roman times. Above the portal there is a panel depicting the Madonna of Mercy.
The church interior has three naves and two series of cylindrical columns. The walls and columns are densely decorated with frescoes painted between the 12th and 14th centuries.
Another important monument is Terni Cathedral, also in the Romanesque style. The interior has three naves, and contains the "Circumcision", an oil painting by Livio Agresti (1505-1579). Also remarkable is the “Orazione nell’Orto”, by Francesco Romolo Cincinnatus (1579-1635) - this is a rare painting by this artist, signed on a boulder on the right.
In the Cathedral there is also a Madonna with Child by Martin Stella, a Flemish artist. Apparently Martin Stella and Gilles Coignet painted the ceiling in the Giocosi Palace (1568) with the unusual decorations inspired by the 'French Grotesque' style.
Also worth seeing is the Church of St. Francis, which has been completely rebuilt, but originally had a nave of three bays, a transept and an apse with the choir. It is thought to have been built in 1265 and enlarged in 1445, with the addition of two side aisles.
In the interior, in the Paradise Chapel, there is a series of paintings of the Last Judgement (1449) by Bartolomeo di Tommaso (1408/11 - c.1453) with scenes inspired by the 'Divine Comedy' by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).
The Church of San Pietro detta del Trivio was donated to the Augustinian monks in 1283 by Bishop Tommaso from Terni, who then made considerable additions. The Church holds the superb 'Dormitio of the Virgin in Terni, conceptually a difficult and impressive work, which documents the artistic work of Terni at the beginning of the 15th century.
We conclude our tour of the religious monuments in Terni with the 17th century Basilica of St. Valentine, characterized by a portal below and a large window at the top. The interior of the basilica also contains works of great artistic interest such as "St. Luke", attributed to Lucas de la Mayr (known as Luca Fiammingo*).
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Also worthy of visit in Terni is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Aurelio de Felice), which holds works by many medieval and early renaissance Italian artists, such as Piermatteo d’Amelia, Benozzo Gozzoli, “Lo Spagna”, and other local and contemporary artists.
Attractions near Terni
As well as the artistic treasures of the town itself Terni also has easy access to a great deal of beautiful natural scenery, such as the Marmore waterfalls cascade.
Lord Byron (1788-1824) described these waterfalls: “Charming the eye with dread...I saw the 'Cascata del marmore' of Terni twice, once from the summit of the precipice, and again from the valley below. The lower view is far to be preferred, if the traveller has time for one only; but from either point of view ii is worth all the cascades and torrents of Switzerland put together".
The abundance of water in the region is also expressed in the traditional cuisine, such as the typical "ciriole", consisting of a mixture of flour and water cut in the shape of spaghetti and topped with spicy sauces such as garlic, oil, pepper, tomato and sometimes enriched with asparagus, mushrooms or truffles.
We also suggest you sample the so-called "Panpepato", the famous "bread of Terni" made without salt and which depends on water quality for its unique flavour.
See also history of Terni.
* For more information see historical Italian artists
Map of Terni and places nearby
Terni places to visit
See more places nearby in the Umbria guide