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Montefalco today is almost entirely enclosed by double city walls, dating from the 13th and 14th century and surmounted by towers through which the gates open.
The most impressive of these is the 'Gate of St. Augustine', which is dominated by an imposing crenellated tower and houses, under the arch of the gate, a 14th century fresco of "Madonna in Majesty". The other gates are the 'Gate of Frederick II' (1244, built to commemorate the emperor's stay in Montefalco) and the 13th century Camiano Gate.
Note: on the Camiano Gate you can see the oldest preserved copy of the Montefalco coat of arms.
The core of the medieval city, which has its centre in the characteristic Piazza del Comune, contains many valuable buildings and works of art.
A tour of Montefalco
Your visit can start from the Church of St. Francis. Built between 1335 and 1338 by the Order of Friars Minor, the Saint Francis Church was renovated in 1385. The decorations in the entrance arch are by Benozzo Gozzoli (1421-1497) or perhaps by Piero Antonio Mezzastri, his assistant.
The frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli and his assistants in the chapels of the Church are of great importance, and among them we should mention in particular “St. Jerome removes a thorn from the paw of a lion” and “The Evangelists”, and the scenes from the "Llife of Saint Francis".
This cycle of frescoes, for both the artistic mastery and the narrative related can be compared with the cycle by Giotto in the Church of St. Francis in Assisi.
The Church of St. Augustine was built between 1279 and 1285 and has a gothic style façade enriched by an ogival portal. The interior, with two aisles, contains valuable works such as a 15th century wooden statue, a renaissance style wooden crucifix (on the altar), frescoes from the second half of the 15th century by Jacopo di Vinciolo, and several other artworks.
You will soon appreciate that Montefalco is a town of churches and convents, which attracted many artists across the centuries, especially of the Umbrian school, who embellished the churches with paintings and frescoes.
Civic Museum and renowned 15th Century Art
The highly regarded Civic Museum of Montefalco is divided into three sections: the former church, the gallery and the crypt. Tthe former church has numerous frescos from the 14th to 16th century and with works by Benozzo Gozzoli, Perugino, the so-called “Master of the Montefalco Crucifix” (active in the 13th-14th century), Jacopo di Vinciolo (15th century) and other artists.
The Gallery contains works by local painter Francesco Melanzio* (1465-1524), Melozzo da Forlì (1438-1494), Antonio Aquili, called “Antoniazzo Romano” (1435 ca.-1508 ca.), and wooden sculptures of the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.
* Francesco Melanzio is a local painter, highly esteemed in Montefalco. We do not know much of his life, but he seems to have been a pupil of Niccolò di Liberatore and inspired by Perugino. He worked almost exclusively in his home city.
Within the Art Gallery the “Melanzio Room”stands out, with some major works by Melanzio: a “Madonna and Child with Saints” (1487), “Madonna Enthroned with Saints” (1488), and “Madonna of the Rescue”.
Among other works you can see a wooden crucifix by an unknown painter from Spoleto (XIII century) and a wooden sculpture from the late 15th century, attributed to the workshop of Niccolo di Liberatore.
See also the "St. Vincent, St. ‘Illuminata’ and St. Nicholas of Tolentino”, by Antonio Aquili (known as Antoniazzo Romano), and, finally, a "Crucifixion", attributed to Francesco Melanzio.
Several archaeological finds from the surrounding area are gathered in the crypt. Among those of particular interest are the “Hercules of Montefalco” statue, (II-III century AD); a large plate with floral scrolls (1st century AD), used as a table of altar, and a fragment of bas-relief, probably of paleo-Christian age, depicting a shepherd.
Continuing your visit to the churches of the city, you enter the 15th century Church of Santa Chiara, which has a clearly reconisable Baroque style following a 17th century restructuring. This church holds the remains of St. Clare of Montefalco; a 17th century picture of "St. Clare in Ecstasy" by Francesco Longhi; a stucco altar (17th century) by Camillo Rusconi; a painting by Francesco Refini (1615 ca.-1692), from Spoleto, and some 14th century frescoes by the Umbrian School.
Next to the church there is the monastery, which also holds valuable works, including a crucifix, attributed to Puccio Capanna (active in 14th century) and a 15th century box in which the body of St. Clare was preserved.
Another religious building of artistic reputation is the Church of Santa Illuminata, built in the 16th century on the ruins of an earlier building. This church has a renaissance façade and contains many frescoes by Francesco Melanzio (painted between 1506 and 1515) and Bernardino Mezzatris.
More Montefalco churches
If you are not yet weary of visiting churches, others worth visiting in Montefalco include:
- the 13th century Church of Santa Maria di Piazza, with other frescoes by Francesco Melanzio, a prie-dieu of the sixteenth century and a wooden pedestal with holy water, dating back to the Early Middle Ages.
- The Church of St. Bartholomew is of the 13th century and was renovated and enlarged in the 17th century. It has a picture by the Flemish painter Jacopo Ybot (second half of the seventeenth century), and a 17th century wooden statue portraying the "Risen Christ".
- The Church of Santa Maria Maddalena (about 1269, rebuilt in 1726) is decorated with various frescoes by Melanzio, Cristoforo di Jacopo (XV century) and has two statues of the XVIII century.
In the Town Square you can see the Town Hall, which was built in the 12th century although later remodelled. On the left side there is a Gothic lancet window, while the portico was built in the 15th century.
Also in the Town Square there are several ancient buildings that belonged to the local nobility, such as the Palazzo Santi-Gentili (16th century), with a Renaissance-style staircase and a large Hall with wood coffered ceiling, and the 15th century Palazzo de Cuppis-Abbati-Camilli.
Leaving via Camiano Gate you can see the house where Francesco Melanzio was born, with a fresco depicting “The Immaculate Conception” (19th century) in the atrium.
Outside the walls you can reach the Monastery of San Fortunato which is very interesting from an artistic viewpoint because of the works by Benozzo Gozzoli and Tiberio d'Assisi (1470-1524); the Shrine of Madonna della Stella, with valuable paintings dating from the 19th century and the Church of Santa Maria di Turrita, rich in frescoes from the 14th and 16th centuries.
Traditions and cuisine of Montefalco
A trip outside the city walls is an excellent opportunity to learn about local products, starting with Montefalco wines, both white and red, and in particular the so-called "Sagrantino", produced from a native vine.
After the wine we suggest that you sample the traditional cuisine of Montefalco, which uses natural local products, often seasoned with the local olive oil. As well as the oil, another highly regarded local product is honey.
As well as the local cuisine we also recommend that you admire the handicrafts of Montefalco, in particular those of pottery and weaving. The first inspired by the ancient arts of pottery and uses ancient techniques to produce the oldest types of pottery but with new decorative forms.
The local weaving industry draws its inspiration from the prestigious heritage of local textile manufacture, with which it combines modern colours and traditional designs with very impressive results.
See also history of Montefalco.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Umbria guide.