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Visit San Gemini
San Gemini is a medieval town (with a substantial amount of more recent development) towards the south of the Umbria region of central Italy, and although the town is not commonly thought of as a tourist destination there are several interesting historical buildings and artworks to enjoy during a visit, in particular among the churches.
The historic part of San Gemini has a good deal of charm - it is situated at the top of a hill and clearly divided into two parts. The oldest region has the shape of an irregular ellipse and contains a tangle of narrow streets, while the modern city winds along the hillside, with long roads which lead to Piazza Garibaldi.
Explore San Gemini: tourism and travel guide
There are defensive walls around San Gemini that were built at different periods: in ancient times there were five or six entrance gates but half of them have disappeared because of landslides. The remaining gates are called Portella, Porta Burgi (The Gate of the village) and Porta Tuderte.
Start your visit in the most ancient part of San Gemini with a visit to the ruins of the ancient 'Carsulae', founded by the Romans along the Flaminia Road and which enjoyed its most prosperous period in the Roman Imperial age.
The ancient city had a forum, the famous “Gemini Temples”, and an amphitheater, and excavations have uncovered the structure of these buildings, especially the orchestra and the stage. It is thought possible that gladiatorial games were originally held in the amphitheater, and you can also see the remains of a Roman house with floor mosaics.
In the historic quarter of San Gemini you can see the church of St. Damian, which is thought to have been built on top of the buildings of the Roman Forum, and also the famous Arch of St. Damian, the ancient city gate of Carsulae, which was built with large blocks of limestone but without using mortar. Originally the arch was dedicated to the Emperor Trajan.
Church of Saint Francis
Passing through the Porta Burgi you find the church of Saint Francis, with a span-roof in the Franciscan-style. The church portal is typical of those constructed by the Franciscans in Umbria during the 13th century, with a pointed arch and mostly carved from alabaster, with Carrara marble used in the lintel, columns and capitals.
It is thought that the church dates from the 13th century, but it is difficult to determine if it had been built in the years in which St. Francis was alive, as the local tradition tells.
The Church of Saint Francis has a predominantly Gothic style, and its interior has a nave with seven large arches. It contains various frescoes painted between the 13th and 14th centuries: among them the 'Crucifixion' and a 'Madonna and Child', both by anonymous Umbrian artists. Also noteworthy is the Adoration of the Magi, presumably by Livio Agresti* (1508-1579), born in Forlì and called 'Ricciutello'.
Church of St Giovanni
From the Porta Tuderte you can now enter the Church of Saint Giovanni, built in Lombard times and with a façade that dates from 1199. The church is among the oldest religious buildings in San Gemini although its original plan is hard to decipher. The central portal is particularly remarkablewith two stiles resting upon two squat lions, above which there is a mullioned window.
Inside the church there are large octagonal pillars and on one of the altars you can see a painting of the Madonna della Cintola attributed to Giovanni Battista Manna* (16th century). On the other side stands another painting of the Madonna of the Rosary (17th century), traditionally attributed to Simeone Ciburri (1591 circa-1624)
The mosaic decorations of the west portal were by the so-called Maestri Cosmati which was a corporation of marble workers and an authority on polychrome inlays of stone, such as floors, Episcopal chairs and pulpits. In this case, the mosaics were made with white stone and red and green porphyry.
Church of San Carlo
Turn now to the Church of San Carlo, which was once called Santa Maria de Incertis. Inside, the church consists of a large rectangular room, which seems not to have been designed as a place of worship. However, the stone canopy, supported by capitals which recall the style of French mock-classical elements and not uncommon in the Umbrian medieval area, is remarkable.
The church is located near the Palazzo Vecchio and was built after severe damage occurred at the time of Frederick II. It has a severe simplicity, characterized by a large arch and a staircase. The interior was painted by some minor Umbrian painters with very realistic scenes of rural life, in which stand the numerous figures of horses stand out.
According to the art historian Pardi these art works provide a short history of the development of Umbrian Art. Note as examples the San Bernardino, which shows Byzantine forms (probably painted between 1444, the year of death of the saint and 1450, the year of his canonization). Among the other art works we can see the Madonna Enthroned with Angels by Ottaviano Nelli*. Another part of this art history is the Madonna Enthroned with Saints Sebastian and Stephen, in which all elements of Umbrian art are included - the distinct drawing, the static nature of the figures, and expressive faces showing humility.
Cathedral Church of St Gemini
Now we come to the Cathedral Church of San Gemini, dedicated to St. Gemine. This cathedral was rebuilt several times over the centuries and probably dates originally from the 12th century - although certain finds suggest it was originally built on the foundations of an old Roman building.
The cathedral interior is now in the Neo-Baroque style but the original Gothic style can be seen in the shape of the apse. The façade is characterized by a large pointed arch and a Gothic-style window. Within the Church there are some paintings, like St. Matthew and the Angel by Giovanni Baglione, a Roman painter (1566-1643).
Abbatiale Church of St. Nicolò
A special mention goes to the Abbatiale Church of St. Nicolò, in part because it is mentioned in the oldest document referring to San Gemini, dating from 1036. Because of this history the Abbatial Church of Saint Nicolò is very dear to the inhabitants of San Gemini.
Over the centuries the church suffered severe damage. It was restored in the mid-60s by G. Martelli, but its excellent Portal is a copy by Fernando Onori (the original was sold by an antique dealer to an American colleague who later passed it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it can still be seen).
The Church of St. Nicholas was built on the ruins of an earlier church, the remains of which emerge here and there such as as in the capitals. The façade is characterized by a tower, situated to the right. The portal is a masterpiece of Italian Medeval Art; it is supported by two lions and has door-jambs carved with foliage scrolls. Above there are scenes representing two dogs biting a sow, an eagle guarding its nest and an angel with a flower in his hand.
The interior of the Church has three aisles, however most of the oldest frescoes are lost. Among the most ancient survivor works of Art, we mention the "Madonna in Trono", by Rogerio de Todi*.
Other highlights in San Gemini
You can conclude your tour of San Gemini with a visit to the Museum dedicated to Guido Calori (1885-1960) in which there are many works by the sculptor, who was a very skilled artist who created statues and paintings of religious subjects and was already famous in the early twentieth century when he made a good impression on the critics with his Resurrection, sent to the Roman exhibition of 1911.
San Gemini is also an interesting destination for nature lovers, because the surrounding area is famous for the typical Umbrian landscape, accompanied by the health benefits of the famous mineral waters, universally known for their therapeutic effects. You can also enjoy good quality local food dishes made with local products including truffles, porcini mushrooms, and asparagus.
Where is San Gemini?
San Gemini is situated a short distance north-west of the town of Terni, in the southern Umbria region of central Italy (Umbria is the region to the north of Rome).
You can find more local travel ideas in the Umbria guide.