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Spello is a medieval village on the slopes of a hill that has retained a great deal of its original aspect and many important monuments and is a pleasure to explore. Still surrounded by the ruins of ancient Roman walls and others built more recently during the Papal domain to create the 'Fortress', Spello is officially classified as one of the most 'beautiful villages in Italy'.
As well as the village itself and the Roman and medieval monuments there are also several important artworks of interest, including a fresco cycle by Pinturicchio in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore which is the most important sight in the village.
Explore Spello: tourism and travel guide
Below we mention many of the highlights in Spello, but of course as with all pretty Italian villages much of the pleasure in a visit is simply wandering through the narrow streets of old town, taking in the atmosphere.
You enter Spello through one of the various gates through these walls: these are the Porta Consolare, Porta Venere, Porta Urbica, Porta Romana and Porta San Sisto. Starting your visit from Porta Consulare, you enter the so-called Terziere del Borgo, a typical medieval village of narrow streets and houses typically of two stories.
One of the most important religious buildings of the city, the 11th century Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is at the end of 'Consular Street'. According to historical sources the church belonged to the monks of 'Camaldoli' in 1085.
It became a Collegiate church in 1187, completed in 1287, but was then extended in 1644 by Master Belardino using ancient materials, such as some Romanesque friezes which were embedded in the Portal.
The Church is important from an artistic point of view for the many paintings it contains, such as Pinturicchio's (1454-1513) frescoes in the Baglioni Chapel, a work of great value in which Pinturicchio painted scenes of the “Annunciation”; "Adoration of the Shepherds", “Dispute of Jesus with the Doctors”, and even a self-portrait.
In the four vaults he painted the four Sibille (Tiburtina, Eritrea, European and Samia), sitting on a throne between two tombstones, on which you can read a few sentences taken from Sacred Scripture. In the side chapels, there are two frescoes by Perugino (1450-1523).
The Spello Art Gallery is in the Palace of the Canons of the Collegiate and has an interesting collection of paintings and frescoes, sculptures and works of fine jewellery. Among the most important works is a polychrome wood sculpture, the "Madonna Enthroned", created between the 12th and 13th centuries and the oldest item in the collection.
In the Frescoes Hall see the “Madonna and Child with Saint Jerome and Saint Bernardino” by Andrea d'Assisi (1480-1521), a pupil of Pinturicchio who was active in Spello in the 16th century. Also worth mentioning are the "Christ Crucified between the Virgin and Saints Francis, John the Evangelist and Bishop Crispolto", by Niccolò di Liberatore, called the “Alunno” (1430-1502), and the “Madonna and Child”, attributed to Pinturicchio.
Nearby you can visit the Church of San Andrea, altered over the centuries, but remarkable for its Romanesque style portal and for the presence in the apse of the main altar of some frescoes by the Umbrian school and a painting by Pinturicchio.
The Piazza della Repubblica has many interesting buildings such as the 13th century Municipal Palace, now home to the Archaeological Museum.The museum has fragments of the Roman Theatre and other artefacts such as the document in which Constantine gave Spello the right to erect a temple to the 'Gens Flavia'.
In Piazza Umberto I you can see the Church of San Lorenzo, dating from the 12th century but altered in the 16th century. It is divided into three naves with massive pillars and with three chapels, the first of which is dedicated to the “Virgin Mary Crowned”.
There is also the Sacrament Chapel, built by Filippo Neri da Foligno in 1789 and containing a tabernacle by Flaminio Vacca (1538-1605) that was once on the main altar. On the left wall of this chapel is a door from which we enter the Chapel of the Trinity.
The Church is very rich in frescoes, and in particular we mention those by Bartolomeo da Miranda [active 1435 to 1475] ("The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine"), a "San Bernardino", attributed to Tiberio d'Assisi (1470-1524), and “St. Laurent and two angels” (early XVI cent.) by Andrea Camassei da Bevagna (1602-1649).
Near the street of Augustus Arch you can see the remains of the gateway Porta Romana. At the end of the street are the 14th century church and Convent of Santa Maria di Vallegloria. The Church has several elements in the Gothic style and also contains some frescoes by Ascensidonio Sporta (1557-1646), a citizen from Bevagna and a typical Mannerist painter.
Going along the "Way of the Roman Arch" you are now entering the upper part of the city, called the "Rocca" and which was once a medieval fortress of which some towers remain. The area is now occupied by the Capuchin Monastery, which includes the ancient Church of San Severino, with the façade in Romanesque style. There are lovely views from the Porta dell'Arco and other places in the old town.
Following the walls of the fortress along Via Torre del Belvedere, Via San Agostino and Via delle Mura Vecchie in upper Spello you find the monumental Venus Gate, with an Arch and three barrel-vaults. This is inserted into an structure divided by pilasters and cornices, and alongside two powerful towers that make a strong visual impact and were constructed perhaps before the time of Frederick II of Swabia (others suggest they were built later, under Cardinal Albornoz (1310-1367)).
From the Venus Gate you reach the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre dating from the 1st century AD and the Porta Urbica, another of the entrances to the Roman city.
Nearby is the interesting Church of San Claudio, an example of Romanesque architecture, built, they say, on an ancient temple dedicated to the god Saturn. According to the Annals of Camaldoli the church belonged to the order of Camaldoli from 1025 and it is a real "rustic" church, with a very attractive façade featuring a large rose window. Inside there are also some late 14th century frescoes by unknown artists.
Unusually, the rose window is not perpendicular to the portal, giving the church an asymmetry that is its key characteristic. The phenomenon is also evident inside, so it’s very likely that the asymmetry has been "designed", and probably has some symbolic meaning perhaps the "inversion" of something else, such as paganism.
Inside, if you look carefully at the altar you can see that it consists of a pillar, on which there is the cover, but "inverted", of a Roman sarcophagus. Perhaps the church refers to the “overthrow of paganism” by Christianity.
Also worth mentioning as you explore Spello is the Church of Saint Jerome, with an adjoining monastery. This complex was built in 1472 under Braccio Baglioni (1419-1479), with a rectangular portico supported by Ionic columns and is decorated with 16th century frescoes, among them “St. Francis receiving the stigmata”, by Pier Antonio Mezzastri.
Inside there are a ciborium and a 16th century wooden crucifix. In the choir is a fresco ("The Marriage of Maria") by the school of Pinturicchio.
The complex of St. Jerome stands in a very beautiful setting in the area near Mount Subasio where you have easy access to the surroundings of Spello. The region has a significant number of farms where you can taste some of the traditional dishes such as the fried eggs with truffles, fried wild boar or the red potatoes of Colfiorito. A perfect end to your explorations of Spello.
The route to Assisi is a scenic drive from Spello - find time for the walk to enjoy the views from the top of Monte Subasio. We also enjoyed a stroll around the small medieval villages at San Giovanni and Collepino.
See also history of Spello
Where is Spello?
You can find more local travel ideas in the Umbria guide.