A guide to mesmerizing Citta’ di Castello, the door of Umbria - Bellarome

A guide to mesmerizing Citta’ di Castello, the door of Umbria

Città di Castello is an Italian municipality of 39.267 inhabitants in the province of Perugia, the twentieth of Italy by extension and the second of Umbria. Main center of the upper Tiber valley, it is the bishopric of the diocese of Città di Castello. Given its position, it has strong historical and cultural ties with the neighbouring areas of Tuscany, Romagna and Marche.

After undergoing several dominations and after being sacked and destroyed by the Goths of Totila (6th century AD), it was rebuilt and fortified, taking first the name of Castrum Felicitatis and then, from the 10th century, the definitive one of Castrum Castelli.

Established in free commune in the first half of the XII century, in the fifteenth century it was the lordship of the Vitelli family. During the Middle Ages it experienced periods of independence and others of subjugation to the Papacy, in Florence and Perugia.

Only in the 16th century, with Cesare Borgia, did it definitively pass to the Papal States, under whose dominion (except for the Napoleonic period) it remained until the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy (1860).

The symbol of Città di Castello is undoubtedly the group of bell towers which makes it immediately recognizable and which represent a sort of “summa” of its own historical events, strongly characterized by the contrast between civic and religious power.

Citta’ di Castello is not a medieval city, far from it!  It stands out from the whole of Umbria for being the only Renaissance style one!

Let’s start our tour in this gem of Umbria!

Palazzo del Podestà

Palazzo del Podestà is one of the most important public buildings in all of Umbria and  is immediately recognizable thanks to the two clocks that indicate the hours and minutes respectively, the Bufalini palace, the Bondi-Mancini palace and the palace Cappelletti.

It is one of the most important civic buildings in Città di Castello, whose construction, commissioned by the Tarlati of Pietramala, was entrusted by Angelo da Orvieto and carried out between the first and second half of the fourteenth century.

The structure of the building is well highlighted by the three-order façade, in which we find various stylistic and architectural expedients, among which the round arches of the first order, the gable windows of the noble floor, and the double clock of the upper part , dominated by the profile of the small bell tower.

The gallery, which defines the most important area of the Palace, is instead located in the part of the building overlooking Piazza Fanti, and has a more recent origin, having been completed around the year 1620.

 

Civic Tower

The Civic Tower dates back to the 14th century and is the true symbol of a free city. It has a square shape and displays multiple systems on the facade. There is also the trace of a small roof that once protected the fresco by Luca Signorelli of the Madonna with Child and saints. It was painted in 1474 but suffered serious damage from time and earthquakes and was finally removed in 1940.

A fragment showing San Paolo is visible in the Municipal Art Gallery. The tower is also known as Torre del Vescovo because it is located next to the bishop’s palace.

On July 13, 1397 a clock was added. From the top of the tower it is possible to admire the historic center of the city, the beautiful green hill of Montesca and look beyond the entire Tiber valley.

Although it is also known as the Episcopal Tower (it is located next to the bishop’s palace) it is one of the emblems of the temporal power of the town and it was also a prison.

If anyone wonders if it is a bit crooked, the answer is “yes”, it is … mainly due to the 2007 earthquake which also caused other damages for which restoration works were completed which were recently completed.

The Civic Tower of Città di Castello, in fact, reopened in 2018 after 13 years of closure and a consolidation intervention.

 

Palazzo del Comune

The first building you come acrodss from the Civic Tower is the Palazzo del Comune (or dei Priori), completed in the first half of the 14th century by Angelo da Orvieto.

The main door during the daytime is always open and allows you to visit the atrium with its octagonal-based columns, cross vaults and the magnificent sixteenth-century staircase that leads to the Council Hall on the first floor. Palazzo del Comune also known as dei Priori, of solemn and elegant architecture, is one of the most important public buildings in Umbria. Construction began in 1322; it stopped after the completion of the first order of mullioned windows in 1338 and was never completed.

The coat of arms of the Municipality is carved on the lunette of the main door and on the architrave an inscription, now worn, recalls the name of the architect, Angelo da Orvieto, who almost at the same time carried on the construction of two other public buildings: that of the Consoli in Gubbio and that of the Podestà always in Città di Castello. The figure of Justice is carved on the lunette of the minor door.

The facade has a rusticated ashlar surface, made up of sandstone ashlars, ductile and soft stone present in the hills. Imposing and severe is the atrium where two mighty octagonal pillars support the wide coverage. Rectangular ribs and crossed round ribs start from the capitals. Through the wide sixteenth-century staircase you reach the Municipal Council Hall where fragments of frescoes and numerous Roman epigraphs are visible which constitute a precious testimony of the life of the ancient town hall of Tifernum Tiberinum.

In the room, there is also the imposing plaster statue depicting the Allegory of Umbria by local sculptor Elmo Palazzi (1871-1915). In the adjoining Sala Giunta, in addition to some Garibaldi memorabilia, there is the canvas with the Martyrdom of San Lorenzo, the work of the painter Vincenzo Barboni (1802-1859).

 

The Cathedral of Città di Castello

The Cathedral of Saints Florido and Amanzio is the main place of worship of Città di Castello, the mother church of the diocese of the same name. In December 1888, Pope Leo XIII elevated it to the dignity of a minor basilica. The Latin cross basilica with side chapels is characterized by architectural stone structures made by workers from Lombardy and Florence.

The first city cathedral, dedicated to Saint Stephen, was destroyed by the Gothic army of Totila in the mid-sixth century. The new building was immediately rebuilt on the initiative of Bishop Florido, inaugurated at the beginning of the seventh century and dedicated to San Lorenzo. Fallen into disrepair, it was restored in the first half of the 11th century and consecrated to San Florido, patron saint of the city, on 22 August 1012.

In 1450, the crypt of the church, built in this period, welcomed the relics of Saints Florido and Amanzio. Finally, a new restoration, due to an earthquake and started in 1494, led to a new consecration on August 22, 1529: on this occasion also the one of Sant’Amanzio was added. The sixteenth-century dome, which collapsed following a second earthquake, was rebuilt at the end of the eighteenth century, on plans by Tommaso Catrani.

The church, the result of works carried out over the centuries, turns out to be an amalgam of different styles.

Outside, the 17th century facade is unfinished, while the north side is embellished with a rich Gothic portal with bas-reliefs (dated first half of the 14th century), preceded by an eighteenth-century staircase by Venanzio Righi.

The church is flanked by a round Romanesque bell tower, in the Ravenna style (13th century).

The interior of the building, with a Renaissance imprint, has a Latin cross plan with a single nave with a 17th century coffered ceiling and side chapels. Among these we can distinguish: the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the seventeenth century by Nicola Barbioni; the chapel of San Paolo which houses the fresco depicting the Conversion on the road to Damascus by Pomarancio.

Episodes from the life of San Florido are frescoed in the choir, while the wooden stalls date back to the end of the 16th century and are the work of Raffaellino del Colle. The main altar is from the end of the eighteenth century, a reconstruction of the previous one destroyed by the earthquake which ruined the dome above the altar.

A staircase leads to the crypt, also called the lower church (from the 15th century), where the relics of the saints who are the owners of the cathedral are kept. The crypt preserves the skull of San Crescentino and also the statue of the black Madonna of Città di Castello: particularity of this Madonna is that, instead of holding the baby Jesus in her arms, she holds in her left hand another smaller woman, who holds holding a sphere; moreover the Madonna carries on her head a crown resembling a tiara (typical of the popes).

The church houses other notable works by Rosso Fiorentino and Tommaso Conca. The annexed museum of the Cathedral collects important early Christian liturgical objects of the fifth and sixth centuries, other medieval sacred furnishings and a Madonna del Pinturicchio.

On the choir of the right arm, the Cathedral houses the single-body organ of 1842 built by the brothers Antonio and Francesco Martinelli.

 

San Frances Church

San Frances  is a Roman Catholic church in Città di Castello, in the province of Perugia, whose construction dates back to the second half of the thirteenth century, having been consecrated in 1291, but whose current structure is the result of the Baroque reconstruction of the mid-eighteenth century.

It but underwent centuries of reconstruction and expansion. Few elements such as the apse, the right wall and some windows date back to the original Gothic style church. An important reconstruction between 1707 and 1727 created the current Baroque architectural structure and internal decorations.

The simple brick facade differs from the richly decorative interiors. The stuccos were completed by Antonio Milli; the ceiling medallions were frescoed with saints Francesco, Antonio da Padova and Giuseppe da Copertino, by Lucantonio Angiolucci.

The Vitelli chapel on the left was designed (around 1550) by Giorgio Vasari. He painted the large canvas depicting the Coronation of the Virgin (1563). The altar of San Giuseppe in the church now has a copy of Raphael’s original Marriage of the Virgin (1504), stolen by Napoleonic troops in 1798, and now in the Pinacoteca di Brera. The 14th century carved altar is attributed to the Franciscan Blessed James. One of the chapels on the right once contained a reliquary that held the arm of the apostle Sant’Andrea, by Lorenzo Ghiberti, now in the Municipal Art Gallery of the city.

The adoration of the shepherds by Luca Signorelli (1496) was painted for this church and is now located in the National Gallery (London).

The Church has hosted, over time, numerous artistic works of great value, such as the Coronation of the Virgin by Giorgio Vasari, located in the Vitelli Chapel, and the Marriage of the Virgin, by Raphael, whose original is now preserved in the Pinacoteca di Breria in Milan.

 

The Municipal Art Gallery

The municipal art gallery of Città di Castello is a beautiful Renaissance residence, richly frescoed, housed in the Renaissance palace which was home to the leader Alessandro Vitelli and his wife Angela de ’Rossi, which has been preserved in its original structure.

It is the largest container of art in Umbria together with the National Gallery of Perugia and inside there are important examples of Renaissance and Mannerist painting, including some of the very first works of Raffaello Sanzio and Luca Signorelli.

The central nucleus of the collection consists of paintings from churches and city convents from which they were taken following the unification of Italy. They homogeneously reflect the history of the territory and in particular the taste and hegemony of the Magnatizia family of Vitelli, faithful allies of the Medici who carved out autonomy from the State of the Church. Subsequent acquisitions and donations have extended the collection to a period that reaches the 20th century, also in relation to the recent recovery of a wing of the building, now used for exhibitions and contemporary art events.

Defined “at the gunboat” because there was a foundry or a cannon depot on the site, the palace was built between 1521 and 1532 and completed in 1545, on the occasion of the wedding between Alessandro Vitelli, nephew of Niccolò Vitelli and son of Paolo, and Angela de ‘Rossi of San Secondo Parmense, nephew of Giovanni delle Bande Nere.

In 1912, the antiquarian and restorer Elia Volpi who five years earlier had conquered the building preserving it from ruin and restoring its original sixteenth-century context, gave it to the Municipality to organize the seat of the civic art gallery.

Between 1982 and 1985, under the guidance of professors Alessandro Marabottini and Francesco Mancini of the University of Perugia and of the architects Alberto Zanmatti and Tiziano Sarteanesi, a large campaign of restorations was launched which led to the current physiognomy of the museum.

The main facade of the building which opens onto the Italian garden is decorated with fine graffiti created by Cristoforo Gherardi and aids based on a design by Giorgio Vasari, with complex grotesque decorations, among which the symbols of the two families stand out, the calf and the rampant lion.

The internal rooms of the building were richly frescoed by Gherardi and Cola Dell’Amatrice, called by the Calves to celebrate the theme of the couple and the military deeds of the family, but lively allegories of the triumph of the woman over the man in love can also be observed, landscapes mythological, or depictions of pets, which underline the domestic character of the structure.

The monumental staircase which houses the eight inspiring muses of the arts with a singular emphasis on Clio, the muse of history, seated on a swan, is remarkably suggestive.

Up to date, the Pinacoteca, particularly attentive to the cultural and artistic life of the city, has hosted, and continues to host, temporary events and exhibitions of particular importance, the most famous of which concerned the celebration of the 500th year since the birth of Raphael (1983).

 

Sanctuary of the Lady of Grace

The church, now a sanctuary, was built between 1363 and 1381 by the Servite Fathers; of the primitive Gothic construction only the side portal remains, with the remains of a late Gothic fresco in the lunette, the apse and the bell tower, never completed, which takes up the typology of that of San Domenico, set on four pillars, with brick facing and alternating layers of stone. The rectangular construction that protrudes on via del Gonfaloniere is only the seventeenth-century enlargement of an ancient chapel built in 1489.

The portal, richly carved in stone, is the work of a pupil of Bernini. The interior has a single nave; the baroque altars in carved and gilded wood come from the church of San Domenico. In the chapel of the Transit, on the right entering from the bottom, there is a remarkable fresco attributed to Ottaviano Nelli, depicting the Transit of the Virgin, made around 1436, when the painter also painted in nearby Sansepolcro.

In front of the chapel, there is the Oratory of the Compagnia della Madonna, on whose altar, behind a door, there is the image of the Madonna and Child between Saints Florido and Filippo Benizi (1456), venerated as “Madonna delle Grazie”, painted by Giovanni da Piamonte, follower and assistant of Piero della Francesca who left his only signed and dated work here. In the past, the work, the object of great devotion by the fans, was discovered at the worship of the faithful only twice a year, on August 26 for the liturgical feast and on February 2, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; recently on the 26th of each month.

In the church, there are two paintings by the painter Giovanni Ventura Borghesi from tifernate: near the main entrance on the right is Christ healing the gangrene in San Pellegrino and in the sacristy the Virgin and the seven founders of the Order of Servites, (late 17th century).

Adjacent to the church, there is the former Convent, where the “pellagrosario” and later a section of the Psychiatric Hospital of Perugia were located in the last century.

 

Palazzo Albizzini “Burri Collection” Foundation

Palazzo Albizzini “Burri Collection” Foundation, established in 1978 by the will of the painter Alberto Burri, is located in the monumental building of which it took its name.

The exhibition of the master’s works, organized in the two exhibition venues of Palazzo Albizzini and the Ex Seccatoi del Tabacco, constitutes the most comprehensive collection on the artist who has beenernernated. The Collection at Palazzo Albizzini, an elegant Renaissance building from the second half of the 15th century, was opened to the public in 1981 and includes around one hundred and thirty works, dated from 1948 to 1989 and chronologically ordered in twenty rooms. In addition to the first Tars and Molds, you can admire a refined selection of Sacks, among the most significant of the intense activity of the 1950s. The rooms also host Woods and Irons, Plastics and Cretti, up to large Cellotex.

The collection includes about 130 works (painting, sculpture, graphics, sketches for sets and theaters) divided into twenty rooms and presented in a chronological order: the Tar, the Molds, the Sacks, the Woods, the Iron of the fifties, the Plastics of the sixties, the Cretti of the seventies, the Cellotex of the seventies and eighties and the Multiplexes.

Inside Palazzo Albizzini there is a specialized library on modern and contemporary art, Alberto Burri’s photo library and the archive with an extensive bibliography on the artist.