Travel Diary 38: Todi, Italy

by Agnes Felber November. 06, 2013 3175 views

Todi is a town and comune (municipality) of the province of Perugia (Umbria) in central Italy. It is perched on a tall two-crested hill overlooking the east bank of the river Tiber, commanding distant views in every direction.
In the 1990s, Richard S. Levine, a professor of architecture at the University of Kentucky, chose Todi as the model sustainable city, because of its scale and its ability to reinvent itself over time. After that, the Italian press reported on Todi as the world's most livable city.

Historical Todi was founded by the ancient Italic people of the Umbri, in the 8th-7th century BC, with the name of Tutere. The name means “border”, being the city located on the frontier with the Etruscan dominions. It probably was still under the latter's influence when it was conquered by the Romans in 217 BC. According to Silius Italicus, it had a double line of walls that stopped Hannibal himself after his victory at the Trasimeno. In most Latin texts, the name of the town took the form Tuder.

Christianity spread to Todi very early, through the efforts of St. Terentianus. Bishop St. Fortunatus became the patron saint of the city for his heroic defense of it during the Gothic siege. In Lombard times, Todi was part of the Duchy of Spoleto.
After the 12th century the city started to expand again: the government was held first by consuls, and then by podestà and a people's captain, some of whom achieved wide fame. In 1244 the new quarters, housing mainly the new artisan classes, were enclosed in a new circle of walls. In 1290 the city had 40,000 inhabitants. Communal autonomy was lost in 1367 when the city was annexed to the Papal States: the local overlordship shifted among various families (the Tomacelli, the Malatesta, Braccio da Montone, Francesco Sforza and others). Although reduced to half of its former population, Todi lived a brief period of splendour under bishop Angelo Cesi.

San Fortunato is a Palaeo-Christian temple (7th century) of which two lion sculptures on the entrance portal remain. In 1292 the construction of a new Gothic edifice was begun by the Franciscans, with a “hall” structure. Works, however, were halted during the plague of 1348. The lower part of the façade was finished in the second half of the 15th century. The nave and the two aisles have a portal each: these are enriched by fine decorations portraying saints and prophets, with briars representing Good (the vine) and Evil.

The Cathedral (11th century) is a Gothic edifice on the Lombard plan, said to be erected over an ancient Roman building, probably a temple dedicated to Apollo (here an ancient bronze statue of Mars, now at the Vatican Museum, was found). The current church was almost totally rebuilt after a fire in 1190.

The church follows the plan of the Latin cross, with a nave and two aisles. Bonifacio VIII allegedly had a second aisle on one side, commonly known as “La navatina”. The counter-façade is occupied by a giant fresco depicting the Universal Judgment by Ferraù Faenzone, called “Il Faenzone”, a work commissioned by Cardinal Angelo Cesi, in which the influence, if nowhere near the genius, of Michelangelo is easily discerned. The choir includes the Gothic altar and a magnificent wooden choir-enclosure (1521) with two floors. One important work of art is the 13th century Crucifixion of the Umbrian school.

The main feature of the squarish façade is the central great rose-window, added in 1513.

The wooden door of the portal, by Antonio Bencivenni from Mercatello, of which only the four upper panels remain today, is from the same period as the rose window.

Almost all Todi's main medieval monuments — the co-cathedral church (Duomo), the Palazzo del Capitano, the Palazzo del Priore and the Palazzo del Popolo — front on the main square on the lower breast of the hill: the piazza is often used as a movie set. The whole landscape is sited over some huge ancient Roman cisterns, with more than 500 pits, which remained in use until 1925.

The Palazzo del Popolo (“People's Palace”) is a Lombard-Gothic construction already existing in 1213, and is one of the most ancient communal palaces still in use in Italy.

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Lisa Charbonneau 6 years, 11 months ago

Beautiful set!

6 years, 11 months ago Edited
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