The remains of a Middle Bronze Age settlement have been found on the hill upon which the fortress stands. Archeological findings from the 7th century BC give proof of the existence of an important Umbrian town on the site where the medieval city was built. The walls of large polygonal blocks preserved in various parts of town are dated to the late 4th century BC.
In 241 the settlement became a Latin colony and, later, a municipium.
The perimeter of the walls, in which various techniques and chronological stages can be discerned, allows an accurate reading of the ancient city. The many Roman monuments in the town center, some of which incorporated into later buildings, bear witness to the importance of ancient Spoleto. These include the Arco di Druso, the Theater, the Temple of S. Ansano, and the Roman house, located on the ancient Forum. Other public buildings that deserve mention are the temple from the Julius-Claudia age, the amphitheater and the remains of the Flaminian Way bridge.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Spoleto was involved in the Gothic war, until the founding of the Lombard Duchy of Spoleto.
City Walls and Gates
The circuit of walls, over 2 km long, was built starting from the time when Rome’s interest in Umbria forced the inhabitants to build defense works. Different construction techniques can be seen, according to the historic periods in which the work was done (from the late 4th to the 1st cent. BC): with large polygonal blocks, with squared blocks, or with elongated rectangular blocks. The most important section that incorporates all the various techniques can be seen along Via Cecili, where the superb terracing holds up part of the convent of San Nicolò. Next to the walls, which include a postern, there is a well-preserved tower built with squared blocks (opus quadratum). Another particularly interesting section stands near the Piperno garden, where the wall in opus quadratum bears an inscription regarding the quadrumvirate that had the walls restored in the 1st cent. BC.
A simple arch, now half buried, belongs to the opus quadratum stage of wall construction: the Flaminian Way, coming from Terni, arrived through this gate, the Arco di Monterone. Below Piazza Garibaldi two arches in opus quadratum can be seen, part of a bridge on the Flaminian Way, known as the Ponte Sanguinario (“Bridge of Blood”).
Roman Theater and Forum
Built in opus quadratum with large blocks of local limestone, after suffering much damage the theater was restored in opus reticulatum. The arched left entrance to the ambulatory is clearly visible, with half-column decoration. The floor of the orchestra was decorated with white and colored marble and bears the word “podium,” clearly visible. Only fragments remain of the cavea, which suffered a collapse in ancient times. The theater dates from the 1st cent. BC.
The ancient forum was at the site of the present-day Piazza del Mercato; the paved area of the forum between the Arco di Druso and the temple of S. Ansano can be seen.
The Arco di Druso e Germanico is made from large squared blocks of local limestone, framed at the sides by pilasters with Corinthian capitals. On the side of the arch facing the forum, the inscription in honor of Drusus and Germanicus, the two sons of Tiberius, is still visible.
The Roman temple, built in the Augustan age, is incorporated in the church of Sant’Ansano. The front of the temple faces the forum, with columns only at the front. Two corridors closed off by railings are visible inside the pronaos. Fragments of a spiral-decorated frieze are visible on the longer side.
The Roman House
Underneath the Muncipio (Town Hall) there is a very interesting Roman domus that is open to visitors. It was excavated by Giuseppe Sordini in the period around 1900. Passing through the atrium, one comes to the impluvium and well, and the various surrounding rooms, all with mosaic-tiled floors, with geometric patterns, mostly black and white. Large parts of the peristyle can be seen to the left of the entrance, in an unusual position, due to the terracing of the town.
The amphitheater, now partially incorporated in later structures, was built in the northern part of town, outside the walls and alongside the Tessino river. According to Procopius, it was transformed into a fortress during the Gothic occupation of Spoleto. The construction technique used is concrete work faced with opus vittata. The lower floor can be seen, with the entrance from the Minerva barracks.