Something that I love about Perugia, where I'll be staying in a few weeks' time, is its many layers of history. Sections of Perugia date back to the Etruscans, who lived in parts of Umbria long before the Romans.
Indeed, visitors to Perugia, the capital city of Umbria, can see evidence of Etruscan walls and arches; of Roman structures; medieval buildings; and can admire Renaissance art and architecture.
These photos (above and below) from Wikipedia, show an interesting layer of medieval Perugia. The city has not just preserved this historic area but indeed, has turned it into a kind of working museum by running through it a system of escalators that link old and modern parts of the city. To use these escalators, visitors and residents must cut through the remains of a medieval neighborhood which was razed to construct the Rocca Paolina, once a fortress lording it over Perugians more than 500 years ago.
I also intend, on this trip, to spend a bit of time inside the fascinating church of Sant'Angelo, which I'll describe further in a moment.
But first, back to Rocca Paolina and Underground Perugia.I find it very cool to walk through the preserved medieval streets which remain under what is left of the 16th-century fortress, along the route that connects a series of modern escalators leading from the underground parking of Piazza Partigiani, through the Rocca Paolina, under the portico of Palazzo del Governo (built in 1870, now seat of the provincial government), and into Piazza Italia.
The underground city is an extraordinary sight, with vaulted brick ceilings that have been constructed over medieval streets, houses and churches in a neighborhood once controlled by the Baglioni family, the Borgo San Guiliano. This is all that remains of the Rocca Paolina, the papal fortress built to subdue the city by the Farnese Pope Paolo III in 1540 based on a design by architect Antonio de Sangallo (the younger) of Giovane. He decided that instead of knocking down everything, he would use buildings from the old medieval quarter as foundations for the new fortress, so today visitors can still walk about on these streets.
The trouble all began in 1540 when the Pope deliberately provoked the Perugians, who were led by the fiery Baglioni family, into a revolt. The Pope had outraged the citizenry by breaking his promise not to raise the tax on salt and with this war, his intended to break the independence of Perugia and wreak revenge on the Baglioni family, his enemy.
The Papal army quickly captured the city and the Pope built the Rocca Paolina straight over the houses of the Baglioni and their neighbours. Over a hundred houses, as well as churches and monasteries were destroyed and used as building material and as substructures for the fortress. The citizens of Perugia waited until the Roman Republic of 1848 for a first, partial demolition of the loathed symbol of papal power and finally, in 1860 with the unification of Italy, they finished it off.
Externally, the only visible parts of the fortress are the substructure walls along Viale Indipendenza and the eastern bastion in Via Marzia, which incorporates the Etruscan Porta Marzia. From here it is possible to enter the foundations of the fortress, which rested on vault structures placed over the houses and streets such as Via Baglioni.
While in Perugia, I also intend to pop into the church of Sant'Angelo, which I believe is the oldest church in Umbria and is built on the remains of a pagan temple. Its proper name is Di S. Michele Archangelo, but it's commonly called St. Angelo's. Its circular structure is based on the floor plan of the original Roman temple, and it's said that this has contributed to the inner ring of columns in the current church.