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Underground Perugia


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.

Comments (10)


Cool info and post!

Great minds think alike - just twenty minutes or so ago, after reading your Perugia post, I was rereading your Art post and you mentioned Florence and the Pitti Palace... and I was transported back to that hot day last October when Alessandro and I walked by it...

And I sat on my bed here in cold Canberra, and wished I was there...

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, very interesting. From the photos and your description, the underground Perugia does seem cool to walk through.

Great post! I really need to visit Perugia. 10 days to go.


Thanks, Kim!

Leslie, I hope you have a trip in the works -- but I imagine that to travel to Europe from Australia is a huge undertaking!

Kathy, after Spain you might want to add Umbria to your list. It's so interesting, great food, few tourists, beautiful scenery......now I'm getting excited!

The Underground Perugia area was one of my favorite things I experienced while in Perugia. I walked through there a few times. It was fun walking down the narrow walkways not knowing what would be around the bend. I was only aware of a little of the history before reading your post. Great info!

Very interesting post! It made want to revisit Perugia. I spent a week in this lovely city back in 2002 but made the mistake of making too many day trips and not spending enough time exploring the city. I hope to return someday soon.

That is fascinating - I had no idea there was an underground city there. I love places with layers, pagan at the bottom. It looks like it will be a great place to take photos!


Girasoli, it's funny -- I walked through the underground city several times when I was in Perugia last year, and was intrigued but always rushing so much that I didnt really pay close attention to what it represented! This year, I'll pay much closer attention.

Maria, I spent a week in Perugia last June and had all kinds of day trips planned but in the end, I loved the city so much that I only left once, for a wonderful day in Gubbio (I'm tempted to return there this visit as well!)

Annie, I'm really going to take a lot of photos this year. Now that I have a digital camera, I'm thinking a lot more in terms of what might make an interesting shot.

I love this part of Perugia as well! It is so neat. I spent six weeks there in the summer of 2001 and it was wonderful. I took very few day trips but one of them was to Gubbio, which I too adored.


Ahh, that is amazing! Almost enough to convince me to break my solemn vow not keep my daytrips within an hour or so's journey from Florence. I too am planning a day in Arezzo! I even found a fantastic book on Piero della Francesca at a local used book store to whet my appetite even more!

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