The secret Christian gems of Spoleto’s lower town

I had only toured the upper part of Spoleto on previous visits, missing out the churches in the lower section of this pretty Umbrian town. During my latest visit, I saved some time before catching the train back to Rome to tour these old Christian sites that many tourists don’t see. I really enjoyed this more secret area of Spoleto and would advise you to also try to incorporate it into your itinerary.

I started off at San Salvatore, an early Christian church included in a UNESCO World Heritage group that showcases the influence of the Lombard tribe in Italy.  Built by monks in the fourth century, they took their inspiration from Roman temples, constructing columns on either side of the nave. Inside the church is empty and bare but has a dusty, quiet and sacred atmosphere.

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The columns flanking the nave create the air of a pagan temple, as well as the sun rays beaming in from the windows.

sansalvatore2Dating from different ages, the columns stand side by side in no particular order. Their capitals, or heads,  range in architectural style and decorative patterns, including Corinthian.

sansalvatore3The facade of San Salvatore is not as interesting as the interior, apart from the remains of the ornately decorated cornices over the entrance doors.

sansalvaoutside2After taking a look back at the church, you can wander through the cemetery, passing some large Spoleto family tombs, and then on to the nearby church of San Ponziano. There is a lovely walk up to this church and monastery, passing a rose garden and stunning views of the Rocca castle and town in the background.

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sanponziano1San Ponziano is the patron saint of Spoleto and this pretty 12th century church is dedicated to him. It has a striking Romanesque facade, though the interior has been revamped in a more baroque style.

sanponziano2Its most interesting feature is the crypt, which is reached through a set of stairs at the end of the left aisle. As you descend you pass some ancient columns and sarcophagi, and further in there are some beautiful 15th century frescoes to admire, including some believed to be depicting scenes of the life of Christian martyr San Simonino di Trento.

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sanponziano5After visiting San Ponziano, I wandered back into the central part of the lower town, for a final visit to San Gregorio Maggiore, on Piazza Garibaldi, which dates back to 1079. This church’s portico is decorated with fragments of ancient Roman remains and inside you can see some interesting though slightly damaged frescoes.

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frescoesmainchurchAfter visiting these three hidden gems it was time for a prosecco. I had a seat outside on Piazza Garibaldi, in a cafe which also served gigantic gelati. I then caught the evening train back to Rome. I highly recommend incorporating these three sacred places into your tour of Spoleto, they are well worth it!

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