Legend has it that the construction of Todi had already begun on the banks of the River Tiber, when an eagle descended and snatched a tablecloth from a local family. The eagle dropped the tablecloth higher up the mountain slopes, and since this was considered to be a good omen, building work was moved to the higher site. The eagle remains the symbol of Todi to this day; this wonderful bronze example in the main piazza dates from 1339.
Todi’s position, overlooking the east bank of the River Tiber, affords it wonderful views. Indeed, the undulating landscape could come straight out of a Renaissance painting.
We arrived in the town’s main car park and – oh joy! – there was a funicular to whisk us up to the centre. On exiting the funicular, there was a viewing point with a spectacular panorama of Todi.
Todi’s walls are medieval, Roman and Etruscan. The Romans levelled out the town’s two hilltops to make way for a forum. Todi’s main square grew up on the remains of the forum so, compared to other Umbrian hill towns, it is very large. This magnificent square – Piazza del Popolo – has, unsurprisingly, provided the location for several films; it is truly reminiscent of a film set.
The square contains at least 4 magnificent buildings. The cathedral was founded in the 12th century, possibly on the site of a Roman temple, but it was not completed for several hundred years.
The sweeping flight of steps is 18th century, the door, the choir and the rose window date from the 16th century but it all comes together to create a harmonious building.
The rose window is particularly delicate, with beautiful pink and white marble decoration and fine carving.
The interior view of the rose window shows its brightly coloured glass and the wonderful frescoes filling the entire wall.
A largely plain interior sets off the frescoes and gives the cathedral a feeling of space and light.
Opposite the cathedral is the Palazzo dei Priori, built in the 13th and 14th centuries and home to the town’s rulers through the years. Spot the eagle mounted on the facade!
Next to the Palazzo dei Priori is the Palazzo del Popolo, complete with swallowtail crenellations. (If I remember one thing from this trip, it will be how to recognise swallowtail crenellations and fluted merlons!) The Palazzo del Popolo is one of Italy’s oldest administrative buildings, begun in the 13th century, but heavily restored in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The external staircase is supported by an attractive porticoed space used for public meetings.
The Palazzo del Popolo continues around the corner into Piazza Garibaldi.
Adjoining Palazzo del Popolo, and sharing its huge entrance staircase, is the Palazzo del Capitano. It has a grandiose facade with attractive mullioned windows, and now houses the art gallery and museum.
Why do the Italians insist on putting modern signage in front of historic buildings? It drives me crazy….
Leaving the main square, Todi’s labyrinthine streets have lots to offer at every turn. In Corso Cavour where medieval spice sellers once traded, is the fountain known as Fonte Rua or Fonte Cesia, after the bishop that had it built.
A little further on is the Porta Marzia, a medieval gate constructed from salvaged materials. This lovely statue sits just above the gate, making eternal music.
Then up and up we climbed to Todi’s highest point, where a large public park provides a peaceful retreat. It was very peaceful when we visited as it was cool and threatening to rain…
Close to the park is the most unusual Franciscan church of San Fortunato. It is a huge edifice, standing at the top of an impressive flight of steps.
The interior is Gothic, airy, bright and simple. It is unusual, in that this style of church – a Gothic hall church, where the side aisles are equal in height to the nave – is rarely seen in Italy.
In the crypt is the tomb of Todi’s most well-known citizen: Jacopone da Todi who died in 1306. A Franciscan poet and mystic, after the death of his wife he led a simple existence, devoted to God. He was considered extreme in his views and was even accused of heresy, but he is still remembered for his religious poetry.
The other eminent Todi citizen was Pope Martin, later martyred and made a saint. This sculpture is in the cathedral.
In my last post, I opened the door to our apartment in Spello so that you could look in. But prior to coming to Italy, Todi had been our original destination and we had signed a contract to stay in the tower set into the town walls pictured below. No sooner was the ink dry than the owner asked us to cancel the contract due to a legal issue with a sitting tenant. So we just had to go and see where we might have spent 3 months…..
It looked like a nice place, but it was in a car park and next to the ring road, so lady luck was bounteous on the day that the contract fell through and we found our Spello home from home.
Steps away from the tower is the striking church of Santa Maria della Consolazione. Standing just outside the city walls, it is a Renaissance masterpiece. It has been attributed to Bramante, one of the architects of St Peter’s basilica in Rome: you can see the similarities. But there is no documentary evidence to confirm this link; it is more probable that the architect of Todi’s church may have used some of Bramante’s drawings.
The church was built to house and protect the venerated painting of Santa Maria della Consolazione. This is a tiny and – in my view – unremarkable fresco. The church’s interior is plain and elegant, with grand statues of the apostles forming the major decoration. The great dome is set above a balcony to which brave souls can climb and admire the views. The silhouette can be seen from some distance.
The weather was poor, the lunch was the worst we have eaten in Italy, but Todi’s attractions are many so our memories of the day – other than the food and the weather – are good ones.