Todi and its history

Todi is situated at an altitude of 400 meters above sea level at the meeting point of the rivers Naia and Tiber which marks the ancient border between the territories of the Etruscans and those of the Umbrians. It was founded by the Veii-Umbri tribe between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, and later became an Etruscan settlement with the name ‘Tutere’ (border).

Legend has it that while the city was being constructed on the river bank by the Veii-Umbri, one day, while they were eating, an eagle carried off a tablecloth in its claws and placed it on the highest point of the hill. The inhabitants thought it was a sign of destiny and so they built the city on top of the hill.

To this day, sections of the first circle of Etruscan period walls remain in via delle Mura Antiche, in via Paolo Rolli, in via del Montarone, and at Porta Libera and Porta Marzia.

Around 340 BC the Romans conquered Umbria and by the end of the 1st century BC, Todi was the 6th region of Italy in the Augustan division which took the name of Colonia Julia Fida Tuder, and had the right to mint its own currency. From 90 BC there was a Roman town hall and the city expanded with an amphitheatre, baths, and temples of Jupiter, Juno, Minerva and Mars, as well as a second circle of walls. In Piazza del Mercato Vecchio you can still the ‘Nicchioni Romani’ from this time.

From the sixth century Todi was a garrison of the Goths after having fought the Todi people under the command of Bishop Fortunato.

In 757 Desiderio, King of the Lombards, together with Pope Paul I defined Todi’s boundaries. By the early Middle Ages Todi took on the appearance of a feudal citadel, governed by powerful feudal lords: the Arnolfi counts, the Montemarte counts and the Arti.

In 1169 the internal struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines began with the arrival in Italy of Frederick Barbarossa. Despite this ‘Tuder’ (as it was then called) managed to expand by subduing Terni and Amelia in the early 1200s while remaining the bitter enemy of Orvieto.

In 1202 the office of ‘Podestà’ (Chief Magistrate) was established, supported by from 1255 by the ‘Capitano del Popolo’ (Captain of the People) the year that saw the birth of the Guilds of Arts and Crafts headed by Priors. The current appearance of Piazza del Popolo dates back to this period: the Cathedral of the Annunciation was built in the early 13th century; the Palazzo del Popolo in 1213; the Palazzo del Podestà and del Capitano in 1292; and in the 14th century the Palazzo dei Priori.

In 1236 Jacopo dei Benedetti was born in the city, later called Jacopone da Todi, one of the greatest figures of the Franciscan tradition, as well as one of the first poets in the Italy dialect.

In 1368 Todi lost its autonomy as a free municipality, at first becoming the seat of various noble families and then, definitively, with Pope Alexander VI, aided by his son Cesare Borgia in the defeat of the Ghibellines.

For almost a century Todi experienced a decline broken only by the completion of the church of San Fortunato. But with the advent of bishop Angelo Cesi, after the plague of 1523, from 1566 to 1606 there was a period of great urban renewal. The Fonte Cesia in via della Piana, the Palazzo di Viviano degli Atti in Piazza Garibaldi, the Palazzo Episcopale and the Tempio del Crocefisso are all from this period. But the most important work was the completion of the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, begun in 1508 in the style of Donato Bramante and inaugurated with a great ceremony in 1606. Until 1860, Todi remained under the domain of the Church until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The main square

PIAZZA DEL POPOLO has been the heart of Todi since Roman times. The buildings symbolise the spiritual, civil and political life of a Free Municipality. It is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.

The PALAZZO DEI PRIORI was begun in 1293 and completed in 1337. It was the seat of the Priors (on the first floor there were shops) and, later, the office of the tax collectors and the seat of the papal governor.

In the fifteenth century, the trapezoid-shaped tower was added and in the 1500s the Renaissance windows, set among which there is the bronze eagle, symbol of the city and the work of Giovanni di Gigliaccio (1339).

The CATHEDRAL with its thirteenth-century facade, was consecrated to the Madonna of the Blessed Annunciation. It was begun in the twelfth century in the Romanesque form and completed in Gothic style in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It was built on the ruins of the Roman Capitolium with a crypt and the apse dating back to the 7th century. In the 1300s the bell tower was added and in the 1500s the splendid rose window.

On the internal façade there is a fresco of a sixteenth-century Universal Judgment by Faenzone, inspired by Michelangelo. The beautiful wooden choir was carved and inlaid in 1530 by Antonio and Sebastiano Bencivenni from Mercatello. The Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s Palace) was built next to the Cathedral in the 16th century.

The PALAZZO DEL CAPITANO, built at the end of 1200 in the Italian Gothic style, has an imposing portico, three Gothic triple windows, and four triple windows with some Roman features. It currently houses the Civic Museum.

The PALAZZO DEL POPOLO is attached to the Palazzo del Capitano, with which it shares its beautiful staircase. Its style is Gothic-Lombard and was begun in 1213. The elevation dates from 1233 while the bell tower was added around 1330. On the ground floor there is a portico with round arches; the two floors are decorated with three and four-light windows, and crowned by Ghibelline dovetail battlements. It was the first seat of the Priors.

Beyond the square

The Chiesa di SAN FORTUNATO is a magnificent example of late Gothic architecture and the largest Umbrian sacred building after the Basilica of Assisi. Construction began in 1292 on the remains of a Benedictine church from 1000 which can be seen from the two lions on either side of the entrance; the works continued until the 1400s.

The unfinished façade which has three ogival portals is reached by a dramatic staircase. The central portal is beautifully carved with columns richly decorated with tendrils and figures; alongside are two niches with fifteenth-century statues by Jacopo della Quercia.

The interior has three naves divided by ogival arches and pillars in different styles, while the apse is polygonal; the fourteenth-century high altar is Gothic. Noteworthy is a fresco by Masolino da Panicale (1432) and the wooden choir inlaid in 1590 by the Antonio Maffei from Gubbio. The imposing Gothic bell tower dates back to 1460. In the crypt are the relics of the five patron saints of Todi (Callisto, Cassiano, Degna, Fortunato, Romana) and the sepulchre of Jacopone da Todi.

Near Porta Marzia is the most typical and best preserved medieval district of the city. In Piazza del Mercato Vecchio you can see the four Roman niches, perhaps the remains of the Temple of Mars. The beautiful Fonte Cesia was built in the 17th century by the bishop Cesi, while the Fonte Scarnabecco (from the name of the Podestà who had it built in 1241) has a portico with eight arches.

Not far from the latter there is the Romanesque church of San Carlo (or San Ilario), which houses a fresco Madonna del Soccorso attributed to the artist Lo Spagna. The church of San Nicolò de Cryptis (13th century) was built on the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre near Porta Romana.

Outside the walls

SANTA MARIA DELLA COSOLAZIONE is the splendid Renaissance church on the way into to Todi from the bridge over the Tiber. Construction began in 1508 and ended in 1607, at which point a miraculous fresco, the Madonna and Child, still preserved in the church, was venerated. The church’s central plan is a Greek cross with four apses surmounted by a terrace on which rises the dome supported by a drum with twelve pillars. Bramante worked on this harmonious type of structure, but among the many professionals who collaborated in its realisation were Antonio da Sangallo, Alessi and Peruzzi. Large windows illuminate the interior which is adorned with Baroque altars, a huge statue of Pope Martin I, the walnut choir of 1590, and 17th Century statues of the Apostles.

Jacopone da Todi

Jacopo de Benedetti known as Jacopone da Todi is one of the most illustrious sons of the city, where he was born in 1236. Mystical friar and author of many hymns, he converted following the death of his wife one year after his marriage. Thus it was that Jacopone gave everything he had to the poor and for 10 years he undertook severe penances. He was admitted into the Franciscan Order in the radical wing of the Spirituals, condemned by Boniface VIII and in turn challenged by the verses of Jacopone, who was imprisoned for his writing. Freed by Pope Benedict XI, he retreated to the monastery of the Poor Clares of San Lorenzo in Collazzone where he died in 1306.