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Amelia, an ancient city

Umbria and its surroundings
11 Dicembre 2012

Amelia, an ancient city

Behind cyclopean walls, perched on top of a very fertile hill, Amelia preserves artistic and historical treasures.

It was once called Ameria and its story is lost in the mists of time. Pliny says that it was restored more than 900 years before the war against Perseus, that is in 1134 B.C. Thus the Italian town, Umbrian and Roman, flourished in the Middle Ages, the age of the lords and in the following centuries. And today, thanks to its beautiful location, high on a hill in the beautiful valley of the Tiber and Nera, surrounded by a fertile country known since ancient times for its "therapeutic", apples, pears and willows. Amelia continues to be a dynamic agro-food industry centre, but also a fascinating city full of art and history


The great walls

An impressive wall encloses it: they are Roman walls and then latter medieval monumental polygonal walls, that surround the town for about 2 km. They are called Cyclopean walls, because they are 8 metres high and formed by powerful boulders, perfectly wedged with one another, laid dry and sunken in the ground for several meters. While higher up, at the top part of the acropolis, testament to ancient grandeur, renewed over the millennia, a wall presumably from the eighth or seventh century before Christ: even today it extends for a few tens of metres, large solid smooth but uneven blocks, provide evidence of a clearly more primitive workmanship.

Entering into Amelia

Even today, the town is accessed through four of the ancient gates The other two are no longer used, monumental and coeval to the polygonal walls, they are the gates that during Roman times the ancient roads branched from, and, of course, are of great historical and archaeological interest. But beyond the walls, the city reveals an unexpected wealth of different historical periods, successive building or layering which have not subtracted value from the work that preceded them, but instead helped to create that particular harmonic juxtaposition of styles that characterises the city.


The noble buildings

From Porta Romana, the main gateway, the streets are a continuous up and down, but the effort is well rewarded by the urban pleasures and the beautiful architecture that characterises Amelia. There are many and all of remarkable workmanship, Renaissance buildings that populate the city centre and that between sixteenth and seventeenth century characterise it as late manneristic centre such that it was described as "a Little Rome" Palazzo Farattini, commissioned in the second half of the sixteenth century by the young Antonio da Sangallo, with coffered ceiling rooms, coats of arms and mythological scenes. Palazzo Petrignani, now owned by the municipality and open to the public, which has on the main floor beautiful adornments and frescoes from the sixteenth and seventeenth century by local artisans. And then the fifteenth century Palazzo Nacci, with its beautiful portal and courtyard with its elegant loggia, Palazzo Venturelli, Palazzo Clementini, Palazzo Boccarini… ... Finally, Palazzo Comunale, simple in its outward appearance, but the boardrooms are richly decorated.

…and the churches

The architectural heritage of Amelia's churches are by no mean less, inside they reveal, unexpected wealth of decorations, furniture and works of art. First of all, in the highest part of Amelia, the Duomo (Cathedral), the original structure erected in 1050, still maintains the powerful twelve-sided tower, while the basilica was devastated by a fire and was completely rebuilt in the seventeenth century and still preserves great wealth in the form of painting, frescoes and works of art, in particular late mannerism. Next to the cathedral, stands the fifteenth century façade of Sant'Agostino's church with its magnificent conic Gothic gate while the interior was renovated in eighteenth century and contains beautiful and late baroque frescoes by Francesco Appiani. A little further, on via Posterola, S. Magno is annexed to the Benedictine monastery already active in the thirteenth century. Proceeding along Via Cavour, the church of S. Monica and the Chiesa del Crocifisso, also from the thirteenth century. Lower down, in Piazza Vera, the church of S. Francesco also built at the end of the thirteenth century and modernised in late-baroque style, still preserves its façade with gate and its beautiful rose window.

Precious treasures

In the adjacent former Boccarini college, formerly a Franciscan convent, now houses the archaeological museum and Pinacoteca (art gallery). In the beautiful building you can still see the remains of the ancient cells preserved among the most precious relics of the Roman era, tombstones, altars, busts and capitals, particularly from the first century AD, but amongst all of these the great bronze statue of Germanicus stands out. The Roman remains are certainly not the only treasure of the city. In the churches of Amelia historical organs of great value: at S.Magno, a seventeenth-century organ with double keyboard, in S. Augustine, an equally rare specimen from the seventeenth century Items of extreme value, denoting the great attention that the city has always reserved for art in all its forms. And then every year in May, for the last 38 years, Amelia hosts throughout the month an international festival of organ and ancient music.

....and astonishing archaeological discoveries

Amelia cannot be left without visiting the cisterns. Great hydraulic work demonstrating the engineering supremacy of the Romans from the first century B.C., that are found under Piazza Matteotti. There are ten large adjoining waterproof rooms, communicating between themselves, built at a time when Amelia had become a Roman town and was equipped with all the elements that characterised urban civilisation. They are nearly 8 metres deep, below street level that dominates them, the cisterns form an impressive complex hydraulic system fed through wells (or lumina) in which rainwater was conveyed. Extraordinary archaeological discoveries of a civilisation that never ceases to amaze.

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