63km (39 miles) SE of Perugia; 212km (132 miles) SE of Florence; 126km (78 miles) N of Rome
A sleepy repository of Roman ruins and medieval buildings, Spoleto is terraced up a high hill backed by the deep-green forested slopes of a sacred mountain. Dreamed up in 1958 by the Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the Festival dei Due Mondi (aka Spoleto Festival) brings heavy-duty culture to Spoleto every June, in the form of music, dance, and theater showcased by premier Italian and international performers. Though an ongoing legal dispute between the old and new organizers (the government took the festival away from the Menotti family in 2008) has marred the festivities somewhat, the event still attracts high-quality artists.
Although it often seems to revolve around it, Spoleto doesn't begin and end with the festival. A forgotten small city in the 1950s when Menotti chose it as the festival site, Spoleto started out as a Bronze Age Umbri settlement. Strategically situated on the ancient Via Flaminia from Rome to the late imperial capital of Ravenna, Spoleto became the capital of the Lombards' empire in the 8th century A.D. At the turn of the 12th century, Spoleto fell into papal hands, and its twilight began.
In the 12th century, Spoleto was the birthplace of Alberto Sotio, the earliest known Umbrian painter, and Lo Spagna, a pupil of Perugino. But the city's main nonmusical treasures are Roman and medieval. Only the Duomo, containing Filippo Lippi's last fresco cycle, and the graceful Ponte delle Torri really stands out, but the town as a whole makes for a good day's diversion.