The Duomo and the Ponte delle Torri are Spoleto's only real attention-grabbers, so if you're pressed for time, skip the lower town (most of which was rebuilt after extensive bombing during World War II) and head straight for the highlights of upper Spoleto.
The Lower Town
You won’t spend much time in the Lower Town, but a highlight is the 11th-century Romanesque San Gregorio di Maggiore, Piazza della Vittoria, which replaced an earlier oratory here in a cemetery of Christian martyrs. The church’s namesake saint was killed in a spectacle at the nearby amphitheater in a.d. 304, as were a supposed 10,000 lesser-known martyrs whose bones symbolically reside beneath the altar. It opens daily from 8am to noon and 4 to 6pm, and admission is free. Once you settle into town, with the aid of a map you’ll be able to figure out ways to use handy escalators to avoid steep uphill climbs; hotel staff will also usually help you plot a level course. Piazza del Mercato, the probable site of the old Roman forum, is a bustling spot in the Upper Town lined with grocers and fruit vendors’ shops.
Across the piazza, a gated staircase, open most mornings, leads down to a platform where you can view Ponte Sanguinario, a massive 1st-century travertine bridge 24 meters (79 feet) long, and 4.5 meters (15 feet) wide, which over the centuries was buried in sediment from the stream it once crossed.
On the east side of the SS3, a 15-minute hike northeast of Piazza Garibaldi, Basilica San Salvatore gathers dust. It's one of Italy's oldest churches, built in the late 4th or early 5th century A.D. The simple facade shows Byzantine influences and the remains of what must once have been spectacularly carved doorways. Much of the musty interior incorporates scavenged materials taken from Roman temples, including Corinthian columns and a presbytery fitted together in a complicated late classical architectural fantasy. The patches of frescoes date from the 13th to 18th centuries. It's open daily from 7am to 5pm (until 7pm May-Aug, and 6pm Mar, Apr, Sept and Oct). Admission is free.
The quickest route to the upper town from Piazza della Vittoria is up the arrow-straight, shop-lined passeggiata drag, Corso Garibaldi, which becomes the steeply curving medieval Via di Porta Fuga before ducking under the 13th-century Porta Fuga into Piazza Torre dell'Olio, with its slender 13th-century defensive tower.
The Upper Town
Spoleto's other main drag, Corso Giuseppe Mazzini, leads up to the first of the three main squares in the Upper Town, Piazza della Libertà. Piazza del Mercato, the second main piazza and probable site of the old Roman forum, is a bustling spot lined with grocers and fruit vendors' shops.
A Walk in the Spoleto Woods
There's plenty to explore on foot or mountain bike on the wooded slopes around Spoleto, but an easy introduction is the 1-hour circuit starting by the gatehouse of the Rocca Albornoziana. Walk along the right flank of this fortress, Via del Ponte, and around the bend will swing into view the stately Ponte delle Torri. This bridge's nine tall pylons separating graceful, narrow arches span the sheer walls of the valley behind Spoleto, a gorge swimming in the dense green of an ilex forest. The 80m-high (262-ft.) and 236m-long (748-ft.) bridge was most likely raised by Eugubine architect Gattapone in the 13th century, though the two most central pylons contain traces of older masonry, supporting the long-held theory that the bridge was built on a Roman aqueduct. The span received the hard-won praise of Goethe in 1786 (apparently because he thought the whole shebang was Roman) and is named after the 13th-century towers that are crumbling at its opposite end.
At the far end of the bridge lie the wooded slopes of Monteluco. As the Lex Spoletina cippus stones in the Archaeology Museum record, the Romans held these woods sacred, as did the medieval Christians -- St. Francis and St. Bernardino were both fond of meditating in the holy greenery. Michelangelo himself came here to unwind from the pressures of Rome's papal court, writing to Vasari in 1556, "I found great pleasure in visiting those hermits in the mountains of Spoleto . . . indeed peace is not to be found elsewhere than in the woods." The left path at the bridge's end puts you on the road toward the 795m (2,608-ft.) summit, passing the 12th-century San Giuliano, the small convent St. Francis founded, and the tiny old resort village of Monteluco.
The right trail at the tower will take you along a tree-shaded path that eventually branches off toward the ancient church of San Pietro (tel. 0743-49-796). Its latest reconstruction dates from the 13th century, but the facade incorporates reliefs full of medieval symbolism from its 12th-century Lombard predecessor. The interior, much less interesting since it was subjected to a baroque overhaul in 1699, is usually open daily from 9am to noon and 3:30 to 5pm (to 6:30pm in summer). From the church, cross the busy road and take the second right. Straight ahead (5 minutes) is Piazza della Libertà.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.