The Church of San Salvatore in Spoleto is off the tourist track but it is one of the oldest and most remarkable churches in Italy and well worth seeking out. Dating from the late 4th century, it was built in the style of a Classical pagan temple. Despite some later alternations, its original architecture remains remarkably well-preserved today.
What to See at San Salvatore
San Salvatore is located in eastern Spoleto outside the city walls overlooking a large monumental cemetery. Fresh flowers are often sold to mourners at a stand along Via della Basilica San Salvatore. The walk from town also passes the church of San Ponziano, a medieval church well worth a visit.
Like most of the church, the west facade of San Salvatore dates from the late 4th or early 5th century. The top has three open windows in the style of Classical aedicules, as well as some of the marble panelling (with interesting Oriental motifs) that once covered the entire upper facade. The bottom has three square portals topped with delicate Classical-style reliefs of a central cross flanked by flowers and vines. There was probably originally a portico over the doors.
The mostly-empty interior has an air of venerable antiquity. The arches on the sides of the nave have been filled in with masonry, with small doors cut out for exploring the aisles. The Doric columns of the nave can still be seen among the masonry.
The presbytery is even more impressive. Here, 16 huge columns support a Doric entablature, looking very much like a pagan temple. Most of the capitals are Corinthian, but there are a few in the Ionic and Doric orders as well. The fine masonry dome over the presbytery, probably heightened in the 17th century, has acanthus-leaf capitals at the four corners.
The small apse at the east end is decorated with fresco fragments of various dates. The square niche in the east wall has a rare fresco of a cross with gems hanging from the arms, dated to the 8th century. The two square chapels on either side of the apse are former sacristies. They contain more fragments of frescoes, including the Holy Father and Madonna and Saints (1478) by a follower of Benozzo Gozzoli in the right chapel.
By car, head north on the SS3 highway that runs along the east side of Spoleto and take a right on Via della Basilica San Salvatore at the north end of town. After turning, you will pass San Ponziano immediately on your right; continue uphill until you see San Salvatore and the monumental cemetery on your left. There are a few signs for San Salvatore (and San Ponziano) along the way, but it is best to study and bring a map to avoid getting lost.
San Salvatore can also be visited on foot; it is about a mile walk on a slight incline from the city walls of the Lower Town. Please see the map below to plan your route.
Quick Facts on San Salvatore
|Names:||Basilica di San Salvatore · Il Crocifisso · San Salvatore|
|Dates:||late 4th/early 5th C|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||42.742001° N, 12.743111° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near San Salvatore|
- Personal visit (April 20, 2008).
- Alta Macadam and Ellen Grady, Blue Guide Central Italy with Rome and Florence, 1st ed. (Somerset: Blue Guides Limited, 2008), 556-67.
- Giovanna Mariucci, Unforgettable Umbria: A Guide to 100 Masterpieces (Florence: Scala, 2007), 180-81.
- "Basilica di San Salvatore: Secc. IV-V" (Arcidiocesi di Spoleto-Norcia, Le Nostre Chiese 8). Pamplet purchased at the church.
Map of San Salvatore, Spoleto
Below is a location map and aerial view of San Salvatore. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.