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About Spoleto

Spoleto’s history, like that of many towns and cities in Italy, is long and rich. Its roots go back before Rome (when it was known as Spoletium), even before the Etruscans. Many believe the “Umbri” first settled there over 5000 years ago (though the first historical record dates to 241 B.C.E., and discusses Spoleto as a Roman colony). During the Punic Wars, Spoleto was a valuable ally of Rome and, so the legends go, successfully resisted Hannibal in his march down the Italian peninsula. In the late sixth century C.E., the Lombards made the strategically located town the capital of their independent Duchy of Spoleto. Still later, in the eighth century, Spoleto became part of the Holy Roman Empire. In the twelfth century, Barbarossa demolished the city, and since then it's been in a kind of amber, preserved in such a way that visitors can enjoy all these fascinating layers--from Etruscan arches to Roman amphitheaters, from medieval fortresses to Romanesque churches.

Spoleto is also typical of the region in that it perches on a hilltop, with its serpentine cobblestone streets cascading down to the plains below. Unique, however, is Spoleto’s magnificent thirteenth-century aqueduct (built on Roman foundations), which connects the town to nearby Monteluco. There, students can hike miles of trails into what the Italians call “the green heart of Italy.” (Umbrian towns are known not just for their stunning hilltop locations but also for the pristine surroundings.) If that were not enough, Spoleto also hosts the Festival of Two Worlds, a combined art, theater, and music festival that takes place in early July, and that has become world
renowned. In fact, many Americans first know the name Spoleto because of its sister festival in Charleston, South Carolina.

In terms of gastronomy, Umbria is well-known and celebrated for its flavorful olive oil (many say the finest in all of Italy), its crisp white wine from Orvieto, and its robust reds from Montefalco. The program hosts a trip to Orvieto, and Montefalco is a mere twenty minutes by car from Spoleto. Cheeses tend toward sheep's milk varieties (since grazing land for cattle is scarce), and dishes heavily favor game (wild boar, rabbit, deer, etc.). Vegetarians, however, will fare wonderfully in Spoleto and should be pleased to know that Umbria is home to the fantastic black truffle. If you have not sampled this highly aromatic and flavorful tuber, you are in a for a treat.

The town is home to 45,000 inhabitants, but it hardly feels big or unmanageable. One may walk the entire historic center of town, from top to bottom, in less than fifteen minutes, and the nearby train station (just a fifteen-minute walk from city center) makes Spoleto much less isolated than many of the other beautiful towns in Umbria. Spoleto also boasts a lively youth culture, with the nearby capital city of Perugia home to the region’s main university. Because of this, Spoleto offers much more nightlife than many other towns of its size. In short, Spoleto is a pleasant mid-size town—small enough to be easily navigable and to offer students daily opportunities to meet the locals, and yet big enough to possess all the amenities of a thriving college town.