Perugia of Braccio

Between political upheaval and needs of change, Braccio promotes the artistic and architectural renewal of the city



The urbanistic history of Perugia presents two main mail stones: the Etruscan walls, rather uniform and probably built in a short period, and the mediaeval ones, less uniform and built in different periods along the XIII and the XV centuries. The two operations brought a gradual reduction of spaces and a subsequent architectural development mainly on a vertical scale. Until the XII Century the area within the Etruscan walls had to be enough or, sometimes, even more than enough: as for many other Italian cities, also for Perugia the passage between the Ancient era to the High Middle Age was characterized by a demographic decline. In the XIII Century, with better living conditions and the urbanization of the peasants, around the walls appeared humble houses, often made of wood, first cells of the future districts; generally they were distributed along the five main roads, the so-called “vie regali” (royal ways), getting in and out the main city doors.

The city, to cope with the defensive request of these new settlements, responded with a second circle of walls that between the XIII and XIV Century enclosed the ancient Etruscan nucleus about three km long, shaped like a sort of triangle, with a highly irregular pentagon over six km long, together with middle walls, joining in a way the Etruscan with the Medieval walls, that were further barriers for any enemies attack. This inner defensive line is recognizable in the Arco della Conca, in the other arch half way Via della Viola, in the remains of Porta San Luca close to Porta Trasimena and of the rediscovered supporting structures of the San Cristoforo barrier of San Cristoforo, half way in Corso Garibaldi. To this heterogeneous, but powerful, defensive structure, Braccio added other walls: the most evident was the now lost fore-wall, going from Santa Giuliana to the Porta dei Ghezzi.


That of Braccio has been the last consistent urban intervention before the Rocca Paolina and has marked the limit between Perugia and its country until little before the time of the Unification of Italy. At the beginning of the XV Century in Perugia, the Renaissance is far away to come and the city keeps a medieval aspect, even if with several innovations. The houses that before had narrow spaces between one another, the socalled “tracaselli”, see them disappear in favor of a more compact structure; the houses are built shoulder to shoulder for long ways, interrupted every now and then by narrow streets, often surmounted by vaults to have the usable surface increased without reducing the road network. The roof direction changes as well: the tympanum façade is rarer and rarer and the sloping roofs are parallel to the front walls. Water, in absence of gutters, falls into the streets and, behind, in gardens, often conveyed in wells and tanks. The houses, mainly the ones of the noble families, but more and more also other types of buildings, expand upwards.


This is the city that Braccio finds, on which he grafts relevant interventions, as the Bridles to prevent the landslide of the “Soprammuro” square, today Piazza Matteotti, or the princely residence, between the Dome and the “Palazzo del Podestà” (Palace of the Podestà), gothic in style even if open to the Renaissance taste with the lightening of the massive walls and the Logge: beautiful but also useful in protecting goods and merchant. From the political point of view his advent to power didn’t mean institutional upheaval: the “Municipal Judiciary” remained. Nonetheless one of his first step, starting right from August 1416, was to introduce into the Priori and other offices people of his choice, picked among the nobility, as his noble ambassador by the Pope. The favor that Braccio showed to the Aristocracy, to which he belonged, explains why in the first half of the XV Century the building activity of noble families increased highly, condition that still remained well after his dominion ended and that actively contributed to the renewal of the city.

This atmosphere of proto-renaissance is the explanation of the will of the Baglioni Family of having their houses on top of the Col Landone frescoed by Domenico Veneziano, who brought with him Piero della Francesca. Braccio substituted the power of the nobility to that of the monetary and mercantile middle class, but only partially; by the end of the XIV and the beginning of the XV Centuries in fact the two classes, in almost all Italian cities, mingled and fused themselves in the end. The Municipality when Braccio entered Perugia as Lord, was suffering a deep crisis of a long standing. Between the ‘70s of the XIV and the beginning of the XV Century the Government of Perugia was held by four despots: the abbot of di Mommaggiore, Biordo Michelotti, the Duke of Milan and the King of Naples. After Braccio’s dominion, the city became more and more exposed to the expansionary measures of the Pope, till the final surrender.