The Magnificent Palace of Priors in Perugia
Our hotel “Fortuna” was situated just a few steps away from the historic center of Perugia. When we got out of the hotel we immediately found ourselves in the broad pedestrian street Corso Vannucci. There was an hour of siesta and the street was almost empty so we could view at a glance the entire street and the central square, as well.
The main architectural attraction of the historic center is the Palace of Priors. The splendid building embodies the rebellious spirit of Perugians. It is one of the most renowned civic structures built by communes of Central Italy during the High Middle Ages to house their city governments.
The great and austere bulk of a building is decorated with an endless necklace of tricuspid windows (triforas). I’ve been fond of arched windows since my first visit to Venice but I haven’t ever seen so many triforas in one building. I was really astonished when I saw a four-arched window. For this reason, the palace once and forever has become my favorite one.
The palace seems to be a monolith made of one piece of rock. Meantime, it has been a sort of a stone cover put over pre-existing buildings. Such a fusion of epochs and styles is very common in Italy.
The Gothic building was built and reconstructed during 13-14th centuries. Local architects Giacomo di Servadio and Giovanello di Benevento designed the original rectangular core of the palace, which comprised three bays looking to the Square of Fourth November and ten bays along Corso Vannucci.
Each of the two main floors consisted of a single room with triforas along two walls. The room on the lower floor was originally intended for meetings of the Council that advised the People’s Captain. Later on, it became the Hall of Notaries. The room on the upper floor hosts the Umbrian National Gallery. The ground floor loggia along Corso Vannucci was divided into units and rented out. Two of these units were given to the Merchants’ Guild in 1390 in a debt settlement.
The grand portal which overlooks the main square is surmounted by the city’s symbols, the griffin of Perugia and the Imperial Guelf lion, in bronze. From the consoles where the symbolic beasts sit overhang fragments of iron chains. Proud Perugians used to expose there the keys of Siena city gates which they had taken away after the victory in the battle of Torrita in 1538.
The initial building with 12 triforas was built in 1293-1297. The commune annexed to the palace new buildings and added a broad staircase overlooking the main square in 1333-1337. Twenty years later, in 1353 the splendid portal which faces the Corso was made by Ambrogio Maitani. As a result of the third reconstruction in 1429-1443, the palace incorporated the building which was occupied by the Exchange Guild. The latter has retained its place till now. The last reconstruction affected the back façade of the building.
In the process of permanent restructuring the palace kept assimilating new and new buildings and moved further and further along Corso Vannucci, and acquired still new trifors as well! Now it boasts 24 triforas! The gradual expansion of the palace and fusion of successive elements with antecedent ones resulted in a certain asymmetry of the palace.
This asymmetry is clearly visible from the central square. It seems that the eastern flank of the palace is divided into two equal parts. Its left side is occupied by a graceful harp staircase which leads to an elegant portal with a fancy pointed arch. On the right, you can see an arcade bearing a loggia from which the city authorities promulgated local laws to the citizens.
Interestingly enough, certain architectural details carried out not only decorative features but political ones, as well. For example, the roof is decorated with quadrate merlons along its entire perimeter. It is not just an excessive décor which is more characteristic for defensive structures but a symbol of the city’s independence. In 1610, the Pope, who at that time regarded Perugia as his own private domain, ordered to take down these merlons. The Perugians restored the merlons after two and a half centuries, as soon as Perugia gained its independence as a part of unified Italy.