Assisi’s Roman Villas

March 15, 2011 / Art & Archaeology
Assisi, Umbria
Assisi’s imposing basilica dedicated to Saint Francis tends to outshine the rest of the town with its sheer star-power, but there is more to this lovely hilltown than her most iconic monument. Though a visit to Assisi should certainly include a visit to this breathtaking church, don’t miss out on her splendid–but largely unsung–Roman sites, many of which have been newly renovated or opened to the public for the first time.

The least known, but perhaps most unique, of these are the two 1st century BC Roman villas near the main Piazza del Comune. The Domus Propertius (for a mistaken attribution to the poet Propertius), discovered during excavations near the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in the nineteenth century and subsequently extensively restored, contains one of the few known examples of Roman mural painting north of Rome, along with its original mosaic floor. It is now open by appointment for a limited number of visitors, who can view the painted wall decorations, long section of richly decorated vault-covered portico (cryptoporticus), and niche (viridarium) covered with a decorative floral motif of delicate boughs and blossoms, interspersed with tiny songbirds.

Under the Palazzo Giampé next door, the breathtaking remains of a second villa from the same period are currently being excavated and restored (slated for completion in late 2011). When opened to the public, this site will number among the most important and intact examples of a Roman domus in Italy. Visitors will be able to view the extensive structure–including a peristylium (garden surrounded by a colonnade), a diaeta (sitting room), a triclinium (dining room), and a cubiculum (bedroom)–and superb frescoes depicting architectural elements, griffins and birds, and a portrait of a married couple. As excavations continue, archaeologists are continually uncovering new elements, including a 10 meter by 6 meter perfectly conserved mosaic floor in black, white, green, and red unearthed just months ago.


Rebecca Winke

by Rebecca Winke

Owner of Brigolante Apartments, a restored 16th century stone farmhouse / guesthouse in the heart of Umbria near Assisi, and blogger of life in Umbria. For tips and insider information about visiting Umbria, download her Umbria Slow App and see her writings on her personal website!

11 Responses to “Assisi’s Roman Villas”

  1. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    I can see I must return to Assisi! Thanks for the note Rebecca. The songbirds are exquisite.

  2. marianna

    Thanks again, Rebecca – As always, so informative – I look forward to your postings.

  3. Gian Banchero

    As is said, everyplace one steps in Italy one is walking on history. How wonderful for modern eyes to enjoy what was also witnessed and enjoyed more than two thousand years ago, a nice connection to the past and our radici (roots). Thank you very much for sharing!

  4. anna marie gonnella rosato

    You make my heart long to go back. I love Italy. I am proud to have Italian ancestry.

  5. Amazing! I find these type of things so interesting. My list of “To See..Do Not Miss” keeps growing longer and longer for my return trip to Italy. I too am proud of my Italian ancestry.

  6. Annelie

    Thank you so much for this hidden tip of Assisi, Rebecca! I certainly will visit these villas on my next trip to beautiful Umbria!!!!

  7. Rebecca,

    Thanks for the blog as we used it to visit the Domus today in Assisi. The site was fantastic and would recommend it to anyone interested in roman archeology.

    I wish we could have taken pictures. Is there any way of getting hold of some images for our trip memories?


  8. Ethan Gannaway

    Hi Rebecca. A colleague and I visited Assisi last January (with a group of students), but could not get into the site without a prenotazione. I’ll be there again this January. Do you know how I might get into this place? I’d love to explain it better to my students in Roman Art and History next semester. Thank you for the help and the lovely images above.



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