Underground Perugia – Not In Our Travel Guide?
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What's So Special About Perugia
Perugia is a lovely medieval Tuscan city. Most people in the US would remember Perugia as the college town where exchange student, Amanda Knox, was spending a semester abroad and was charged with the murder of her roommate. The poor girl did not have a fair trial, eventually was acquitted and a bartender was finally convicted of the murder. But Perugia is a lovely place with cobbled streets, medieval ruins, beautiful piazzas and a vibrant nightlife. I can’t wait to visit the city again.
On our 2nd day in Perugia, we had planned to take a day trip to Assisi – one of the most charming towns in Tuscany – and a quick 35-minute bus ride from Perugia. Since we were staying in the old town, google maps told us it was about a 1-kilometer walk through Piazza Italia. The bus terminal looked like it was just beyond the Piazza. We walked past it only to find a cliff, with the large bus terminal at the bottom. How to get there? My navigation kept leading me the path looked like it was right there, but we couldn’t find it. I finally circled the piazza and Prefecture Perugia (State building) and noticed that under a portico in the building was a nondescript escalator leading down. I decided to take it and google was happy. As we descended, I was captivated by what I saw.
We Descended to Underground Perugia
The escalator dropped us on a level of this underground world, completely hidden from sight. The structure was a maze of underground passageways, including portions of ancient towers, massive chambers, vaulted ceilings and even the remnants of a communal bread-baking oven. There were alcoves that looked like they were at one-time merchant shops, tradesman’s shops, and even dwellings for residents. We would wander around then descend deeper into this ancient underground city by escalator. It looked like excavation work was still being done and a museum was in the process of setting up – but we could still wander through the alleyways to view the remarkable beauty. We eventually made it down to the bus terminal and wondered what magnificent structure did we just come out of? Dom pulled out his Rick Steves Travel guide and could not find any mention of this beautiful and ancient underground city. How can that be? Underground Perugia, or officially, Rocca Paolina, is one of Perugia’s main tourist attractions and not to be missed.
A little history of Underground Perugia (Rocca Paolina)
- It was a majestic fort commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese at the end of the ‘salt war’ (1540)
- The architect Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane built the fortress over the upper part of an Etruscan archdoor: Porta Marzia circa 3rd century B.C.
- The Rocca Paolina was five levels high, composed of a large complex and a smaller complex connected by a corridor.
- The fortress, symbol of a pontifical domain on the city, was partly destroyed in 1848, rebuilt in 1860 by Pope Pius IX and then razed to the ground again.
- All that remains are the basements crossed through by the escalators and used for exhibitions.
Museum Hours of Operation: Porta Marzia (via Bagliona) 7:00 am – 8:00 pm
Escalators: 6:15 am – 2.00 am
Enter from Piazza Italia (escalators), Via Masi, V.le Indipendenza and Porta Marzia