Todi's Palazzo dei Priori: Recurring Reminder of the Communal Age
Syracuse University, Syracuse, USA
Umbrian Todi is today mostly celebrated as an archetypal medieval hill town. In the thirteenth century, its two poles of power faced off across opposite sides of the main piazza (Platea Maior): the Duomo and bishop's palace to the north, and the civic palaces to the south. Scholars continue to identify the piazza and its surrounding buildings as a near perfect example of Italian medieval communal architecture and urbanism. Its history, however, is not so neat. The Piazza has been the focal point of Todi's public activity for over two thousand years, and during that time has presented many appearances. Since the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, the adjacent palaces, in particular, have been dressed in a variety of styles and have displayed a shifting mix of medieval and Renaissance facades. These transformations reflect Todi's changing social, political and religious aspirations and conflicts.
No single building better reflects these changes than the Palazzo dei Priori, which was created in the early-fourteenth century by consolidating several large private residences, and still serves as a seat of local government. Its massive form has long served as the theatrical backdrop for the town's ceremonial life. In the late trecento, the significance of the palazzo was increased by the erection of a large corner tower, overlooking the piazza and marking Todi's most important intersection. Though the facade of the building was updated in the sixteenth century, when Pope Leo X, as overlord of the former commune, authorized a "restoration" in the fashionable High Renaissance style, the tower remained untouched and unrepentantly medieval, a vestigial but prominent reminder of Todi's communal era.