Construction of the Albornoziana Fortress, also known as the castle of Spoleto, began in 1359 at the top of the Sant’Elia hill overlooking the town and surrounding valley. This imposing military fort, built to have control over the Via Flaminia, was commissioned by Pope Alexander VI along with several others similar to it for the purpose of reinstating papal control over areas of central Italy while he was in Avignon. The pope, who lived in Avignon, sent to Spoleto a powerful Spanish cardinal named Albornoz, who asked Matteo di Giovanello da Gubbio, known as Gattopone, to oversee the construction works which were terminated in 1370.
Because of its strategic position and impressive appearance, the fortress became the seat of important authorities over the centuries such as Duchy chancellors, city governors, and papal legates. According to tradition, Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Alexander VI, who named her ruler of the Spoleto Dukedom at just 19 years of age, stayed there on two occasions: in 1499 for three months and in 1502 during a brief stopover on her way to Ferrara.
The fortress has a rectangular plan with six imposing towers, the largest and most central of which is called “Torre della Spiritata” (Tower of the Spirited One), perhaps in reference to the outspoken pontiff’s daughter. Inside the perimeter walls there are two courtyards: the Cortile delle Armi (the Courtyard of the Armed Guards), dedicated to the armed militia and the Cortile d’Onore (Honor Yard), used by administrators and governors. This latter courtyard had a double loggia entirely in terracotta and an elegant six-sided well. Among the numerous interior rooms, one should certainly be mentioned – the Salone d’Onore (Hall of Honor), the largest room of the entire building intended for ceremonies and banquets and decorated with frescoes from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the Camera Pinta (or Picta) (Painted Room) also decorated with frescoed scenes of chivalry from between 1392 and 1416.
Between 1817 and 1983, the fort was used as a prison and most of the artworks were lost. Only after the prison was closed did extensive renovation works begin, which restored the importance of the structure, and in 2007 the National Dukedom Museum was opened there. The museum occupies 15 old rooms of the fort on two floors. On the lower floor are chronological exhibits that tell the history of the territory known as the Dukedom of Spoleto over the period between the 4th and 15th centuries. On the upper floor are sculptures and paintings from the Romanesque and Renaissance periods.