On the south side of Piazza Europa stands an imposing building, unadorned and severe, built in the 16th century as the residence of the Spada family, counts of Collescipoli, one of the most influential Roman families in Terni.
In 1546, Antonio Cordini, better known as Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, was supervising the construction of the building, when, weakened by a temperature, he fainted dead away and never came to. No one has ever ascertained the exact cause of death of this great architect, who had numerous important jobs to his credit. In fact, besides the Rocca Paolina fortress, he supervised the work site of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican for over 25 years, having the unpleasant task of defending his position against his predecessor Raffaello Sanzio. Over the centuries there have been various versions to explain Sangallo’s death, like the more captivating idea of his being poisoned by someone, which has never been proven. The fact remains that he was in a difficult situation in Terni, having been sent there by Pope Paul III with instructions to build a system to regulate the Cascate delle Marmore waterfalls. For centuries there had been problems when the Nera River overflowed and flooded the area around Rieti. This created a bloody rivalry between the towns but it did not put a stop to the works because the people claimed it was an order from their papal government that no one was happy with. Tradition claims that however suspicious the people were of the historical officialism of the order, Sangallo the Younger found himself in the midst of this rivalry because he was the executor of the works and representative of the hated pope and therefore could not escape from the people’s revenge.
Palazzo Spada was completed in 1555 and the family kept possession of it until the end of the 1700s when the Massarucci family bought it first, then the nuns of the Order of Bambino Gesù later. In the second half of the 1900s it was given to the city of Terni, which made very wise modifications and installed the municipal offices and city council meeting room in the old residence. The Council Room, known as the Sala di Fetonte, is one of the masterpieces of the building. The vaulted ceilings are painted with splendid decorations with grotesque figures and scenes of the Battle of Lepanto and of the Notte di S. Bartolomeo (night of St Bartholomew) and the massacre of the Huguenots, painted by the 16th century Flemish artist Karel van Mander.
The façade, like the rest of the building, is bare and the plaster that once covered the outside walls is no longer there. This attributes to its appearing austere and powerful. The palazzo that Sangallo the Younger designed was quite different from what you see today because the original design was of two separate wings. In the 1700s the two parts were joined by another building creating the typical courtyard style arrangement. The main entrance was moved from Via Roma to where it is today in Corso del Popolo.
The palazzo can be visited during opening hours of the municipal offices in Terni. If the city council is not in session, you can ask to be taken to see the room where they meet and adjacent rooms; these rooms are quite impressive because of the decorations done by Sebastiano Fiori, a pupil of Vasari.
Some mosaics from the floor of an ancient Roman house (domus) were found near the palazzo, confirming how long and how important this place was that held power in the territory.