The Perugian fortress was built between 1540 and 1543 from the will of Pope Paolo III Farnese. Until 1860 it represented the symbol of the papal power over Perugia.
The building was designed by Alessandro Tomassoni from Terni and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, and it was built on what used to be the houses of the Baglioni, following their revolt against the pope. It occupied a large part of the southern side of Perugia.
For its construction were used the materials of the ancient village of Santa Giuliana, which was completely demolished, together with the relative churches and convents, while the houses, the streets, towers and courtyards, falling within the perimeter of the new building, were incorporated and covered with mighty vaults, which constituted the basement.
The fortress was divided into three parts: the Papal Palace, the Corridor and the Tenaglia, which faced the countryside. However, the architect had the sensibility to set the ancient Etruscan architecture called Porta Marzia in the new brick walls, which still stands on the homonymous street. The construction of the Rocca Paolina led to the demolition of around three hundred houses (the entire village of S. Giuliana), the palaces of the Baglioni, many towers and churches, including the fifteenth-century Santa Maria dei Servi, which was considered the most beautiful of the city.
Partly destroyed in 1848, the Rocca Paolina was rebuilt in 1860 for the will of Pope Pius IX. The Rocca was finally demolished in the decades following the annexation to the Kingdom of Italy, offering space for the construction of many buildings and nineteenth-century accommodations (Piazza Italia, via Masi, Giardini Carducci, Viale Indipendenza).
With such vast urban upheavals, only the undergrounds of the Papal Palace remained of the ancient Rocca, forgotten for several decades. Works finally began to remove the rubble in 1932 and concluded in 1965, opening up to the public as an "underground city" of great charm.
Since 1983 the Rocca Paolina is crossed by a path of escalators that connect the base of the Etruscan-Roman Acropolis (Piazza Partigiani) with its heart in Piazza Italia.
Today its large and unique spaces are used, during the year, for many cultural events.
The Rocca Paolina is known for one of the most famous poems by Giosuè Carducci, with the title Il Canto dell'Amore
«Oh bella a' suoi be' dí Rocca Paolina
(Giosuè Carducci, Il canto dell'amore)