History, facts and travel tips about Orvieto
There is more to an Italian vacation than the large busy tourist cities such as Rome, Venice and Florence.
For a more refreshing and tranquil time, travel into the Umbrian countryside.
A holiday maker would be hard pressed to find a location with a more interesting history and offering some of Italy's most stunning scenery. The town of Orvieto in the Umbrian region sits atop a tuff of volcanic rock making this a dramatic location for a vacation.
The drive to this ancient religious city is surrounded by vineyards which produce the Classico wine the area is famous for.
The medieval Duomo (cathedral) stands at the heart of the city and at seven stories high, the front facade can be seen from a great distance. The construction of this Gothic cathedral, which took three centuries to complete, began in the 13th century when Pope Nicholas IV laid the first cornerstone after more than 30 years of planning. The facade is Italian Gothic art at its best with a carved marble rose window surrounded by the intricately detailed sculptures.
It strikes one as odd that such a grand looking cathedral is in this small hilltop village. The reason for this started centuries ago when a priest, whose faith was wavering, found blood seeping into a linen cloth during holy communion. He took this cloth to the Pope and it was declared a miracle. Today the Corporal of Bolsena is housed in the Duomo as proof of this miracle.
Also inside the cathedral, in the Chapel of St. Brizio, are some of the finest examples of work by Luca Signorelli. His frescoes depict the heavenly angels on one side and the condemned masses being tortured by the devil and demons on the other. He is thought to have been influenced by his attendance of the public burning at the stake of the zealot Savonarola.
Signorell painted all of the chapel and is alleged to have stated that he would keep working as long as he had the wine from the region. As only 25 people are allowed in the chapel at one time, it is best to arrive early.
For those who are up for a bit of a cardio workout, Pozzo di San Patrizio (St. Peter's Well) is worth a look. This feat of engineering is a double spiral which is 175 feet deep and 45 feet wide. This was to allow space for donkeys to haul the water up from below. If you decide to descend into the well, it is worth taking a sweater as even in summer the temperature inside is cool the further down you go. This well was ordered to be dug after Pope Clement VII took refuge in the town after the Sack of Rome in 1527. He wanted to guarantee the city would have sufficient water if it were attacked.
Orvieto means 'ancient city' so it is no surprise that archaeologists have found artifacts from the Etruscan era some 700 BC in and around the city. Beneath the current town are a series of caverns which are open for public tours. It is believed these were used by the noble families as a means of hiding in case of attack. These were also used as bomb shelters during WWII.
The term cittaslow or (slow food movement) is paramount here and a traveler will find it a haven for fine dining and drinking the famous locally produced Classico wine. Expect to be delighted with the culinary choices. Traditional game dishes such as pigeon, wild boar and rabbit are a specialty as is the pasta, umbrichelli, which was invented there.
From the high vantage point of the town, one understands how this view has inspired some of the greatest architects, painters and sculptors. A land of green rolling fields, vineyards and wildflowers (spring). It is often thought that Tuscany is the most beautiful parts of Italy but here we have the beauty but without the high tourist prices.
As a general guide, the best time to visit is at the beginning or the end of the season which avoids crowds. Therefore March/June or September/October offer ideal times to visit. From spring through to autumn the calendar is full of religious events and a visit should include at least one of these. Because of the higher altitude it can feel chilly, especially as night falls. It is advisable to bring a sweater or lightweight jacket.
The cathedral can be visited free of charge from 7:30am to noon and 2:30pm-5pm during winter or 7pm in the summer. Try and stay to see the church at dusk when the golden end of day sunlight showers it with a heavenly warm glow.
The town of Orveito is easy to get to either by car or train. Arriving by road from the A1 take the clearly marked exit for the town and follow the signs to Campo della Fiera parking area. There is an escalator and an elevator to take from the parking lot up to the town center.
Using the parking lot is recommended as there are parking restrictions in the town which are monitored frequently. Parking charges are reasonable in the parking lot at just EUR.55 per hour.
To arrive by train take the Florence to Rome line. Our traveler tip is to take the funucular (tram) from the train station to the town center 515 feet above. This can hold up to 75 people and departs every 10 minutes (weekday) and runs from 7:20am -8:30pm. The weekend schedule is from 8am-8:30pm and leaves every 15 minutes. The tram is reasonably priced at just one euro.
Mini buses, the funcular, elevators and escalators are available to take you up to the town center.
Although not as well known as Tuscany, Umbria and its hilltop towns and villages, make an excellent choice for the traveler who wishes to see and experience a real Italian vacation.