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Piazza del Duomo

 
 

The Piazza del Duomo in Orvieto, as it's easy to tell from the name, clearly owes its existence to the Duomo. In the town of Orvieto, all roads lead to this piazza, just as all visitors to the town naturally turn their footsteps along the Via del Duomo that flanks the square's west side, towards the majestic cathedral that towers over every house and palazzo on the square. In fact, much of the piazza was built around the Duomo while it was being completed over a period of more than three hundred years.

The Maurizio Tower to the north of the square certainly was, with its funny little automated timekeeper and bell at the top built to mark the working day for workers building the Duomo. This tower is also an information point for tourists looking to learn about the MODO (the Museum of the Opera del Duomo of Orvieto) which is one of Italy's most precious cultural heritages.

The MODO's collection is housed in four locations, three of which are located on the Piazza del Duomo itself. The history of the collection goes back eight centuries, to the history of the Duomo and the town, during which the vestry or the 'Opera del Duomo' has been taking care of the works of art in its care. Palazzi Soliano and the Palazzi Papali house the many works related to the Duomo that was created between the medieval age and present times. The third location of the MODO's exhibit is inside the Duomo, on the ceilings and walls of the famous chapel of San Brizio where Luca Signorelli's stunning frescoes depict angels, apostles, prophets, virgins and martyrs in scenes from the Universal Judgment.

The many other houses and palazzi that surround the Duomo are now home to caffetteria and shops selling Orvieto's famous pottery. All have their faces turned towards the Duomo like acolytes to a priest. The Duomo has its own standoffish space; as well it should, at the center of the square, with its magnificent facade and enormous bronze door turned towards the west.

The square below the feet are cobbled, and around the periphery of the Duomo are mosaics of the Star of David and other symbols. Just across from the Duomo's entrance and in its shadow is the Museo Claudio Faina, exhibiting beautiful Greek and Etruscan ceramics.

Next to the museum is an entrance to the Orvieto Underground cave system (of over 1200 man-made caves), which reveals the secret life of the inhabitants of the city all the way back to when the Etruscans dug the caves into the volcanic tuff in search of water in the fifth century BC. The tunnels were further expanded all through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, sometimes used as landfills, cellars, for thrashing wheat, raising pigeons, storage and safehouse while war raged at the foot of the mountain.