After leaving Spoleto, we drove south and west through mountain passes, arriving in Orvieto, in Southern Umbria, around 3:15. We checked into the annex at the Hotel Duomo, handing over our car to valet parking. It was cold and rainy upon our arrival.
Our hotel was right next to the Duomo di Orvieto, so that’s where we started our walk. The Gothic cathedral, dating to 1290, boasts a black-and-white banded exterior fronted by a breathtaking facade with an exquisite display of rainbow frescoes, jewel-like mosaics, bas-reliefs, and delicate braids of flowers and vines. The bas-relief panels between doorways tell the story of the Creation and the Last Judgment.
The building took 30 years to plan and three centuries to complete. It was started by Fra Bevignate and later additions were made by Sienese master Lorenzo Maitani (c. 1275-1330), Andrea Pisano (of Florence Cathedral fame) and his son Nino Pisano, Andrea Oreagna and Michele Sanmicheli (Lonely Planet Italy).
From the Piazza Duomo, we headed northwest along Via del Duomo to Corso Cavour and climbed up 250 steps in the 13th century Torre Del Morro, or Tower of the Moor, where we had sweeping views of the town.
At the end of the thirteenth century, the medieval Commune of Orvieto was at the height of its economic power and political stability. Public buildings became symbols of this authority: the original Town Hall was restored and the Palazzo del Popolo and the Cathedral were built. Extant buildings were restructured, forming a new urban layout with at its fulcrum the Palazzo dei Sette and the Tower known of as del Papa. From the top of the Tower, 47 meters high and almost perfectly oriented to the four cardinal points, the eye could sweep over the “contado” with its rural parishes, its hamlets, and its many castles and over the vast territory subject to the city of Orvieto. To the west, it stretched all the way to the sea.
In the 16th century, the name of the tower appeared as “del Moro,” probably after Raffaele di Sante known as il Moro. In 1865, the reservoir for distributing water from the new aqueduct was installed in the tower at a height of 18 meters. After restoration in 1866, the mechanical clock was set up and the two municipal bells were hoisted to the top.
We strolled through the town, admiring the ancient buildings and trying our best to keep warm.
We stopped to visit Pozzo della Cava, or Well of the Quarry, the short version of the “Città sotterranea,” or the Orvieto Underground, a labyrinth of caves and tunnels hidden in the dark cliff.
The Etruscans were the first to settle here, digging a honeycombed network of wells and storage caves out of the soft volcanic stone known as tufa. The Romans attacked and destroyed the city in 283 B.C.; since then it has transformed into a charming maze of alleys and squares, all built from the tufa that was removed and used as building blocks, or ground into pozzolana, which was made into mortar.
Over the past 3,000 years, those who lived on top of this high plateau dug a huge number of cavities into the soft volcanic rock on which Orvieto stood. The series of 440 caves, cisterns, secret passageways, storage areas, and cavities (out of 1200 in the system) that overlap and intersect beneath the streets and buildings of the modern town have been unearthed. This reservoir of historical and archaeological information found in these underground structures showed that locals used the the caves over millennia for various purposes, including WWII bomb shelters, refrigerators, wine storage, wells, and as dovecotes to trap pigeons for dinner. Some caves were used to ferment the Trebbiano grapes used in making the region’s popular white wine, Orvieto Classico.
At times the subterranean path runs parallel to the cliff wall, and panoramic openings let in the light, revealing an endless succession of tunnels, stairs, unexpected passageways, and superimposed rooms with innumerable small square niches.
We then walked ever upward to the highest point in the town for views off the cliff into the valley below.
We walked back down through the town.
Off a little alley, we found some interesting wood carvings.
Shivering, we stopped into the enoteca Bottega Vera, a wine bar where I had Fabbrica Birra Perugia Golden Ale and Mike had a red wine and we shared warm bruschetta with cheese and truffles. We had such a pleasant time.
It was so cold outside, that we went back to our room to warm up a bit before dinner.
Later, at Il Cocco, Mike had a beer and I had a glass of red wine, and I enjoyed tortellini with cherry tomatoes, ricotta cheese and walnuts. Mike had lasagna with Bolognese sauce. As usual, our food was delicious.
The next morning, we would head to Rome to spend the night, stopping on our way in Civita di Bagnoregio.
*Wednesday, May 8, 2019*
Wow! The Duomo is so beautiful! And I love the sound of your pasta dish. I might have to attempt that one.
Isn’t it the most gorgeous Duomo? I loved it! Also the one in Assisi, where we couldn’t take photos inside, was magnificent. That pasta dish was excellent, as so many were in Italy. I think I should attempt it myself. 🙂
Wonderful photos, Cathy! You brought back so many memories of Orvieto from some of our very first European travels. And like you, Orvieto rewarded us with a memorable pasta – Fettuccine with Wild Boar. Amazing and deliciously simple. I’ve never tasted anything to rival it. Thanks so much for the reminder of the beauty and character of Orvieto. ~Terri
Thank you so much, Terri. I’m glad to have brought back happy memories of Orvieto. It really is a stunning town, isn’t it? Mmm, fettucine with wild boar! I can only imagine. All Italian food was so good, I can imagine it would have been heavenly. Thanks for dropping by to read and comment. Nice to see you again. 🙂
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We seem to have taken the same photographs in Orvieto, but then it’s such a photographic place. I didn’t however, get to see the Citta Sutteraneo – it looks fascinating. I don’t think that ceramic shop changes its display very often because I’ve just checked my image and it’s exactly the same! Sorry it was cold when you were, we went in June and it was very hot.
I agree, Mari, that Orvieto is a very photogenic town. We didn’t spend much time underground as we sadly didn’t have much time in the town. That’s funny about the ceramic shop never changing! I guess they found a good thing and don’t want to let it go. I don’t know if I’d prefer very hot or very cold. Something in between would have been nice, but so often we have to take the weather we’re dealt! 🙂
Almost the end of your Italian adventure, Cathy. The Duomo is monumental, isn’t it? The amount of work that went into so many of the religious buildings in Italy is incredible, and so beautiful! 🙂 🙂
Yes, finally coming down to the end, over a year later! That Duomo was magnificent, as was the one in Assisi. So many of them are pieces of art. 🙂
Every time you post one of these Umbrian towns I think it must be the best yet. This is a jewel, especially the Duomo and the views from the tower. Strangely, I was just thinking of pasta with tomatoes and walnuts the other day when I found a packet of walnut pieces I’d forgotten about. Time to dig out the recipe I used to make …
Orvieto was indeed a jewel, Anabel. Mmmm, now I’m craving some pasta with walnut and tomato sauce. Does your recipe have other goodies in it?
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Can’t find it now! It’s not in the book I thought it was (this was long before the days whenI’d just google the ingredients and see what came up). Undoubtedly some form of cheese.
Let me know if you happen upon it!
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