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*
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