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Exploring the small town of Orvieto, Italy ranked as one of the top highlights of my trip to Italy in 2017. On the last day of our 12 day tour, my daughter, grandson and I soaked up the gorgeous views and fascinating culture of this gem in the Umbria region.
Read the highlights of that day HERE. Then read on for fun facts about Orvieto Italy.
Getting to Orvieto Italy
Orvieto rests on a rock cliff formed from a volcanic butte, 1000 feet above the valley below. Considered one of the most striking towns in Italy, Orvieto sits in the middle of the country, less than 90 minutes from Rome.
Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy
This ancient city of about 21,000 people features an old and new town. Visitors arrive in the new town where they leave their cars or exit their tour buses. To gain entrance into old town they must ride an escalator up or take a funicular (trolley type car) to the edge of town. There buses transport guests up into the city.
The Etruscan civilization predates the Romans. Orvieto, known as Velzna then, was the most important town in the Etruscan territory. The Etruscans inhabited Orvieto until the 3rd century BC, when the Romans invaded.
This magnificent cathedral, one of the finest in Italy, took 300 years to complete. Think about it. The United States, founded in 1776, has yet to reach its 300th birthday. Generations of builders worked on this masterpiece.
Pope Nicholas IV laid the cornerstone for the Duomo on November 15, 1290. Completion occurred in 1591.
Inside, visitors appreciate the tall ceilings and black and white striped columns. Within the Duomo is the Chapel of San Brizio, featuring Luca Signorelli’s paintings, Day of Judgment and Life After Death. Some find the works of art creepy, with their depictions of hell and flying demons, while others declare them stunning.
Outside of Rome, only Orvieto and two other cities contained papal palaces. During the sack of Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII sought refuge in Orvieto.
Fearing the water supply might not last, if the city went under siege, the pope commissioned a 62 meter deep well. The Pozzo di S Patrizio, or Well of St Patrick, contains a central well shaft surrounded by stairways in a double helix design. The staircases allowed one way traffic, with empty water jars going down one set of stairs and full ones coming up the other.
Visitors may climb down into the well and toss coins into the water.
Beneath Orvieto lies a labyrinth of Etruscan caves and tunnels. The underground city boasts 1200 passageways, galleries, wells, stairs, cellars, cisterns and rooms.
Noble families living above were equipped with escape tunnels that wound from their homes through the labyrinth below, emerging at safe exit points outside the city walls.
Oldest Church in Orvieto
San Giovenale claims the title as the oldest church in the city. Built in 1004, on the site of an Etruscan temple, the building contains many 13th century frescoes.
Orvieto contains one of two Etruscan cemeteries in Italy. This one is 2,500 years old and located on the northern side of the cliff face. The tombs resemble houses, neatly arranged in rows.
Middle Ages Fortress
Built in the 1300s, Albornoz Fortress stood at the edge of the city on the site of an Etruscan temple. It’s purpose was to keep the city secure. Today it’s mostly in ruins and used as a public garden with an amphitheater for performances.
Torre del Moro
The 47 meter tall clock tower in central Orvieto contains 236 steps that visitors may climb for spectacular views of the city and valley below. Originally built in the 13th century, the tower belonged to the pope. Today its clock and bells tell time.
The soil around Orvieto contains rich minerals, producing grapes that give wines a clean, crisp finish. Orvieto is known for its white wines and Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes.
Fall in Love with Orvieto
We loved this beautiful old city at the top of the world. We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the narrow streets and taking in the sights. Cafes, shops, historical buildings and attractions offer much to visitors.
I’d love to return and spend a long weekend there, experiencing more of the people, the history and the culture.
Have you visited Orvieto, Italy?
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