Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy

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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.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy title meme

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.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy cliff top
Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy – the city perches on a cliff 1000 feet above the valley.

Etruscan Roots

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.

The Duomo

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.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy chapel
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the Duomo took 300 years to complete. Interior view.

Papal Residence

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.

Underground Labyrinth

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.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy street
One of the gorgeous streets in Orvieto.

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.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy oldest church
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the oldest church was built in 1004.

Etruscan Necropolis

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.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy fortress ruins
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the fortress was built on the site of an Etruscan temple.

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.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy clock tower
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the clock tower is the tallest structure in the city.

White Wine

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?

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy Dayan and Yaya


More Tales from Italy:

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy

Lions of Venice

Things You May Not Know about Michelangelo’s David

Bridge of Sighs


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The Village at the Top of the World

On our last day of travel, as we journeyed back to Rome, we stopped at the village of Orvieto in the Umbria region of Italy. One of Orvieto’s distinctive qualities is that it is perched on a volcanic butte, high above the valley below. 

This ancient city was established by the Etruscans and then annexed by the Romans in the 3rd century BC! Because of its high elevation, it didn’t need a fortified wall. The ruins of a fortress are still evident near the sheer cliff face. A beautiful garden lies now within what remains of the fortress walls. 

The Village at the Top of the World
To reach Orvieto our excellent bus driver, Luciano, dropped us off at a lower level parking lot. We rode in a cable car to the fortress remains, and then traveled on up to the village by shuttle. 

Here are highlights from our explorations of Orvieto. 

The Village at the Top of the World This is what it looks like when 42 people crowd into a cable car. It is good we have become a family! 

The Village at the Top of the World Our amazing tour director Fabiola, Fabi for short, who took such good care of us all. 

The Village at the Top of the World The Cathedral of Orvieto. Construction began in the 13th century and was completed 300 years later. 

Following are interior pics of the cathedral. We have visited numerous cathedrals and basilicas…and every single one astounds me when I enter it. They are huge. And beautiful. And different from each other. The churches are so important because of the architecture, paintings and mosaics within. They are quite literally museums with irreplaceable works of art on the floors, ceilings and walls. I am always moved to tears as I wander around inside. 

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World

A quaint cobblestone lane in Orvieto. Love all the jasmine growing up the walls. We discovered Dayan is allergic to the pollen though! 

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World There are Pinocchio dolls everywhere, since the author of the story, Carlo Collodi, is Italian. And no, I am not bringing one home! 

The Village at the Top of the World

There is a festival in Orvieto tomorrow, welcoming the beginning of summer. Doves will be released at the cathedral. The town looked festive, with flags and flowers everywhere! 

The Village at the Top of the World

The Village at the Top of the World It became a daily tradition to have gelato. Elissa and I stayed with fruit sorbets but Dayan enjoyed his Italian ice creams. These were our last treats: Tiramisu for Dayan, banana for Elissa and coconut for me. 

The Village at the Top of the World

This is what it looks like, from the top of the world! We walked back down the road, from the village to the fortress ruins. The walk was so worth it. The views were spectacular! 

The Village at the Top of the World

Our last outing for the Italy trip was perfect. We wandered the streets and piazzas of an ancient town, toured a magnificent cathedral and visited Montanucci, a world famous pastry shop that is 100 years old. Our group was treated to coffees and an assortment of divine pastries. (I had water and a tomato and olive salad. Don’t feel sorry for me! It was delicious.) We savored our last gelatos. Although our large group was chatty, as usual, the day was tinged with small sorrows as we ticked off the “lasts”. 

What an adventure we have had! What memories we created. And how grateful I am to have experienced Italy with Elissa and Dayan and 43 other adventurous souls. Tomorrow we fly out of Rome. But we will carry Italy home with us, in our hearts. 

The Village at the Top of the World