A rapid tour to find out where to park, where to walk, what to see in a city that at every turn presents charming and unforgettable views, works of art and unique monuments.
A tourist visit of Orvieto… begins before getting to Orvieto. It seems a paradoxical slogan or the paradox for a slogan but in reality, one starts to enjoy the city from afar, when it appears high on its tuffaceous Rupe. This is the first view that one has: an island without sea dominating a vast plain, a stone ship that, amid the mists (often in the morning), sails visionary seas, a city with a peculiar appearance described as “high and strange” by Fazio of the Huberts in the mid XIV century.
Once beneath the Rupe the problem of parking arises and is immediately resolved. There is a choice between:
- Funicular car park (very ample), near the railway station, linked to the centre thanks to the characteristic funicular which in approximately two minutes arrives in the city, dropping passengers right opposite the bus stop for Piazza Duomo;
- Campo Boario underground car park, halfway between the valley and the city, served by elevators and escalators leading to the centre;
- Piazza Cahen car parks, in via Roma (indoor) and piazza Marconi, inside the city.
For a complete tour of the city, it is worth having at least a day or two at one’s disposal… but, as we all know, time is a hard master.
Of course the Duomo is an unmissable destination, called the Golden Lily of Cathedrals for its mosaics that ornate its incomparable façade, designed at the beginning of the XIV century by Lorenzo Maitani. The interior, rich in works of art, houses among other things the fine marble group of the Pietà, sculpted by Ippolito Scalza in 1579. The artistic jewel in the Duomo is the Chapel of San Brizio on whose walls the artist from Cortona, Luca Signorelli, frescoed (1499-1504) a Universal Judgement which is one of them highest testimonials of Italian painting.
Let us remember that from Piazza Duomo, right in front of the Cathedral, at the Tourist Information Office, every day of the year, at different times, guided tours depart for “Orvieto Underground”.
The lowest point of Orvieto, in piazza Cahen, is where the notorious St. Patrick’s Well is situated. It can be visited right to the bottom thanks to two convenient flights of stairs that sink to about 60 metres inside the hollow of the well itself. It’s a work of incredible engineering, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Young in 1527 on assignment by Pope Clement VII who sought refuge here to escape the troops of Carlo V who destroyed Rome. The two flights of stairs wind around one another like a double DNA helix, one serves to go down and the other to come back up. The ingenious system made it possible to directly reach the water with pack animals and then go back up without getting in the way of those going down.
Not far from the well is the panoramic Albornoz Fortress (1364), now a public garden, from where the view sweeps across the valley and the hills surrounding the city.
The topographic centre of the city is the medieval Torre del Moro (open to visitors), at the intersection between Corso Cavour and Via del Duomo. From the top, one enjoys a 360° view of the city and its surroundings.
Also in the centre, the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo can’t fail to amaze, a building dating back to the XIII century, powerful and elegant, adorned with arches, windows with three lights and swallow-tailed merlons. Following careful restoration work that didn’t fail to fully enhance several evocative Etruscan and medieval remains found in the basement rooms, the Palazzo has become a modern conference centre.
The medieval districtv is not far: it occupies the western part of the city. Characteristic and precipitous, it offers an exceptional walk along the banks, down very steep and narrow streets that go back over the old rounds. Among the houses, joined together almost without a break, tall spurs of tuff celebrate every day the indissoluble union of this city with its magical tuffaceous Rupe. It is worth taking one’s time and getting lost among these lanes, enjoying the moment they open up into squares, large and small, and the unexpected wide and green panoramic views.
There are many other surprises that the city can still offer curious travellers: ancient churches that preserve outstanding pictorial or sculptural works (San Francesco, San Domenico, Sant’Andrea, San Giovenale, San Lorenzo de Arari); Renaissance buildings of linear but rich architectures, where grey basalt is set in yellow tuff embellishing it with inserts that are jewels of equilibrium between form, dimension and ornamental elements; underground surprises such as the incredible Orvieto Underground, which makes it easy to visit the traces that almost three millenniums of human work have left in Orvieto’s grottoes or the Pozzo della Cava, a deep cylindrical perforation whose early structure dates back to the Etruscan period.
But in order to get a full picture of Orvieto, a visit is advisable also to its oldest past, to the testimonials of life that the Etruscans led here, founders of the city which at the time had the name of Velzna and was so rich that it was known by the name of Oinarea (where wine flows). The Museo Archeologico Nazionaleand the Museo “Claudio Faina” are there for this purpose, in piazza Duomo itself. Just outside Orvieto, on the other hand, the Necropoli di Crocefisso del Tufo was the city’s cemetery from VI to III centuries before Christ. What is striking is the precise order in which the tombs were aligned, an obvious sign of a sort of urban development plan (!) that established the general plan of the site, as well as the architraves of the entrances to the tombs themselves that “announce” the name of the dead (the wording of the inscription is in fact “I am from…”).