The town of Orvieto in southern Umbria is perched high on top of the plug of an ancient volcano. The volcano has long since disappeared but the plug, comprising a soft porous rock known as tufa remains. The Etruscans recognised the site as a highly defensible position and built a city there.
The most impressive building in Orvieto is the Duomo, a cathedral to rival those of many larger cities. The facade is carved with scenes from the bible and topped with relatively modern gold mosaics that catch the sunlight in a most impressive manner.
Inside, Luca Signorelli’s greatest fresco cycle is painted on the wall of the right chapel of the transept, the Cappella di San Brizio. The frescoes were painted around the turn of the 1500’s when predictions of impending apocalypse were rife, they show scenes from the Book of Revelations and demonstrate Luca Signorelli’s mastery of the the nude human body. These frescoes were what really sparked my interest in Renaissance art and I recommend anyone to go and see them.
After the sack of Rome by German troops in the 1520’s, the pope decided to create a bolthole in Orvieto and ordered the construction of a huge well, the Pozzo di San Patrizio. The design is such that two wide spiral staircases sit on top of each other with a connecting bridge at the bottom, the idea being that pack animals could go down and back up in a one way system, ensuring a steady supply of water. The well was never used, but the exorbitant entrance fee ensures that modern day Orvieto gets a steady supply of revenue, if not water, from this papal white elephant.
There are great views from the walls of Orvieto (in reality, the walls are a few blocks of tufa placed on top of an already sheer tufa cliff). Another great viewpoint is from the Torre del Moro, as with the well, there are a lot of steps.
Orvieto can be easily reached from our villas on the Tuscany Umbria border, The average time is about an hour and a half by car or an hour by train from Terontola di Cortona station. If you get the train, use the funicular railway from the station up to the town, from there the same ticket allows you to catch a bus to the Duomo.