"The Masterpiece of Gothic Art in Italy"
The most magnificent sight of Orvieto is of course the Dome, built in 1290 in honor of the Bolsena miracle: in 1263 a priest from Bohemia, Pietro from Praga, doubted of the real presence of Christ in the consecrated host, while celebrating Mass in the Church of Santa Cristina in Bolsena, and at that moment true blood drops fell from the host, staining the cloth on the altar piece - since Pope Urbano IV was in Orvieto at that very time, the cloth was taken to him immediately, and he recognized the miracle and established the Corpus Domini. The architect of the facade of the dome, Lorenzo Maitani, imagined it like a splendid triptych decorated in spires, mosaics, low-reliefs, in a great harmony of forms and styles which make it one of the masterpieces of Gothic art in Italy. More enchanting sights wait inside, like the stained-glass windows of the apse or the frescoes in the chapels.
Orvieto is built on a high rock, dominating the valley of the Paglia river, in a strategic position between the North and South of Italy which explains its key importance since very ancient times. It was an Etruscan city with the name of Velzna, rich for the trade with the North of Italy and powerful. The Romans, who called it Volsinii, conquered it in 264 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the darkness of the early Middle Ages, Orvieto flourished again and was a rich, free Commune up to the tragic 1348 AD, when the Black Death took a very heavy toll on the population. Soon after it was included in the State of the Church, and Cardinal Albornoz ordered the massive fortress called "Rocca" to be built. The town acquired astounding magnificence under the Gonzaga, among the most refined European courts in the Renaissance. The mansion they inhabited is accessed from the Palazzo del Capitano and the Magna Domus and comprises over 500 rooms, courtyards, gardens ans streets, as well as the church of Santa Barbara.
Among the most important places to visit are the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, housed in the three "Palazzi Papali" next to the Dome, with frescoes from the 2nd century BC and many items from pre-Christian tombs, and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, with works of the middle Ages and Renaisance, among them paintings by Simone Martini, and the Museo Emilio Greco, housed in the Palazzo Soliano, with works donated to the city by Sicilian artist Emilio Greco.
The center of the medieval city was Piazza del Popolo, with the 13th century Palazzo in dark tuff rock; a little distance away, the world-famous 16th century Pozzo di San Patrizio, whose bottom is reached by two separate flight of stairs, one to go down and the other to rise, so that the animals loaded with water containers would not meet. The Well was dug in the rock until water was found at a depth of over 200 feet between 1527 and 1537, to supply the city in case of siege, and was called Well of St. Patrick for its similarity with the cave in Ireland where the Saint used to pray.
But there is another Orvieto to be visited in the underground, since each house or shop had its "grotto" below the foundations, used in the centuries as cellars for oil, wine or cereals, or as laboratories. In Via della Cava an underground itinerary can be followed including the 2500-year-old Pozzo della Cava in use much before the Pozzo di San Patrizio, then the most ancient ceramic furnace in the world, Etruscan tombs and an Etruscan water tank to collect rainwater, a medieval cellar where the famous Orvieto wine (the wine of "popes and kings") was kept. And leaving the city, an unforgettable stop will be at the "Town of the Dead", the Etruscan cemetery on the road from Orvieto down to the railway station, where sepulchres are built in blocks of tuff rock almost like homes along the ancient streets of the cemetery.
Civitella del Tronto