One of the most
spectacularly sited small cities in Italy, Orvieto sits high on its 'plug' of volcanic tufa rock looking down on a river valley. The town is immersed in the gently rolling hills of Umbria, a region justly known as the green heart of Italy.
Orvieto is one
of Italy's most unique and interesting cities due to its Etruscan heritage, its charming medieval streets, the fabulously ornate Gothic cathedral - a masterpiece from the late middle ages and of course, for the excellent Orvieto Classico white wine produced from the surrounding hills. The town is steeped in history with its origins so ancient that it is uncertain exactly when the first inhabitants came to live on this high rock, riddled with caves, tunnels and wells dug from earliest times up to the 17th century.
But aside from
the historical and cultural aspects of the town, being unable to expand beyond the cliffs that constrain development, Orvieto is a charming and easy place to wander around with many picturesque small alleyways and intimate piazzas to explore. It also has more than its fair share of excellent restaurants to suit every pocket with a wealth of local Umbrian specialities on offer such as wild boar, numerous game dishes, home-made pasta with truffles, delicious local salamis and cheeses and many seasonal vegetable dishes.
The most dominant building
in the city is the awe-inspiring cathedral. It was constructed under the orders of Pope Urban IV to commemorate and provide a suitable home for the Corporal of Bolsena, a miracle which is said to have occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena, when a traveling priest who had doubts about the truth of transubstantiation found that his Host was bleeding so much that it stained the altar cloth. The cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.
The façade is a classic piece
of religious construction, containing elements of design from the 14th to the 20th century, with a large rose window, golden mosaics and three huge bronze doors, while inside resides two famously frescoed chapels decorated by some of the best Italian painters of the period with images of Judgement Day.
Orvieto also has one of
the most extensive underground tunnel systems of any city in the country, carved from the era of the Etruscan civilization that had few tools beyond their hands and bodies. The town houses one of the best-appointed national museums of Etruscan artifacts, including a tomb of original frescoes from almost three thousand years ago. The guided underground tour of the cave network is not to be missed, as in it one learns so much about this now extinct civilization, the geography and geology of the area.