Orvieto, Italy Walking Tour - With Captions!
Ciao, and welcome to Orvieto, Italy. This walk begins along the outer city wall, just above main city gate, called Porta Maggiore. Orvieto is located in the region of Umbria, high up on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic rock known as tuff. Before walking into the town center, we will first walk along the western wall and visit an 11th-century church. The ancient Etruscan people first inhabited this area in the 9th-century BC.
The Etruscan name for the town was Velzna (Volsinii in Latin). At the base of the cliff along the northern side of Orvieto are the remains of an Etruscan cemetery known as the Necropolis of the Crocifisso del Tufo. The Etruscans were the first to create a major civilization in this region, complete with transport infrastructure to implement agriculture and mining. The Etruscan civilization grew and reached its peak around the 6th-century BC. As Rome grew and began their territorial expansion, the Etruscan civilization eventually assimilated into Roman society.
Finally, in 27 BC, the Etruscans' territory was incorporated into the newly established Roman Empire. This church was originally built in the 1004 AD, possibly on the site of an Etruscan temple dedicated to Jupiter. The frescoes inside date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. This first church at this location was built around the 6th century. The church is dedicated to San Giovenale, the first Bishop of Narni, a town located about 40 miles (63Km) to the south. Saint Juvenal of Narni lived in the 4th-century in the Umbria region of italy.
An inscription on the high altar of the church states that by 1170, the church belonged to the order of monks known as Ordine Guglielmino (Hermits of St. William). This area below the church was their garden which supplied the convent with fruits and vegetables. This area was used as a garden by the locals for centuries but it grew over and was abandoned. Starting in 2015, several organizations came together to restore this area back into a garden that can be enjoyed by the public. In 1248, San Giovenale became a parish church and was administered by a small community of canons. Now we will walk towards the Piazza della Republica at the historic center of town.
This is the oldest area of the city known as the Medieval Quarter. In 265BC, after two long years, the Romans finally defeated the Etruscans and conquered Orvieto. The Etruscans had dug several caves and wells which allowed them to defend Orvieto for a long time. If you have the opportunity to drive around the country side here, you will see caves and ancient Etruscan ruins all over the place.
The Romans destroyed most of what the Etruscans had built and forced them out of the city and into Novi Velzna (known today as Bolsena). This palace, now a private residence, was built by Cardinal Girolamo Simoncelli in 1548. It was later passed on to Caravajal dei Caravjal-Simoncelli, the Bishop of Sovana, at which point it took on its new name. When Orvieto finally became a Roman city, it was used to supply produce, wine and other goods to Rome. After the fall of Rome, the city was held by the Goths and by the Lombards before its self-governing commune was established in the 10th century.
We are now looking down towards Via Cava, the main street that passes through the Porta Maggiore, where the walk started. Several popes eventually took refuge here and by the 13th-century, there were three papal palaces. It was during the 13th century that Orvieto's most famous monument, the Duomo, was built, although it took some 300 years to complete. Via Cava Between the 11th and 14th centuries, Orivieto increased in status and became one of the most powerful Italian cities.
During that time, the city was called Urbs Vetus, meaning "old town" which is where the name Orvieto comes from. By 1348, the period of wealth and prosperity was over due to a plague and the constant fighting among the great noble families. The city fell under the control of the Papal States, officially the State of the Church, from that point on up until the Unification of Italy in 1860. This was the site of the original Etruscan forum and the center of civic life. Across the piazza is the Collegiate Church of Saints Andrew and Bartholomew, better known as the Church of Sant'Andrea, built in the 11th century. To the right is the Palazzo Comunale, the local town hall, built in the early 1200s.
One of the most distinctive features of the church is its 12-sided bell tower. Originally built in 1013, the church has seen many renovations over the centuries. Below the church in the basement are the remains of ancient Etruscan and Roman buildings as well as a previously built Christian church. Below the entire city is a complex maze of tunnels that were once much of a part of the life of people who lived here. Visitors can explore the tunnels, which pass through the basement of this church, by taking the Orvieto Underground Tour. The church collapsed in 1512 and had to be largely rebuilt.
The bell tower partially collapsed in 1514. Now we will walk over to the Porta Romana along the southern wall of the city. There was originally only one entrance to the city, the Porta Maggiore where this walk started. The road into the city, Via Cava, was cut out through the tufa. The medieval city of Orvieto had 5 gates: Porta Maggiore, Porta Santa Maria, Porta Soliana, Porta Vivaria and the Porta Pertusa. The gate we are about to see, the Porta Romana, replaced the Porta Pertusa in 1882 when a new road was built to access the city.
On top of the gate stand two stone statues representing the municipal coat of arms of the city, the imperial eagle and the goose. This gate is now the main entrance to the city while the Porta Maggiore is now only used to exit the city. Down below this wall is a parking garage. These is also an escalator and elevator which take visitors into the city. Straight ahead is the Church of St. John the Baptist, built in 1697. Like most other churches, it was built on the site of a previous church which was built on the site of an Etruscan temple, this one being dedicated to Tinia (Zeus, Jove). The previous church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1687.
We are now looking down towards the Porta Maggiore where the walk began. So far we have made a small circle around the historic center of town. Most tourists who visit Orvieto arrive at the new part of town just below the ancient city on the hilltop. The A1 Autustrada passes right through the new part of town, as does the train. Visitors can park in a free parking lot below near the train station and take the Funicolare up into the old city. This was the main gate into the city going back to the time of the Etruscans.
That little vehicle is called a Piaggo Ape. Ape translates to Bee in English. This gate was often used by the Popes entering the city. Via Cava This road, which turns into Corso Cavour, runs all the way through the city. Orvieto is divided up into four districts: Corsica, Serancia, Olmo and Santa Maria della Stella.
We are currently in the Olma district, which is designated as the 'Ancient City.' This entire area was once a quarry in ancient times. I will now take you on a tour of Pozzo della Cava, the "Well and the Caves." Right here at the entrance is the top of an ancient well that extends 36 meters (118ft) down into the tuff rock.
Also inside this ancient cave are the remains of a medieval kiln used to make pottery, tiles and bricks. This ancient well was only rediscovered in 1984 after a series of renovations. The well head you saw at the entrance is a reproduction installed in 2004. The well shaft has two parts, one that was a small hole bored out by the Etruscans around the 6th or 5th centuries BC.
In 1527, Pope Clemente VII, who had fled from Rome, commissioned the construction of two public cisterns. He had this ancient Etruscan well enlarged so the city would have access to water in case the city was attacked. The well remained open until 1646 when the local authorities had it closed to the public, possibly to block any possible entrance to the city if attacked. When the well was rediscovered in 1984, after three centuries of being closed off, only the top 10 inches (24cm) of the well remained open.
The well was full of dirt and debris and had in the past become known as a place to "cover up crimes." Wine cellar The medieval houses that were built here each had three basement levels carved out called "sottocantina" or lower-cellars. The ground-floor cellar (cellaio) was used for slaughtering livestock, as larders for cereals or hanging salamis or for crushing grapes. The floor below was used to store oil, conserve fruit and vegetables as well as being the place where the second phase of fermentation took place. Finally, the aging of the wine took place in the lowest cellar called the sottocantina. These last two caves were only discovered in 2002.
The purpose of the caves has changed throughout the centuries, so it is unknown what they were originally used for. This last cave is the oldest and largest on the site.. After the well was dug out, water was again found at the bottom of the well and it still remains a source of fresh water. The other well that Pope Clemente VII had dug out was the Pozzo di St. Patrizio or St. Patrick's Well. The tour of St. Patrick's Well begins at time 1:39:42.
I had talked with that old man for a while before I started filming and had a coffee with him. :) We will now walk back through the Piazza della Repubblica and on to the Duomo of Orvieto. The first time I visited Orvieto was back in November, 2018 with my family.
We stayed at an Airbnb outside of town that had a nice view of the old city at night. The BnB was on a farm with many animals which my kids enjoyed. During that trip we also went to Assisi for the first time. As we pass through the Piazza you will see a tall tower down the street called the Moro Tower.
The Moro Tower is strategically placed at the intersection of the four districts of Orvieto. The tall clock tower was built in the 13th century and was originally part of a tower house that belonged to the Della Terza family. At the base of the tower is an L-shaped palace built in the 14th century called the Palace of the Seven. The Palace of the Seven housed the seven magistrates who represented the seven most important guilds. The tower is made of tufa stone and stands 50 meters high. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the tower for the best view of the city.
Via del Duomo To the right is the Serancia district while on the left is district of Santa Maria della Stella. We are now walking towards the Duomo, the symbol of the city. There is a street performer up ahead playing one of my favorite songs, Society by Eddie Vedder. Even though it is a cover of the original, Youtube counted it as copyrighted music and so I had to remove it. After walking around this ancient city, at first glance, the Duomo up ahead almost seems out of place. Construction on the cathedral began in 1290 and was completed in 1591.
Over the centuries, more than 20 different artists worked on the façade of the church. The official name of the church is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. It is considered to be one of the most cherished masterpieces of Italian medieval architecture. At the center of the façade is the Rose Window, which is in the shape of a 22-sided polygon.
A 22-sided polygon, or icosikaidigon, is unique in that it cannot be constructed using only a compass and a straightedge. The large bronze door was installed in 1970, replacing the original wooden door. The reliefs on the façade depict Biblical stories from both the Old and New Testaments. The alternating layers of black and white are local white travertine and blue-grey basalt stone. Straight ahead is a large marble baptismal font with lions and elaborate frieze reliefs.
At the far end is the apse with a large stained-glass quadrifore window that was made between 1328 and 1334. Located at the base of each column are statues of the 12 apostles. We are now entering the Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio (Saint Britius). The painting of the vault began in 1447 but after two sections were painted, worked stopped for 50 years before being finished by Luca Signorelli. The church board enjoyed his work so much they asked him to paint the rest of the walls in the chapel. The Pietà. The face of Christ is the image of Signorelli's son Antonio.
The painting on the right is The Elect in Paradise. At the time of the its construction, there were two other large cathedrals like this in Italy, one in Florence and another in Siena. The original master plans for the church are still in tact and kept here in Orvieto. Orvieto was such a small town at the time of the cathedral's construction that the city had to bring in artisans from Siena to work on the Duomo.
Across the piazza from the cathedral is the Palazzo dell'Opera, a grand building built in 1359 to house the cathedral's administrative offices. From this terrace you can see St. Patrick's Well at the edge of the cliff, but it is currently wrapped in scaffolding for restoration. The well is 175 ft (53 m) deep and has a diameter of 43ft (13 m).
As mentioned earlier, Pope Clement VII took refuge in Orvieto during the sack of Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1527. Pope Clement VII was the ruler of the Papal States from 1523 to his death in 1534. It was during this time that Martin Luther was leading the reformation in Northern Europe. There was a great power struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France, and they both wanted the Pope to choose a side. At the same time, England broke apart from the Catholic Church due to a King Henry VIII's contentious divorce. Charles V then attacked Rome in 1527 and placed the Pope in prison, inside Castel Sant'Angelo for six months.
Pope Clement was able to pay off some imperial officers and escape, disguised as a peddler, taking refuge here in Orvieto. During his six months in prison he was able to grow a full beard which goes against Catholic canon law, but it helped with his disguise. Fearing Orvieto's current water supply would not be sufficient in the event of a siege, Pope Clement VII ordered two wells to be dug. Pope Clement VII did not stay in Orvieto long and by 1528, he was back in Rome.
Just days before his death in 1533, Pope Clement VII ordered Michelangelo to paint The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. In the gardens up the steps to the left are the remains of an Etruscan temple. The well took ten years to complete. Two separate sets of spiraling steps were built so those going down to the bottom with their mules would not meet those who were on their way up.
Each staircase has 248 steps. There are 72 windows which help to provide light all the way down to the bottom. The water in the well comes from a natural spring and has remained constant since its construction. The well reminded people of an underground cave in Ireland where St. Patrick once enjoyed time in prayer. The Pope decided to name the well after the saint because it reminded him of the cave in Ireland.