We were on our way to Orvieto first, because on the map it looked the furthest away on the map. My mom decided to navigate us through back roads to avoid paying the steep tolls on Italian toll roads and also so we could see some good scenery. We left around 10:30am from Cortona, and it wasn’t until a good 3 hours later that we were finally eating lunch in Orvieto. I listened to music, read, and glanced out the window as we winded along steep roads, up and down hills, through small towns, and amongst grape trees. We parked in 2 hour parking in Orvieto and made our way towards the town’s center. Along the way, we stopped at a simple café that fortunately had wifi! After snacking at the café, we continued to the Cathedral, an intricately decorated must see in Orvieto. In fact, the town seems to sprawl out from the cathedrals front steps. Colorful tiles and sculptures all along the frontal façade decorate the Cathedral, but on the inside it is not anything too elaborate, however still interesting to see.
After seeing the Cathedral, we decided that we would like to go on an Orvieto underground tour. The next tour in English started in 30 minutes, so my mom and Laura speed walked back to our car to pay the meter while I wandered about and photographed some wild cats. The Orvieto underground tour was really fascinating. Over 4,000 dug out caves have existed in Orvieto since Medieval times when the city used to be a fortress. Now, most of these caves are privately owned and are in use as wine cellars. We visited the caves that are still open to the public, to get a good idea of the underground part of the city. Old pigeon holes can still be seen dug into the walls of the caves, because a long time ago people used to eat pigeons. The caves were also used as a refuge for people seeking shelter during World War II. The caves really were used for a lot of reasons throughout the centuries and it was awesome that we got a chance to see them. We all rather enjoyed our underground tour, but as soon as it was over we walked quickly back to the car, stopping only once to get some of Orvieto’s famous white wine, and drove fast towards Assisi. We were worried that since it was getting late in the day, the church at Assisi might be closed.
The drive to Assisi took about one hour, and when we got to the cathedral, thankfully it wasn’t closed. The church at Assisi consists of two churches built one on top of the other. In the lower church, people were attending Mass, so we had to be quiet and respectful and tip toe around the church. But the main highlight of the lower chapel is that underground is the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi. You basically descend about two levels of stairs and there it is, in a small chapel of sorts, properly labeled. Of course, you may buy candles and memorabilia of the place where this famous saint finally rests. Buried around him are 4 other very prominent holy men alive during his time. Back upstairs; you have to climb a good 3 stories to make it up to the entrance to the higher church. We really got there just in time, because as we were leaving they were closing up the church. The highlight of the upper church was the paintings all over the walls which dated from like the 13th century, most of which have been carefully restored.
The church on top of a church thing was certainly unique. The town of Assisi paid due patronage to its Catholic roots; in each and every tourist shop there were religious items such as rosary beads, portraits of St. Francis, and so much more. I opted for a shot glass to add to my growing collection. It has a picture of St. Francis with the church in the background. I found it to be quite entertaining, and I almost expected it to have one of those little word bubbles; it would read, “Jesus drank wine too”, that would definitely make it a find! But it didn’t. On we walked through the maze of tourists’ shops along one of the main streets in Assisi until we reached the central square, which had another simple church and was quite quaint. Then we turned back, stopped for a snack and then got in the car to drive about an hour and a half back to Cortona. Such a long day, but we really did do and see a lot!