Orvieto is an easy day trip from Rome. You can easily arrive there by train or by car. Since my boyfriend is studying in Rome this summer, we were lucky enough to travel there by air conditioned coach via a trip through his school. I have visited Orvieto once before, in the summer of 2012. Three years later, the town looks exactly the same, frozen in time. The main tourist attractions in Orvieto are the cathedral, the underground caves, and the laid back ambience which encourages one to wander through the pedestrian only alleys throughout the town shopping and sampling local wine and prosciutto.
Upon arriving, Joey and I enjoyed cappuccinos and pastries from Caffe del Corso, on one of the main streets in the town. I would highly recommend a stop at the cafe on your way into town from the bus stop, funicular, or train station. The pastries and cappuccinos were top notch and fueled us up for a guided visit to the cathedral. Our tour guide began by explaining the meaning of the engravings on the front of the church, dating from the 15th century. These engravings can be read like a book, and served as a sort of public advertisement to illiterate citizens in the area. The first panel describes the Creation and stories from Genesis. Various saints and holy persons are depicted in the middle, and the last panel depicts the scene of the judgement and condemnation to hell or ascension into heaven. The appearance of the church is unique in Italy as it was inspired by the Spanish style of the time. Stripes of black and white are created by mixing two different types of stones and tiled spirals provide color and decorate the front of the Cathedral.
After admiring the incredible entrance to the cathedral and the Bible stories depicted across the front, our group entered the cathedral where our guide continued to explain the unique features, including the stained glass windows and panels which allowed light through but were not made of glass, but rather a stone called alabaster. The main part of the church interior was not all that impressive, but the two side chapels were the main highlight of artistic achievement. Lots of color and details created a display which commanded the attention of visitors. The chapel to the right includes a series of images which depict the end of the world and what will happen to those who sin and do not follow God. The depictions of Satan and the demons are all terrifying and sinister. The message of repentance and turning to God was very effectively conveyed by the 15th century artist Luca Signorelli.
After adequate time at the Cathedral, our group moved next to the nearby Underground Orvieto. Orvieto is located high up on a plateau, which allowed for excellent defense of the city during Medieval times. However, because it was on high ground, people still needed access to fresh water. So, they dug down, creating deep wells and caverns to store food. They also created an interesting system of acquiring fresh meat. This is how it worked: they dug out huge cavernous rooms with nests for pigeons. The pigeons could fly out, eat and drink, then return to the nest. When back in the nest, the people of Orvieto could kill off a pigeon a day without any of the other hundreds in the nest noticing (so they say). Pigeons must be dumb. And in this way, it was not necessary to leave the hilltop to go hunting for fresh meat, especially during conflicts with neighboring towns. There are more than 1,000 different caves which have been discovered under Orvieto, only a few are open to the public. Some families still use the caves underneath their homes to store wine at the perfect temperature, as it is much cooler in the caves than it is above ground.
When I visited in 2012, I saw the cathedral and the caves and then we moved on to the next town. This time, we were in Orvieto for the day so our guide showed us the other two main town squares, both of which featured an administrative government building next to a church. She explained that this was always how it was in the towns of Umbria, churches and government buildings were always put side by side to form the nucleus of the town. After a quick peek into one of the old churches built in the 1300’s, we made our way to Maurizio Restaurant for what was to be one of the longest and most elaborate meals I have ever eaten in Italy. The food and drinks just kept coming for more than 2 hours!
The meal began with an appetizer of meats and bruschetta and fried anchovies. White wine from the region was presented right from the start along with water. Next came a truffle pasta dish, which was decent but could have used some more truffle sauce. We could smell the truffle sauce, but there was too much noodles and not enough sauce. Next came another pasta! I almost couldn’t believe we were being served two pastas. This pasta was a sort of linguine with a simple tomato sauce. After a second pasta dish, Joey, Amelia, and I looked at each other across the table and decided that surely dessert was coming next. But we were wrong. Next, we were served a variety of roasted meats and potatoes. And after that came a dessert sampler including a small slice of pie and a small slice of cake. I didn’t think I would be able to walk away from the table after 5 courses and lots of wine.
Thank goodness we were served espresso at the end of the meal, otherwise I may have just fallen asleep after being at the table for 2 hours and eating for most of that time. After the meal, we had a little over an hour of free time to explore Orvieto. I was interested in hiking to the top of the Torro del Moro (of course), which may not have been the best idea following a huge meal. But up we went, to the top of an ancient tower in existence since the 14th century. Although it may not have been best to climb around 20 stories of stairs after a huge meal, the views from the top were worth the heart pumping cardio from climbing. We had a birdseye view over the whole town, including the Cathedral, and in every direction of the Umbrian countryside below. Even though the tower is not nearly as famous as the Cathedral or the Underground, I would advise you not to miss it when visiting Orvieto.
After the tower, the only thing left to do was go shopping for typical regional products. We stopped into several stores and I got: 3 bottles of wine from the local region, 1 packet of truffle pasta, 2 jars of truffle sauce, and 1 bottle of lavender lotion. I considered shopping to be a success, and it was an even greater success that we made it to the bus 2 minutes before it began to pour down rain. The rain had been imminent all day, and it even showered during lunch, but luckily the deluge waited until we were safely on the bus to begin. Our day trip to Orvieto was educational, relaxing, and beautiful. I would highly recommend a day trip to Orvieto to travelers looking for a taste of the countryside outside of Rome.