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Postcard From Orvieto

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Hi from Orvieto! I’m here for two days exploring this unique and historic Umbrian hill town. To say it was built on a hill doesn’t do it justice. Orvieto sits atop a bluff 1000 feet above the valley floor on a cushion of volcanic tuffa. It was an Etruscan center, prosperous some three thousand years ago. When traveling in Italy, it’s difficult to get away from the fact that you are treading on some seriously old dirt!

The evidence is all around…and below. Because the tuffa is porous, water seeps through, settling on the layer of sand and silt deep, deep, deep down below the city base. The Etruscans were an industrious lot, they needed water, so they designed and dug some forty wells and a virtual city of caves beneath the town streets and buildings. The caves provided security, storage space, an endless supply of porous material to turn into cement and brick for construction above. They even raised pigeons and crushed olives for oil, as explained by my tour guide. The best perk is that the caves hold a constant cool temperature – the perfect wine cellar. The underground tour is well worth doing, by the way. You can buy a combo ticket at the cafe at the train station or at the main tourist information office on Piazza Duomo.

People come to Orvieto for the geography, the wine, the pottery and ceramics, but mostly for the Duomo. The grand cathedral is a mighty presence with its zebra stripes of marble and Signorelli’s masterpiece, the depiction of the Apocalypse in the Chapel of San Brizilo inside. The frescoes are dynamic, packed with figures, woven in a myriad of gestures and richly colored. It looks like all his models worked out at Golds Gym. Makes sense to know that Michelangelo studied these works, inspired by this elder master painter.

I highly recommend the three-mile hike along the Rupe Trail, circling the town along the tuffa. It provides an escape to nature and spectacular views to the surrounding hills and valley. You can see the villas amidst the vineyards, an enticing romantic vision. It’s on so many postcards its become a cliche. But it’s real, and so abundant to this region.

Orvieto has much to offer. The tourists here aren’t predominantly American or from other European countries. I was impressed to see that this is a place Italians young and older visit. And why wouldn’t they? It has all the traits of a perfect weekend getaway – good food, wine, history, shopping, gelati and natural history. I wish I could stay and be like the tuffa, soak it all in. But alas I am off to the next leg of the pilgrimage.

As the saying goes…wish you were here!!

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