The town of Orvieto, in Umbria, stands on a tufa cliff. It has been called “the strange high city” and it is easy to understand why: at night it seems to be suspended in the sky, while during the day it appears to be barely leaning against the clouds.
Small, uncluttered, welcoming and a little treasure chest: Orvieto is a destination not to be missed.
Explore Orvieto: top sights
The city with its attractions can certainly be visited in one day, but if you really want to discover them, you’ll need at least two.
First in importance, the Cathedral of Orvieto, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. It is the city’s symbol par excellence and it is one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Italy and all over the world.
The construction of the building began in 1290 and it was completed in 1500, creating a marvel of Italian Gothic art. Many people and artists took part in the various stages of the design and construction of the Cathedral. Among the many personalities, Lorenzo Maitani has a special place; the sculptor and architect from Siena deserves much of the credit for the wonderful façade with the three portals: the ogival central, the side ones pointed.
The façade of the Cathedral is entirely decorated with mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Santa Maria Assunta.
The rose window, in the centre of the façade, is the work of Andrea di Cione (known as Orcagna). It consists of a double row of columns with interlaced arches with the face of Christ in the centre, surrounded by four mosaics.
The bronze sculptures decorating the façade symbolically represent the four Evangelists: the Angel is Saint Matthew, the Lion is Saint Mark, the Eagle is Saint John and the Bull is Saint Luke. These four sculptures are the work of Lorenzo Maitani. Above the main central portal is another bronze sculpture: a canopy dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The four marble bas-reliefs at the base depict stories from the Old and New Testaments and the Last Judgement.
If the exterior of the Cathedral is breathtaking, the interior is no less. The interior houses two beautiful chapels:
- The Chapel of San Brizio. The walls and vaults are frescoed by Luca Signorelli, who interprets the theme of the Last Judgement with skill and involvement. A striking alternation of apocalyptic and redemption scenes.
- The Corporal Chapel. It presents frescoes by Ugolino di Prete Ilario, based on biblical scenes and sacred representations. In this chapel the Tabernacle of the Corporal is kept and displayed, it contains the Sacred Linen stained with the blood of Jesus on the occasion of the Miracle of Bolsena.
Opening hours: November to February: 7.30am – 5pm | public holidays 2.30pm – 5pm
April to September: 7.30am – 7pm | public holidays 1pm – 7pm
March and October: 7.30am – 6pm | public holidays 13.30am – 18pm
Tickets: Cathedral + Opera del Duomo Museum € 5; free for children up to 10 years old.
St. Patrick’s Well (Orvieto)
Together with the Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Well is the symbol of Orvieto. The Well is so called because of its similarity to the cavity where the Irish saint liked to retire in prayer.
It was built in 1527 by Giuliano da Sangallo called “il Giovane”. The 62-metre deep well is entirely dug into the tuff and it reaches the water that lies beneath the cliff. The aim was to provide the city with water at any time of the year.
It is possible to visit the well inside and reach its depth by descending only 258 steps!
Opening hours: January, February, November, December: 10am – 4.45pm
March, April, September, October: 9am – 6.45pm
May, June, July, August: 9am – 7.45pm
Tickets: full price € 5, reduced € 3,50.
Opera del Duomo Museum in Orvieto
Orvieto’s Opera del Duomo Museum consists of four different exhibition spaces: the Chapel of San Brizio, the Church of Sant’Agostino, the Albèri Library and the Papal Palaces.
It is precisely the Papal Palaces that are worth a visit for their few but exceptional works collected in the “Chambers of Wonder”: a small itinerary, from the 13th century to the first half of the 17th century, in which works by great artists stand out.
Opening hours: January, February, November, December 10am – 13pm | 14pm – 17pm
March and October 10am – 5pm
April to September 9.30am – 19pm
Closed on Tuesdays
Tickets: Single entry € 4 | Cathedral + Opera del Duomo Museum € 5
The building of the Albornoz Fortress began in the 14th century, but was only finally completed in 1450 when Orvieto became subject to the papacy.
Today, not much remains of the original structure, but its interior houses the public gardens: the ideal place for a break with a view of the surrounding valley.
Underground town of Orvieto
In the tufa cliff on which the town is built there is another one, underground and hidden, brought to light only in recent years by a group of speleologists. It is a complex labyrinth consisting of more than 1200 caves, tunnels, wells and cisterns, discovered by chance.
Things to do in Orvieto
Tours to discover the village
Orvieto can undoubtedly be easily visited on foot, but in this village there are several guided tours to fully experience the spirit of the town.
- Orvieto Underground. A route through tunnels and excavations where you cross the underground part of the town through tunnels carved into the tuff. The route only takes a few hours, but it is full of emotions.
- Visit St. Patrick’s Well. It is impossible not to visit one of the symbols of Orvieto, which have made it famous throughout the world. Experience the thrill of descending to a depth of 54 metres!
- Visit an Etruscan necropolis. If you like ancient city histories, there is an Etruscan necropolis not far from the city centre. You can visit it for €3.
Taste the local cuisine
You can’t really get to know a city if you don’t taste its typical dishes. In Orvieto, the characteristic dishes are undoubtedly those of the mountains: starting with the classic platters of cold meats and local cheeses, but also meals made from local products such as wild boar, hare and venison.
Moreover, Umbria is one of the places where the most truffles are found in the world.
TravelingItaly recommends you the 5 best restaurants where to taste the typical cuisine:
- Seven Restaurant Cafè.
- Antica Fiaschetteria Orvietana.
- Bartolomei Oleoteca.
- Capitano del Popolo.
- Trattoria del Moro Aronne.
What to see nearby
- Torre Alfina (26 minutes by car)
Torre Alfina, in the province of Viterbo, is included in the association of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy” of the Italian Touring Club. Visiting this village means immersing yourself in a completely medieval atmosphere.
- Allerona (25 minutes by car)
Allerona is a small medieval village, included in the Italian Touring Club’s association of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy”. As well as being full of culture, the area in which the village is located lends itself to excursions along mountain paths and unspoilt forests.
- Tevere River Park (57 minutes by car)
The Tevere River Park is a protected natural area established in 1990 and it is managed by the WWF. The park includes, in addition to the river, significant territories for environmental characteristics and for cultural, archaeological and monumental evidence.
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