After the Masters of Contemporary Art exhibition finished in Florence the next leg of our Italian visit was to stay with friends in Anzio – a Roman ‘suburb’ (of which there will be a post later), and on the way, after escaping the crazy Florencian traffic we stopped at the hilltop walled city of Orvieto.
Such a beautiful town, but so cold!! We were in Italy during the winter, however it was ‘unseasonably’ warm (global warming) but there was ice on the roads and footpaths up here… it was really chilly!
The big feature of Orvieto – apart from the church – was the well! Called the Well of the Cave, it was built in 1527, after the sacking of Rome when Pope Clement VII took refuge in Orvieto. To provide water to the town in case of siege or conflict, the well was built, based on a plan of Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane. Also called the St. Patrick well, it was completed in 1537, is 62 metres deep and, its unique feature is double-spiralled stairwells in a helix formation planned for easier transportation of water… ie – donkeys can walk down one way and then walk up the other way without turning around. ( It is extremely difficult to photograph)
We walked down this well and it was amazing in that you could not actually see the double helix… it was also scary – the drop to the bottom was mind boggling, and I couldn’t help wondering how many
people peasants had indeed fallen over the previous centuries. While we were walking the well there was couple with a young child also walking through, and at one point the child was looking over the edge with no supervision, and I had to physically stop myself from grabbing the child and making a spectacle of myself!
The well was at the base of the city, and the walk up further through the town was magical, of course… gorgeous buildings and street and shops. Once we reached the top of the town was the view, but also the church. Although I had been in many churches already (or so I thought – I had only been in Florence so far) I did want to look in this one also – I was always amazed at the masterpieces – Michelangelo’s, Raphael’s, etc that were just hanging on the walls! However, I was amazed to find that there was an entry fee… this had also occurred in Pisa, and I am amazed (and somewhat offended as a former Catholic) that entry is charged for churches. Entering a church is supposed to be ‘free’ and open to anyone at any time! So… on principle I did not go in
However, the view from outside the church was amazing… the gothic detail, enhanced by the late afternoon shadows and the Renaissance mural painting is amazing! A MUST see…
But the view from outside was just as grand… it was difficult to photograph due to the late afternoon shadows… but the architecture was – of course – breathtaking.
Once at the top of town we walked to a look out area that presented grandeous views of the landscape below… and to our amazement were bombarded by a community of cats – probably about ten in all!
Of course, on the way back down from the town to the ‘carpark’ we stopped at a groovy bar and had a wine, but we also stopped at a quaint olive oil/condiments/wine/etc shop, and purchased some yum wine and olive oil…which now that we are back home we are using in our cooking.
Populated since Etruscan times Orvieto was annexed by Rome in the third century BC. After the collapse of the Roman Empire the walled hilltop town gained new importance: and the city was held by Goths and by Lombards before its self-governing commune was established in the tenth century, in which consuls governed under a feudal oath of fealty to the bishop. Like all Italian towns, Orvieto’s relationship to the papacy was a close one; in the tenth century Pope Benedict VII visited the city of Orvieto with his nephew, Filippo Alberici, who later settled there and became Consul of the city-state in 1016.
Orvieto, sitting on its impregnable rock controlling the road between Florence and Rome where it crossed the Chiana, was a large town: its population numbered about 30,000 at the end of the 13th century. Its municipal institutions already recognized in a papal bull of 1157, from 1201 Orvieto governed itself through a podestà, who was as often as not the bishop, however, acting in concert with a military governor, the “captain of the people”. In the 13th century bitter feuds divided the city, which was at the apogée of its wealth but found itself often at odds with the papacy, even under interdict. Pope Urban IV stayed at Orvieto in 1262-1264.