Located in the region of south-western Umbria, in the central part of Italy, is the town of Orvieto. Situated on the top of a large, isolated hilltop made out of volcanic rock, Orvieto commands one of the most stunning and dramatic settings of any town or city in Europe. The almost vertical cliff faces rise up to the top of the butte, where the ruins of the Etruscan walls are made of the same volcanic material. The town itself is a great place to take a family during your stay at a nearby Chianti villa. Rental cars are available to take you up the steeply winding road into the town, which is one of the most majestic parts of the visit to Orvieto. Once you are inside the town, be sure to visit the Cathedral of Orvieto, the Papal Residency, and the mysterious Underground City.
Cathedral of Orvieto The Cathedral of Orvieto commands a domineering position at the south-central part of the town, and will be one of the first things you notice when you begin your day trip from your nearby Chianti villa rental. The cathedral was built in the 14th century, by Pope Urban IV, and has an impressive gothic façade that is one of the architectural masterpieces of the later Middle Ages. Everyone in the family will love to see the golden front of the cathedral, with large bas-reliefs and sculptured panels. Inside, the intricate frescos and golden mosaics are well-preserved and date from the 14th and 15th centuries.
The Papal Residency Once you have cooled down in the interior of the Cathedral of Orvieto, and before you return to your Chianti villa rental for a swim and an aperitivo, wander over to the nearby papal residency, which is one of the most extensive 13th century papal palaces that has survived the test of time. Though the town was mentioned in writings dating back to around 600 AD, it didn’t have the extended presence of the papacy until 1155 AD, when Pope Adrian IV spent a fair amount of time in Orvieto. Over the years the town and papal residency were fortified, and during the sacking of Rome (1527) the Pozzo di S. Patrizio (Well of St. Patrick) was built to provide water in case of a disaster. The well itself is a 53 metre deep cylinder with windows along the central shaft for ventilation, and is comprised of two spiral ramps so that mules could carry water up and down with no obstructions. This alone is sure to spark everyone’s imagination.
The Underground City If the heat from the sun is getting hard to handle, and you aren’t ready to go back to your Chianti villa rental to cool down, head underground instead. The butte on which Orvieto sits is just the upper level – below ground there is a labyrinthine collection of over 1,200 tunnels, galleries, cisterns, and wells. It is, effectively, another city entirely. Almost 3000 years of history are documented in these man-made caves, many of which are connected to the palaces and large houses in the town, and were built as a means of escape should the town ever be attacked. Today, you can book tours and be taken deep underground, into the literal underbelly of Orvieto.
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Where to stay in Orvieto
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