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Orvieto (Southern Umbria)

with new 2005 photos



Below: The bell of the deserted convent  with a panoramic view of Orvieto (2005, and it's for sale!)

 Orvieto 2005:  Orvieto sits on a great tufa (volcanic rock)  plug, with the famous Duomo facade (now restored and unscaffolded) on the right.

 Orvieto 2004:  The scaffolding is slowly coming down on the restored cathedral facade

Back in 1263, a Bohemian priest called Peter of Prague, feeling burdened with doubts about the true nature of Christ, was celebrating Mass in the crypt of Santa Cristina in Bolsena, when he noticed blood dipping from the Host onto the Corporal (the eucharistic altar cloth).  The miraculously blood stained cloth was brought to Pope Urban III in nearby Orvieto, and he established the annual Feast of Corpus Domini to commemorate the miracle.  This is still celebrated in Orvieto with a big medieval procession in June each year.


It was also decided that the bloodied Corporal needed a suitably extravagant resting place - to wit a large new cathedral.  On 13 November 1290 Pope Nicholas IV laid the foundation stone, and three centuries later the job was finished.



More recently, an Australian called Gregory of Alfaimmobiliare has established an Alfaimmobiliare office just round the corner from the Duomo, as a branch of his already successful businesses in Chianti and Tuscany

Palazzo dell'Opera del Duomo


The Church of Saint Andrew, whose origins stretch back to the 500s with a couple of rebuilds (and the addition of a dodecagonal campanile).  The church adjoins the Palazzo Comunale and fronts the undistinguished Piazza della Repubblica.  Undistinguished in looks but not in history. 


This was the forum of the ancient Etruscan and Roman towns, and the piazza and church were the meeting centre of the City Republic of Orvieto.  Popes were frequent residents in their Orvieto palaces (often because it was a safer place to be than Rome), and it was here that the powerful medieval Pope Innocent III (on the right) proclaimed the 4th Crusade which ended up sacking Constantinople in 1203 (not what he intended).  



The Palazzo del Popolo - originally built around 1157 as a palace for Pope Hadrian IV, later the residence of il Capitano del Popolo, and now restored as a conference centre.


Link to fresco of Innocent III



The 42M Torre del Moro or del Saracino (Moor or Saracen) used to be called the Pope's Tower until the 1600s, when a Saracen head targe (target) was hung outside to give knights tilting practice (even though the crusades had ended over 400 years earlier).  The bell was cast in 1316 and bears the coats of arms of  the 24 Guilds who paid for it.


The Torre di Maurizio - the bell and bell ringer (who is actually nearly 1.7M tall) were cast in 1351 and have been striking the hours ever since.


The Medici Pope Clemente VII fled to Orvieto after Rome was brutally sacked by the troop rabble of the Emperor Charles V in 1527.  To secure the city's water needs in times of siege, Clement ordered the building of two wells.  The better known one (called the Pozzo di San Patrizio because of some obscure resemblance to an Irish cave) is a huge construction 62M deep (well under the base of the tufa) and 13.4M in diameter.  The water is accessed via two spiral staircases, built one over the other so that those going down did not get in the way of those coming up.  It is not surprising that the whole thing took over a decade to complete!


The smaller but still impressive "Well of the Quarry" only took a couple of years to do as its 36M shaft was entirely cut though tufa and there was no elaborate stair access.



In fact the tufa plug on which Orvieto stands is honeycombed with man made caves and passages, mostly dating from the middle ages but a few going back to Etruscan times.   Some very large caves were left behind as a result of mining and brick cutting activities, and later put to use as production areas.  Other cavities were cut out of the tufa for storage or defensive purposes. 


Which brings us to the mystery photo above.  What you are looking at is part of the larder of a besieged city - namely thousands of pigeon roosts which were cut in any place with access to the outside (pigeon) world!  "Pretty neat" as one American tourist was heard to say, in admiration of the way the pigeons had laid out their pads in such an ordered way ......


Right:  There are plenty of wild cinghiale in the Umbrian woods.  Cinghiale shooting is one of the great winter weekend social events (for the boys) in much of central Italy, and it's not unusual for the larger groups of shooters, equipped with radios, dogs and high powered  rifles, to measure their annual kill in hundreds.


Below:  In the central area of the city there are several chocolate shops, where life is always fun (in contrast to life in the duomo)!


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