Orvieto is located in central Italy, in the region of Umbria, also known as “the green heart of Italy”, near Tuscany and Lazio. George Dennis, a 19th century traveller and fan of Etruscan sites, wrote: “Who would try to describe what Turner made so familiar?” referring to that View of Orvieto painted by one of the most famous English artists.
Whether you come to Orvieto from the north or the south, the view you enjoy is always amazing: a town sitting atop a tufaceous cliff. This town (20,000 population) is ideal for studying the language due to its size, as is confirmed by the students who had already attended an Italian language course in larger cities. There is no frenzy or chaos of large cities and on the streets the language that is heard is Italian. Life in Orvieto has a human approach. It is easy to have contact with the locals – chatting over a cappuccino with the barman, or with the local grocer.
Walking through Orvieto, you will encounter traces of three thousand years of history, one layer on top of the other.
The first settlements date back to the Iron Age. Later the Etruscans were fascinated by the site and settled there, transforming it into a city, “Velzna”, which developed between the 7th and the 3rd century B.C.. Velzna was a very important city in the Etruscan kingdom and experienced a period of splendour until its invasion and destruction by the Romans in 264 B.C. The inhabitants were moved to Volsinii Novi , now known as Bolsena.
Not only the necropolises and temple ruins testify Orvieto’s Etruscan roots. A subterranean world replete with wells, caves and tunnels (over 1,300 of them have been uncovered to date) invites gives us a completely different approach to Orvieto’s history.
Some of these mysterious subterranean sites, such as the oldest part of the Pozzo della Cava (Quarry Well), were created by the Etruscans.
The historical centre is home to a number of churches from various eras, and the narrow alleys enchant those who take the time to discover them. The Duomo (1290 – 1590), with its wonderful façade and the frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Fra’ Angelico, recently restored, in the Cappella di San Brizio (San Brizio Chapel), is undoubtedly the most famous and spectacular building in the town.
At the end of the 13th century, the period of greatest economic power and political stability of Orvieto, not only the Duomo but also numerous other representative buildings, such as the Palazzo del Popolo (People’s Palace) and the Torre del Moro (Moro’s Tower), were erected. The 47 -metre -high Torre, symbol of power, can be visited: from the top of it you will enjoy a magnificent view and discover a great deal of green areas within the historical district. Most of them are private gardens belonging to elegant Palazzi.
There is a real jewel hidden underground in an outlying area of the historical district: the well, known as Pozzo di San Patrizio (St. Patrick’s Well), featuring two spiral staircases designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.
The link between Orvieto and its wine is very old and dates back to the Etruscan period, when the inhabitants of the town called it Oinarea , a Greek name meaning “the town where wine flows”. Evidence of this can be found everywhere – suffice it to mention the reliefs on the façade of the Duomo featuring grapevines, a very common motif used also in many other decorations all over the town. It is said that painter Luca Signorelli, who finished the frescoes begun by Fra’ Angelico in the Cappella di San Brizio, stipulated a contract that included 1,000 litres of wine per year for himself and his collaborators.
Culture, events and more
In every period of the year Orvieto offers various cultural events, folk celebrations and domestic and international festivals, of which the most famous is certainly “Umbria Jazz Winter” taking place in the New Year’s Day period (until the first days of January) and including performances by outstanding international artists. During this festival a huge number of jazz fans and tourists, fascinated by the atmosphere of Orvieto, crowd the town. You cannot miss the traditional Gospel concert in the Duomo (1st of January).
The town hosts numerous folklore events like the Palio dell’Oca in Spring, which consists in a medieval game of skill on horseback, and religious celebrations like the Corpus Domini procession,with its parade of people wearing historical costumes, flag flyers and medieval dances in the streets and men, women and children representing the most important inhabitants of Orvieto in the Middle Ages. Worth mentioning is also the Feast of the Assumption, a procession taking place on the 14th of August.
In the magnificent Teatro Mancinelli , the theatre season runs from October to March. Furthermore, Orvieto hosts numerous classical concerts, such as the sacred -music concert broadcast by Eurovision at Easter.
The town’s interest for culture is hown also by the international workshops organized with foreign cultural associations. The artists taking part in Orvieto Musica , for example, give you the possibility in summer to enjoy classical concerts performed in wonderful suggestive scenarios.
For movie buffs Orvieto offers two cinemas, but the best movie event is in summer, when the large courtyard of the high school is turned into an outdoor cinema in July and August. Behind the screen you can catch a glimpse of the Duomo façade…
Sports enthusiasts can take part in the “Gran Fondo degli Etruschi“, a mountain-bike race organised in June. For those whose favourite “sport” is going from one restaurant to the other looking for the most extravagant dishes, there is the “Slow Food” Festival in mid October. Orvieto was chosen by the “Arcigola” association as one of the cities suitable for hosting this event thanks to its slow rhythm of life and to its delightful atmosphere – a perfect setting for a festival aimed at reviving age-old dishes and the pleasure of savouring them slowly.
These are only some of the any festivals and events that Orvieto and its environs offer. Click here for more information.
…for having fun…
• Outdoor Cinemas
• Piano Bars
Some of the sports available are:
• Mountain biking
• Swimming pool
• Horse riding
• Volley ball
• Basket ball
• Martial arts