Located in the Umbria region Orvieto was built on top of a volcanic tuff’s hill. Thanks to its unique location and the stunning defensive walls constructed in the same tuff‘s stone Orvieto is considered one of the most spectacular cities in Europe.
The city is also renowned for its white wine production and for its many traditional restaurants. Orvieto’s specialty dish is truffle pasta.
Orvieto was inhabited since the Etruscan time. The Romans prospered here too; thanks to its position the city was impenetrable.
When the Roman Empire collapsed in a period of great insecurity Orvieto’s defensible location gained more and more importance. After a short period under the Lombards’ domination the city became a free commune. A Podesta’ (captain of the people) ruled the town.
The city flourished and became also an important cultural center. A University was founded and Thomas Aquinas worked here until the Pope wanted him in Rome.
Slowly the city passed under the papal control even before it became one of the Papal States. During this period the Popes were moving constantly to control the papal possessions. Only two cities outside Rome had papal palaces: Orvieto and Viterbo.
Pope Adrian IV was the first one who spent long periods of time in Orvieto.
Pope Nicholas IV chose the city as seat for the Curia; for the first time in the history of the town the population decided to thank him with the title of Podesta’.
His successor, Pope Boniface VII, built Palazzo Soliano the third and final Palazzo Papale (Pope’s Palace).
At the end of the 13th century Pope Nicholas IV ordered the building of a Duomo. The church went through many renovations; the Façade was remodeled by Lorenzo Maitani and during the renaissance five bells were added.
Things to see
The Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo (Palace of the Captain of the people) was built around the 13th century. Like for the Duomo di Orvieto many renovations had interested this palace during the centuries. The Palace was enlarged and its open-air top floor was covered. A bell tower was added in 1315.
The Fortezza dell’Albornoz is a massive fortress built by order of Pope Innocent VI. It was erected where once stood the Roman temple of Augurale. The building was constructed to provide the church a safe place in case of an enemy’s attack.
When the Emperor Charles V attacked Rome in 1527 Pope Clement VII escaped in Orvieto. Scared by the possibility of a siege he ordered the building of the spectacular Well of St. Patrick. The famous architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger designed an incredible well. The double helix ramps were built for one-way traffic to avoid that the mules used to bring the water jars could be obstructed in their way back to the surface.
Orvieto can offer even more surprise to the visitors. For many years the city underground labyrinth was a secret. Over the centuries most of the aristocratic families had built tunnels and secret passages in order to be able to escape the city in case of danger. Today it is possible to visit this incredible “underground city” with a guided tour. .