Sightseeing Tours of Orvieto & Civita Bagnoregio

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Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio - houses
Civita di Bagnoregio  - Church of San Donato - InteriorCivita di Bagnoregio - Church of San DonatoCività di Bagnoregio - view

Civita di Bagnoregio is a unique small town that dangerously hangs from a tuff hill; it is located 80m miles from Rome. The village position on top of friable volcanic tuff is a continuous threat of destruction. The soil erosion is typical of this part of the Lazio region.

The city was founded 2,500 years ago by the Etruscans. In 1695 an earthquake isolated it and turned the city into an “island”.  Slowly the inhabitants started to move out. During the 20th century a quarter-mile-long bridge was built to avoid the complete abandon of this gorgeous village. The city was started to be known as “Il paese che muore” (the town that is dying).

In 2006 the town was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites.

Luckily in the last decades the city has becoming more and more popular and many buildings are being restored. The residents are only a dozen but during the summer months many tourists come to enjoy the quiet and beauty of this hidden gem.

Thanks to its isolation Civita di Bagnoregio was able to preserve its authenticity.

Things to see

To enter the city visitors must cross the long bridge and walk through a stunning Etruscan gate. It is still possible to visit some of the caves used by the Etruscan as cellars for cheese and wine.  Walking around the town, with its typical cobblestoned streets, it is possible to admire many beautiful medieval buildings, with their stunning carved lions and eagles, magnificent Renaissance doors that lead nowhere and the nice San Donato Church.

A small but gorgeous terrace is located at the end of the main street. From here you can enjoy a beautiful view over the Calanchi Valley.


Orvieto - Street view
Orvieto - TettiOrvieto - Piazza della RepubblicaOrvieto - Landscape

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. .

Pozzo di San Patrizio – Orvieto

Orvieto - Pozzo San Patrizio - view
Orvieto - Pozzo di San Patrizio - side viewOrvieto - Pozzo di San Patrizio - interiorOrvieto - Pozzo di San Patrizio - top view

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 construction of the spectacular Pozzo di San Patrizio (Well of St. Patrick).

The well was named after the legend of St. Patrick’s Purgatory. The myth says that during the fifth century Christ showed St. Patrick a cave located in Station Island, Ireland. From this cave it was possible to enter the Purgatory. During the medieval time the site became very important for pilgrims. The name indicated something incredibly deep.

The famous architect and engineer Antonio da Sangallo the Younger of Florence designed the incredible well. It was constructed between 1527 and 1537.

The double helix ramps that surround the central well shaft 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.

Things to see

The well is almost 175 ft deep; it is illuminated by 72 large windows.

The exterior is a large and low cylindrical structure ornate with Farnesian lilies; the lilies were chose because the well was completed under Pope Paul III a member of the Farnese family.

There are two doors diametrically opposite, one to enter the well and the other one to leave it.

It is a tradition once you reach the bottom of the St. Patrick’s well to throw a coin into the water so that one day you will be back in Orvieto.


Duomo di Orvieto

Orvieto - Duomo - side view
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Pope Urban IV ordered the erection of the Duomo di Orvieto, a Roman Catholic Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (Assumption of Mary). The construction lasted three centuries: the result  is a unique blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles.

The Duomo was built to commemorate the miracle of the Corporal of Bolsena. The legend says that in 1263 a priest who doubted about the truth of transubstantiation found his Host bleeding on the altar cloth. The miracle happened in Bolsena, a small town very close to Orvieto. A chapel was built to house the cloth: the Chapel of the Corporal.

The Duomo dominates the city.

The Gothic façade’s design includes elements from the 14th to the 20th century however it is considered one of the masterpieces of the late medieval period. The design is credited to the Sienese architect Lorenzo Maitani. The artist and his collaborators created the stunning bas-reliefs and statues with the Evangelists’ symbols that are considered between the most celebrated sculptures of the period. During the second half of the 14th century Matteo di Ugolino da Bologna added the Bronze Lamb of God and statue of Saint Michael. The Artist Cesare Nebbia designed the mosaics that were realized between 1350 and 1390. Unfortunately the mosaics were replaced several times in the centuries since. The Cathedral’s five bells were added during the renaissance period. The three bronze doors that give access to the church are the latest addition to the façade décor. The doors were completed only in 1970 by Emilio Greco, a Sicilian sculptor.

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The Duomo’s side walls are simply decorated with local basalt stone and white travertine.

The interior of the Cathedral is very spacious and neat. Its walls are like the exterior one adorned with travertine and alabaster. During the 19th century the top part of the walls were painted in black and white.

Throughout the 16th century many frescoes were covered with stucco.

The Chapel of the Corporal was built between 1350 and 1356; it houses the corporal of the miracle of Bolsena and the tomb of Pietro Parenzo a city’s major who was murdered in 1199.