Lorenzo Maitani

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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. .

Duomo di Orvieto

Orvieto - Duomo - side view
Orvieto - DuomoOrvieto - Duomo - ParticularOrvieto - Duomo - Fresco

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.