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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Orvieto, Umbria

Orvieto CathedralImage by vic15 via Flickr

By Marcus Smith
You realize you are visiting somewhere a bit special even before you enter Orvieto. The town sits in a dramatic location on the cliffs above the surrounding plains of the Umbrian countryside - a position that lent itself well to meeting the defensive requirements of an early Italian town. On entering Orvieto you will head first to the main square, which includes the substantial cathedral, a couple of impressive palaces, and a sprinkling of interesting museums.

Orvieto cathedral is the highlight of your visit. The ornate exterior, with carved stone arches and various painted decorations provides, is impressive while the interior is covered on almost all available surfaces with paintings and frescoes dating from the 14th century. These continue into the chapels of the cathedral - note particularly the painting called 'The Damned' in the Chapel of San Brizio, for example. Of the museums, the 'Opera del Duomo' is perhaps the highlight and features many important works of art by local artists from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, many of them noteworthy for their use of colour and light.

Elsewhere in Orvieto, head next to the northern part of the town to follow the narrow streets that wind through the old town passed medieval townhouses and palaces, revealing occasional glimpses of quiet courtyards and decorative features that will entice you to explore further.

Orvieto also has a couple of underground secrets - a large number of passages have been carved into the soft rock to create an underground 'city' while the deep and ornate well that was once used to store water for the town is also a remarkable achievement. Stepping further back in time you can see the remains of the original Etruscan defenses for the city, built more than 2000 years ago. The Albornoz fortress and the 14th century 'Palace of the Captain of the People' are other unmissable highlights of your visit.

Be sure to allow plenty of time for your visit and to explore the town, and then to sit quietly in a cafe people-watching, ideally early in the evening and with a glass of the highly regarded local Orvieto wine to enjoy - at the same time as watching the world go by and reflecting on the many inhabitants who have passed along the same streets over the last 2000 years.

Learn more about Umbria and the fascinating historical towns before you visit. Orvieto is just one of the fascinating places to explore here - one of the other popular historical towns can be seen at Todi a little way to the east.

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