LET’S GO UP TO THE MOORISH TOWER
Umbria, the only region of peninsular Italy without access to the sea, is known as the green heart of Italy. This wonderful region shows off in all its splendour from the top of this elegant tower.
Throughout the 13th century, central and north Italian cities competed, demonstrating their power, wealth, and prosperity by building towers each higher than the other.
The Torre del Moro (Moorish Tower), perfectly oriented to the four cardinal points, was built in this period as part of the city’s defences. It is a perfect example of how this peculiar custom contributed to creating beautiful examples of mediaeval architecture.
But let’s talk a little bit about its history to better understand what we will see when we visit it.
Built by the first half of the 13th century in the heart of the city as part of the Palazzo dei Signori Sette, it was originally known as the Pope’s Tower. It was not until the 16th century that it received its present name because it was built near the Gualterio palace, the residence of Raffaele di Sante, known as the Moor.
We can climb through its 236 wooden steps to a height of 47 metres, but you can also do it the easy way and reach the very top using a small lift. From the top, you can enjoy some superb views of the city’s small streets, the facade of the Duomo, the Piazza Della Repubblica and the hills full of olive trees and vineyards that surround Orvieto.
The tower is crowned with a large bell cast in 1313, initially located in the Palazzo del Capitano Popolo. It rings every half an hour, proudly announcing its presence. The smaller bells are from another tower named St. Andrea.
There is a clock on the first floor, installed in the 19th century, along with the bell ringing, which marks the passage of time for the city’s inhabitants.
Visitors are admitted from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. paying an entrance fee of 2.80€. The location is easily reachable, as it’s very centrically located, on Corso Cavour street.
Corso Cavour, n° 87, 05018 Orvieto
FANCY SOME WINE?
Italy is one of the world’s leading wine producer, and those in the Umbria region are undoubtedly among the best. So, let’s take advantage of our stay in Orvieto to taste some of them.
Starting from Piazza Della Reppublica through Corso Cavour and continuing along Via del Duomo until we reach the square where the wonderful cathedral is located, we will find many bars and cantines (canteens) where we can taste some of these renowned wines.
You may have noticed many vineyards on the rolling hills surrounding it while approaching the city. The vast majority of them produce the Trebbiano grape variety, also known as Procanico de Umbria, which the Orvieto white wine is made.
This region started producing wine in the Middle Ages, during which only sweet wine was made, which the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio described as “the Italian sun in a bottle”.
Over time, four denominations of origin came into being, which guarantees the authenticity and quality of the wine we will taste. Orvieto, Orvieto Clasico and Grechetto, are fresh white wines with a slight bitterness that are preferably consumed during the same year of the harvest. The Rosso Orbietano, made from Sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon grapes, is also produced here.
At this point, all we have to do is choose a terrace with nice views (like those facing the Duomo) and let our waiter guide us. A small plate of cheese or salumi (cold meat of the region) could be an excellent accompaniment to enjoy the sun, to which D’Annunzio referred.
THERE IS NOTHING MORE AUTHENTIC THAN ORVIETO CERAMICS.
At least some of you may want to take advantage of the trip to shop for local products and handicrafts typical to the region we visit, like Murano glass from Venice. If so, when it comes to Orvieto, you may not want to leave Orvieto without a piece of traditional pottery.
Thousands of years hide behind this craft that was born during the golden era in the history of Orvieto. The pottery tradition has its origins in Etruscan times.
This marvellous civilisation occupied the entire central and northern part of the Italian peninsula between the 8th and 1st century B.C. Etruscans were displaced by the Romans, who referred to them as “trusci”, and took over all their cities, including Orvieto.
The Etruscans developed a refined pottery technique known as ‘bucchero’, characterised for being very fine and light, black in colour, and very shiny.
But this trend did not last long; the next step featured an explosion of colour with the so-called “polychrome architectural terracotta”, which, as their name indicates, were known for representing important buildings in the city using vibrant and defined colours.
During the Middle Ages, this tradition continued with the introduction of new techniques, incorporating decoration based on grids and geometric figures on an enamelled background, which gave the piece a greater sense of depth.
Thanks to some excavations conducted at the beginning of the 20th century, numerous pottery pieces were found in the pantries dug out of the medieval houses, known as butti. Although they were mostly fragmented, they helped us understand the importance of this craft in the city’s economic development.
Today many of these works, sold by local antique dealers, are exhibited in different museums worldwide and in the Archaeological Museum of Orvieto.
But let’s get back to what interests us: to take away a memento of this artistic past. Today we can choose from a wide range of techniques, including magnificent buildings depicted on plates and fountains, geometric figures or vivid and colourful fruit and flower motifs.
Heading from Piazza Della Repubblica along Via Cavour to the Torre del Moro and turning right along Via del Duomo, you will find endless shops dedicated to selling ceramics. You can find both centuries-old and modern, offering so many different pieces that it will be challenging to choose from. Let’s not forget about the space in your suitcase, which will probably be loaded with so many good souvenirs from your trip.
CERTAINLY, IN FRONT OF THE ORVIETO’S CATHEDRAL
Without a doubt, this marvellous work of Gothic art deserves a pause on its staircase before visiting its interior to pose for a photo that will bring back beautiful memories over time.
But, before visiting it, let us discover why it was built.
In the middle of the 13th century, a priest from Prague named Peter, returning from Rome where he had gone on a pilgrimage to visit the tomb of St. Peter, stopped by the shores of Lake Bolsena.
While celebrating the mass in the Saint Cristina chapel, the Holy bread began to bleed, staining his hands, the altar and the Corporal. Disturbed by this fact, the priest travelled to the city of Orvieto, where he met Pope Urban the 4th, who ordered the bloodstained Holy bread and Corporal to be transferred to the city upon hearing Peter’s story. The Pope decided it was necessary to build a Majestic cathedral to house such important relics, which led to the construction of this imposing building.
Its construction began at the end of the 13th century and took a little over a hundred years to complete. Although there are different opinions about who drew up the plans, we are inclined to say that Arnolfo di Cambio was its architect.
The facade’s lacework in front of which we took our photo was designed by Lorenzo Maitani using polychrome stone. The towers are simple pinnacles that do not compete in height with the central gable.
Designed as a large triptych, its bas-reliefs and mosaics, filled with vivid, well-defined colours dominated by gold, shine in all their splendour when illuminated by the sun, depicting scenes from the New Testament, all under the figure of Christ crowning Mary.
Its structure is divided into three pilasters where scenes from the Creation of the world, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the life of Jesus, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, concluded with the Last Judgement are depicted in magnificent bas-reliefs.
Also, its bronze doors deserve our full attention. The central one, made in 1964 by the artist Emilio Greco representing the Misericordia, especially stands out.
Let’s not forget the reliquary of the Corporal preserved inside. This work of art was made in the first half of the 14th century and faithfully depicts the cathedral’s facade and scenes from the miracle of Bolsena, all of which is done in polychrome enamel.
This marvellous facade will surely inspire you to take the perfect photo that will convert into an everlasting reminder of your visit to Orvieto.
Piazza del Duomo, 26, 05018 Orvieto
ST. PARICK’S WELL
You will immediately notice how strategically placed the town is when you reach Orvieto by road, built on volcanic rock, which guaranteed easy defence in the event of a siege, but at the same time made it difficult to obtain water for its inhabitants.
This distinctive feature of Orvieto will allow us to visit one of the most famous monuments of the city, few will tell you about it, but it is a wonder not to be missed during your stay, we are talking about the Well of St. Patrick.
This hydraulic engineering masterpiece is part of a complex and extensive water supply system built at Pope Clement the Seventh’s request at the beginning of the 16th century after he left Rome and took refuge in the city. The credit for designing such a gigantic and ambitious project goes to the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.
There are some amazing facts regarding the well, such as the fact that the well is part of the foundations of the Pope’s residence. The Albornoz Fortress has a depth of sixty-two metres. A diameter of thirteen metres and its main peculiarity is the two magnificent spiral staircases, inspired by those found in the Villa Belvedere in the Vatican. They are made up of 248 steps each. As the two staircases independently circle the central opening in a double-helix design, they allow pack animals to ascend and descend simultaneously to transport water to the surface.
The whole route was illuminated using torches on each of the seventy-two windows that surrounded the entire structure. Nowadays, you can descend into the well using this staircase, minding the worn-out steps, where you will see crystalline water and the shiny coins at the bottom of the well. If we look closely at the walls on our way through, we will see inscriptions in Latin describing the effort made by the men who built this monumental work of engineering.
It was initially known as Fortress Well for its location. It was later renamed St. Patrick’s Well after the Irish saint’s well, which is believed to be the gateway to the Purgatory.
Walking for about 10 minutes from Via Cavour, we reach Piazza Cahen, where the well’s entrance is located. We can explore this unique place for a modest entrance fee and relive some fascinating moments from the history of Orvieto.
Piazza Cahen, 5B, 05018 Orvieto
LET’S GO DOWN TO THE DEPTHS OF ORVIETO
Undoubtedly, one of the most recommended visits that will make our stay in Orvieto unforgettable. We are talking about the labyrinth of mysterious caves found underground in the old part of the city.
This extensive network of caves and tunnels built on various levels dates back to the Etruscan occupation. They were built on the great platform of volcanic rock 50 metres high. The city was built 2,500 years ago and called Velzna initially after this marvellous culture that occupied this promontory until the 3rd century B.C. when Rome conquered it.
You will discover plenty of corridors interconnected to each other during the visit, forming this gigantic labyrinth. You will see the rectangular holes in the walls where the inhabitants used to raise pigeons to feed themselves when the city experienced a food shortage.
We will see an olive press to produce oil, pottery workshops, grain deposits, and sharpening stones to make tools used for later excavations. You can also see a ventilation chimney and a wine cellar dating back to the Middle Ages when an aqueduct was built to bring water to the city from the Alfina hills 5 kilometres away. The kilns in which clay vases were made until well into the 18th century are also worth seeing.
The visit lasts about an hour and can be done easily, but comfortable shoes are recommended. The entrance ticket must be purchased at number 23 in Piazza del Duomo. The ticket includes an explanation provided by a specialised guide.
This visit is sure to be exciting and will transport you to a world full of thrilling surprises. Are you ready for the challenge?
THE GOOSE AT THE ROMAN GATE.
Undeniably, the city’s geographical position and structure ensured solid defence in case of an enemy attack. Its well-planned urban layout consisted of numerous gates that allowed access to the historic centre of the city. Two of these gates were destroyed over time.
The Porta Cassia was called so because it was reached through the Via Cassia. The Via Cassia from Rome connected the empire’s capital with Florence and Lucca, and the Customs Gate, which was the point where people paid to enter the city, was located on the site of what is now Piazza Cahen. The well preserved Vivaria Gate, which provides access to the Etruscan Necropolis, and the Major and Soliana Gates, located on both sides of the Albornoz Fortress, were part of the city’s defences. They were built in the 13th century at Pope Boniface the eighth’s request, who decorated them with his statue.
However, the Porta Romana is doubtlessly the most important, although it is the most modern, dating back to the beginning of the 19th century and is the main entrance to the city of Orvieto. It replaced the ancient Pertusa Gate and is characterised by the simplicity and elegance of its construction and is decorated on both sides by two giant statues, the imperial eagle and a large goose.
Here is something interesting that only a few people bother talking about, why is it a goose?
The figure of the goose was taken from the city’s coat of arms and is symbolically linked to the history of Rome, referring to the Capitoline geese from the Temple of Juno, goddess of marriage and motherhood, whose cackling and honking prevented the city from falling into the hands of the Gauls in the 4th century B.C.
A relatively simple but important detail that once again proves that keeping the memories of history enriches us and brings us closer to our past.
THE CLIFFS OF ORVIETO
If you enjoy open-air walks, there is no better place than the region of Umbria. Hilly landscapes, mountains and valleys formed by the basin of the river Tiber will offer our senses a delightful treat, so let’s go for a nice hike.
For those who love trekking, the Orvieto Cliff Ring will be a superb choice, as its path meanders between fantastic rock formations that form the base on which the town of Orvieto is built.
This route is five kilometres long, and its difficulty is rated as medium-low, making it accessible to many people. It does have some climbs and descents, but these are short and can be completed in approximately an hour and a half.
The itinerary includes the Archaeological and Environmental Park of Orvieto, which guarantees the sighting of significant monuments and scenery filled with nature and greenery.
We start in Piazza Cahen, which is the arrival point of the Bracci funicular and following a path known as Le Piagge, we will reach the first stop to see the Albornoz Fortress, built in the 14th century to be part of the city’s defences, which is now part of the Public Gardens, From there we will continue our walk through monuments belonging to different periods of the history of Orvieto, the Fountain of San Zeno, which is fed by the St. Patrick’s Well, the Rocca Gate and the Etruscan Necropolis known for its cross carved on the volcanic walls of a small church.
Chestnut trees and rock formations will accompany us on our way until we reach the Church of the Virgin of the Veil, where we will find everything we need to make a stop along the way. Crossing the Maggiore gate, one of the city’s entrances, we will reach the Foro Boario. It used to be an ancient cattle market; from there, we can see the wonderful Abbey of Saints Severo and Martirio, which dates back to the 12th century. This Abbey owns one of the few remaining twelve-sided bell towers in Italy. Today a luxury hotel occupies the building.
Almost at the end of the route, you will see several holes in the walls that date back to the Etruscan period, used to nest pigeons.
Continuing along a paved road, we reach Piazza Cahen again; the tour starts and ends at the same point.
It has been worth it; we have breathed some fresh air and filled our eyes with unforgettably remarkable scenery.
WHY NOT MONTANUCCI?
Every Italian city has its own special Caffè corners: to name a few, Venice´s Caffè Florian, the oldest in the world, opened in 1720, Siena´s Caffè Nannini, Rome´s Caffè Greco or a Alla Nocciola coffee at Caffè Gambrinus in Naples. When it comes to Orvieto, it’s undoubtedly the century-old Caffè Montanucci.
Located in the heart of Orvieto, in Via Cavour 23, just a few meters from Piazza Della Repubblica, there is this charming place to take a break and relax after touring the city. You won’t be disappointed taking a break and having a cappuccino in this century-old cafeteria.
It can be accompanied by a wide variety of Pasticceria or typical sweets from the region. Montanucci boasts using the same recipe for its pastry and creams for some 100 years, including the famous semolina cakes, an example of simplicity and good taste in a traditional recipe.
Founded more than 100 years ago by the Montanucci family, it was and still is a day-to-day meeting place for the inhabitants of Orvieto and those lucky enough to visit this marvellous town.
Its cosy hall decorated with vintage photos and wooden furniture is not only ideal for a coffee, but also for an aperitif, like a Bianco Classico, a typical wine from Umbria, which could be a good appetiser and a prelude to a good meal.
But this place offers something for everyone. Let’s not forget the homemade ice creams and chocolates made daily and displayed on a large counter. Among them, the “kisses or Pinocchio’s nose” are the most popular ones. These sweets made with lots of passion and care will flood your palate with fresh flavours.
As you can see, there are enough reasons to spend some time in the city, watching the city go by, surrounded by history and that will undoubtedly reward us with some great memories of Orvieto and the Caffè Montanucci.
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