Orvieto is a city near the geographical center of Italy in Umbria. It sits atop a plateau of tufa, highly malleable stone formed from volcanic eruptions. The city was originally constructed in Etruscan times and was eventually annexed by Rome. Orvieto is famous in the modern world for three things: wine, fine ceramics, and the beautiful striped duomo containing works by Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli.
Because it sits just a few miles from the geographic center of the country, Orvieto is very well-connected by train and bus. Landing in any major airport, simply take a train directly to Orvieto's station. From there, numerous bus connections are available to see the surrounding hill towns and Umbrian beauty.
Arriving by car is also a simple matter. Traffic flow in this mid-sized town is light. You can find free parking just behind the train station, simply follow the signs.
Travel Within Orvieto
As with most ancient cities in Italy, Orvieto has two distinct areas: lower and upper. The lower part of Orvieto was built in modern times and has shopping and other modern conveniences. "Orvieto-up" is the old city where the original Etruscan town was built. Here you will find the duomo and all of Orvieto's rich sights. The two are connected by a funicular that runs approximately every 10 minutes. The funicular is located just outside of the train station.
When in the old part of Orvieto, it's very easy to travel by foot. The town is small enough where you could explore the streets in just one day. There is a basic bus system that runs from Piazza Duomo to the funicular every fifteen minutes. Tickets are purchased at the funicular station and a limited bus pass is included when you ride the lift.
The cathedral is a center of activity in Orvieto. The style of architecture using prickly spires and black and white striped bricks is used throughout the city and around Umbria. Step inside to see magnificent arches and a massive interior. To the back of the duomo are two chapels containing famous sights: the Chapel of the Corporal and the Chapel of St. Brizio.
The Chapel of the Corporal, the dimly-lit area to the right of the altar, contains a blood-stained cloth left by a doubtful priest who witnessed a miracle. Peter of Prague doubted the bread used in communion could really be transformed into the body of Christ. However, during Mass blood began to drip from the bread down his arm and onto a cloth. The Pope proclaimed the holiday Corpus Christi and the stained cloth rests here in the duomo.
To the left of the altar is the Chapel of St. Brizio, a brilliantly frescoed chapel by master painters Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli. Step inside and view the artists' brilliant depiction of the turbulent end of the world.
Cost: The duomo and Chapel of the Corporal are free to enter. The Chapel of St. Brizio is 3 euro; buy your tickets at the tourist information center just outside of the duomo.
Guided tours of the city's extensive underground caverns leave approximately every hour from just outside the duomo. See remnants of ancient pottery kilns, old olive presses and see a glimpse of ancient life preserved in the tufa. Cost: 5.50 euro
St. Patrick's Well The 175 foot deep well is a masterpiece of engineering. A double-helix pattern of stairs spin to the bottom of the well, one for incoming traffic, the other for outgoing. This allowed simultaneous traffic for water-bearers, as the passageways were too narrow for donkeys laden with water to pass each other. The brilliant design is said to resemble the caves of St. Patrick.
Cost: 4.50 euro
Sleeping and Eating
Orvieto has several fine restaurants and a host of clean, well-priced hotels. La Magnolia is a small yet quiet bed and breakfast near the town's main piazza. Single rooms generally run between 30 and 40 euro depending on the season. Another good hotel choice is the Hotel Corso. It's in the lower part of the city, but near the funicular for easy access to sight-seeing.
Meals in this Italian city are lavish and quite tasty. Their wine is well-known even in Italy, so be sure to try a sample while you're there. The main street running parallel to the duomo is where the best restaurants can be found. Sample several places and enjoy the cuisine!