Orvieto dominates the fertile valley below from the tuff cliff on which it sits, rising proud and majestic above the vineyards and the dense vegetation that surrounds it. Over three millennia of history have forged the buildings, streets and squares of a city that has experienced different civilisations and that was considered a veritable fortress for many years by the Popes themselves, due to its natural rocky configuration and extraordinary strategic position. The walls of the city enclose a stratified urban layout that still preserves its nature as a defensive fortress. The historic centre is accessed through the ancient city gates: from Porta Soliana or della Rocca, Porta Maggiore or from the 19th-century Porta Romana, you’ll feel like you are stepping into an enchanted world that will amaze you at every turn. Your first stop will be Piazza del Duomo, leaving you awe-struck in front of the magnificence of an architectural work such as the Duomo, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, an incomparable jewel of medieval Gothic art, and a treasure trove of artistic marvels such as the Giudizio Universale (Universal Judgment), painted by Luca Signorelli in the Cappella di S. Brizio or the precious reliquary in the Cappella del Corporale. An entire Museum System has been dedicated to this extraordinary masterpiece, from its design and construction to the various decorative phases that gave it its current appearance, via the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo Orvietano (MODO) which is divided into four different sections, from the Palazzi Papali next to the Cathedral itself, to the Libreria Albèri, the Museo di Emilio Greco at Palazzo Soliano and finally the works preserved in the Chiesa di S. Agostino.
Walking along Via Maitani you will arrive at Piazza Febei, described in an ancient inscription as ‘the highest point of the city’, where you can admire the Chiesa di S. Francesco, its austere external appearance contrasting with the exquisite Baroque decoration inside. Going up Via del Duomo you will find yourself in the heart of the city, at the crossroads with the main street called Corso Cavour, where the Palazzo dei Sette stands, so named because it was the seat of the Seven Magistrates representing the the city’s Corporations of Arts and Crafts, and the extraordinary Torre del Moro, from the top of which, at a height of 50 metres, you can see the whole of Orvieto and the valley shrinking far down below. Going down Corso Cavour, keep your eyes peeled because you’ll see architectural gems from different eras wherever you turn. On the western side you’ll arrive at another focal point: Piazza della Repubblica, with Palazzo Comunale, which is still the administrative seat of the local Comune (Municipality). Its elegant forms are the work of illustrious architects such as Sangallo and Ippolito Scalza. Next to this civil building stands the Chiesa di S. Andrea and the monumental 12-sided bell tower. Not far away stands yet another treasure. On Via della Cava you’ll find the well called Pozzo della Cava, one of Orvieto’s numerous and remarkable works of hydraulic engineering, and then the Chiesa di S. Giovenale, perhaps the oldest church in the city. Moving eastwards instead, you will arrive at the third and last focal point in the city: Piazza del Popolo, architecturally framed by the beautiful Palazzo del Popolo, the ancient seat of the Capitano del Popolo (a sort of Sheriff) in the Middle Ages and today an elegant Congress Centre. At this point, if you move towards the end the cliff, you can stop to admire the 19th-century Teatro Mancinelli, built by popular consensus on the basis of a design by the architect Vespignani. At the end of the road, you can explore the city’s fascinating public gardens, which are inside the walls of the ancient Fortezza di Albornoz, where you can wander around and breathe in the magical atmosphere of the famous well called Pozzo di San Patrizio, commissioned by Pope Clement VII in the 16th century, or dive into an even more distant ancient past with the archaeological remains of the Tempio Etrusco del Belvedere, impressively preserved and within a short distance from Piazza Cahen.
In short, it’s best to organise your time well in Orvieto because it is a real treasure trove of hidden wonders waiting to be discovered and admired.