Orvieto’s Museums…and Dinner

Orvieto’s museums are small and are clustered around the Duomo. Friday afternoon was the perfect time to wander through all four. We quickly learned that weekdays are relatively quiet in Orvieto, but that changes on Saturday. Seems that even hilltop towns also have their weekend warriors.

The C. Faina museum is a three story palace facing the Duomo. In addition to the Etruscan vases and a stone coffin, it has a room chock full of ancient coins, with the modern convenience of trays that move when you press a button. If my cute boy had been by my side, I know he absolutely would have spent a fair amount of time in this room.

Ancient coin collection at Museo C. Faina

I have been more than slightly spoiled by NYC museums, so have already seen similar artifacts. What fascinated ME was the actual building itself. I wish I were more skilled at holding the camera correctly so that I could have better captured this ceiling. (I know Photoshop can work wonders but, as we say here in Italy “Io sono pigro”. Or that’s I would say if I knew how to speak Italian). But enough about my shortcomings, back to the museum tour.

One of many beautiful ceilings in C. Faina

Next stop, the Palazzi Papali which has been recycled into an archaeological museum. The nuns never mentioned that the popes owned quite a bit of real estate outside of the Vatican. Or if the dear sisters did, it was on one of the many days that I wasn’t listening, so finding Papal Palaces scattered throughout Europe has been a revelation to me.
This museum contained all the usual jewelry and vases, plus everything you needed to conduct your standard rape, pillage and plunder. But once again, I was completely entranced by the building. While I sat in a corner of the room, in the chair reserved for the guard who was out on the patio flirting with a sweet young thing, I was thinking deep thoughts. Let me share a couple of them:
“Man, I’m sure glad I was born in the 20th century”!
“Some of my friends have better houses than your standard 15th century Pope.”

Ancient coin collection at C. Fana

THe Duomo Museum only had frescoes, either copies or originals, I guess they had to be one or the other since most museums don’t intentionally display fakes, but I really didn’t care one way or the other. 10 minutes later I was out the door.

The Emilio Greco Museum was my very favorite. His ability to make a few ink marks on paper into something beautiful kept me mesmerized for quite some time.

The museum was only one room. The beautiful sculptures we plopped amid a whole lot of stuff: a piano, chairs, a spiral staircase. Still, the drawings and sculptures made you forget the cluttered space around them.

Emilio Greco Museum

Emilio also designed the Duomo’s huge green doors. Let me tell you, those doors have a whole lot of entwined bodies on them.

And since we are now back at the Duomo, here’s the story about how a little hilltop town got such a grand cathedral.
Back in the late 1400’s, one of the priests couldn’t quite wrap his head around the host literally being the body of Christ, until one day, while saying Mass, the host started to bleed. Fortunately, they didn’t have paper towels back then, so he quickly grabbed a linen cloth to tidy up. As mentioned earlier, popes were frequent visitors, and the Vicar of Rome just happened to be in town that weekend. He quickly decided that the cloth was “church worthy” and that a new cathedral would be ideal as a display case. And so the bloody cloth remains, up to this very day, in the little side chapel on the left of the main altar. No photos are allowed, but if the truth be told, I really wasn’t able to see the cloth anyway. I just had faith that it was there.

On to the next topic: Dinners in Orvieto are a magnificent thing, and the one we had at Restaurante Ancora was particularly grand. Diane and I discovered it while stumbling around town, looking for a bathroom. It looked interesting and Trip Advisor enlightened us further as to the merits of this particular establishment. We wisely allowed Carlo, the owner, to choose for us and it was fabulous. Delicious pizza bread, an amazing eggplant appetizer, a lasagna, a ravioli, veal with a delicious sauce, vegetables and dessert, plus wine–all for less than 35 Euros per person. Wow. What a way to end the evening.

Beautiful Orvieto

I had never heard of Orvieto prior to my VBT trip.  What a charming little town!  Founded by the Etruscans, it sits atop a pile of volcanic rock.  It is a very walkable town, with enough to see and do to keep us all quite happy and occupied for several days.

Orvieto-one mile long and a half a mile wide

The VBT pre-trip package included a guided walking tour.  Manuela explained that Orvieto’s three main squares corresponded to the three important functions: religion, commerce and government.  We are standing in the “commerce” square.  Deserted on a Friday morning, but bustling on Saturday, which is market day.

Manuela in the Piazza del Popolo

Sally and I had wandered the streets the day we arrived, but what a difference it made having our guide. (Or maybe being jet lagged had something to do with it.)

The market was a major disappointment, more like a low-end flea market. For example, they sold what my Grandma called “house” dresses. I thought that style died with her, decades ago.

Fortunately the little streets were lined with delightful shops loaded with crafts, ceramics, unique clothing, wine, cheese. You too can own one of these tee shirts if you have 125 Euros you don’t know what to do with!

The Government square wasn’t all that interesting, except for the tower that dates back to the 1000’s.

We said goodbye to Manuela after our visit to Orvieto’s main attraction, the Duomo.

The Duomo, as seen from one of the side streets

It was surprising to see such a grand church in a rather small town. There is quite a story behind it. Any guesses? I’ll tell all in the next post.

Star of David pattern on pavement in front of Duomo
Side view of Duomo
Detail from Duomo facade. Are these the damned?

By now, you’ve probably seen quite enough of the church, so off we go to the next attraction, Orvieto’s underground tour, the perfect place to hang out during the hottest part of the day. The Uniticket brochure describes Orvieto as the city of a thousand caves. That is likely true, however most of the caves are below people’s houses, and are not open to the public. They make the ideal wine cellar, staying at a uniform temperature.

The tour consisted of a couple of caves that have been linked together by some rather narrow passages. I am more than slightly claustrophobic, so when I saw the tiny, winding staircases carved in the rock, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that I had passed through a birth canal once, I could do it again.

The caves functioned as bomb shelters during World War II, and in ancient times they were used as pigeon houses (pigeons were considered food in this area), for olive oil pressing and for storage. Because the volcanic rock is relatively soft, the Etruscans were able to dig down to the water table, so the caves were the source of their water. And no, I have no idea who the cute little girl was; she just made the photo more interesting.

The pigeon housing in the caves.

The “other” caves, Pozzo Della Cava were discovered in the 1500’s when Pope Clement VII
decided to hang out in Orvieto while Rome was being sacked. He determined the city needed a reliable source of water so it could withstand sieges, so he had the Etruscan well enlarged, and in the process, the workers uncovered burial chambers and artifacts.

The Etruscan well, in Pozzo Della Cava
Etruscan artifacts

More to see, but it will have to wait till the next post.

Orvieto- Day 1

I don’t know whether it was yesterday’s back to back yoga sessions or the glasses of red wine, maybe both, but all of the normal air travel irritants fazed me not one bit. I would just “breathe into it, take another sip” and contemplate how mellow I was feeling as I floated across the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this traveling thing.

It took us a while to reach our hotel today and a bit longer to get into our rooms. I was definitely “runnin’ on empty” by the time I collapsed onto my bed for a one hour nap.

My room is lovely, on the first floor, which, by the way, us Yankees would consider the 2nd floor. It’s in an old building with all of the conveniences: air conditioning, little refrigerator, or as I like to think of it “wine cooler”, a bidet, located within spitting distance of the cathedral (the hotel, not the bidet–although technically, i suppose it is both). Not that I would ever spit. But if I did, I could probably score a bull’s eye.


Okay. It is official. My connection with the Internet is a lot like my high school dating experiences–on, again, off again. So, I will quickly get some photos up before the Internet breaks up with me.

The Duomo

No, that was not the interior of the Duomo. You can’t take pictures inside. Well, you aren’t supposed to, but i noticed some tourists boldly ignoring the rules. Didn’t they see that fresco of Jesus passing judgement? Didn’t they see what happens to the rule breakers? I did. And let me tell you, I wasn’t taking any chances.

The second photo is actually the staircase in one of Orvieto’s little shops. If I had 120 euros that I didn’t know what do do with, I would definitely have bought one of their Miss Piggy tee shirts. I may return, just to take a photo of one of those suckers–they are quite unique! Something to anticipate in future posts.

I wandered around town by myself, then later with Sally, while we waited for our fellow companions to awaken and for the restaurants to start serving dinner. 7:30 is the earliest, and is an accommodation to those of us from across the pond. Italians dine later.

This is such a lovely little town, full of interesting alleys, with shops, restaurants, wine stores, museums. Sally and I ducked into a wine store and had our own private tasting. We determined that white was the way to go, after tasting three reds, en chose our favorite from among four whites. Time to weave our way back to join the others for a fantastic dinner and a good night’s sleep.