Orvieto - a trip in Umbria

Orvieto is a hilltop city in the Province of Terni, in Umbria, about 1.5-2hrs north of Rome (about 100km). This is all well and good, but it's in Umbria, not Lazio, so why is it here, on Lazioexplorer? Well, Orvieto is just outside Lazio, it's even within a day trip of Rome (although it would be a long day), and, as you'll read, there's plenty to see and do there to make it worth the trip...

So what is there to do in Orvieto?

Well, beside simply walking down the well-kept medieval streets and enjoying the shops, there's actually a surprisingly large amount of things to do in Orvieto. The main attraction is the Duomo (cathedral), towering above the city. It was built in the 14th century, under the orders of Pope Urban IV. Inside, there is the Corporal of Bolsena, commemorating a transubstantiation miracle, said to have occurred in the nearby Laziale town of Bolsena in 1263 (mentioned in my post on Corpus Domini).
See if you can spot the bronze lamb, right in the middle
The façade is a classic piece of religious construction and is one of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages. The three-gable design is attributed to Maitani, while its eye-catching golden frontage is decorated by large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols of the Evangelists (Angel, Ox, Lion, Eagle). Matteo di Ugolino da Bologna added the bronze Lamb of God above the central gable and the bronze statue of Saint Michael on top of the gable of the left entrance in 1352. The detail is really something to behold, and puts many other cathedral façades to shame, in my opinion. The bas-reliefs on the piers depict biblical stories from the Old and New Testament. They are considered among the most famous of all 14th century sculpture.
There is an entrance fee of €3.50 to enter inside the duomo, and as we were a large family group, we decided to skip it.  However, after looking on wikipedia, it actually looks quite interesting (watch out for a post on the interior after we've gone back to see it). There is also a museum dedicated to the duomo in its own quite impressive building (directly adjacent to the cathedral on the main square). Tickets for the museum and duomo combined cost €5.

Another tourist spot is 'Pozzo di San Patrizio', found in piazza Cahen, on the east of the town. This well, going 53 meters down, was commissioned by Pope Clement VII in 1527, after he thought Orvieto should have it's own water supply within the city walls. Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (who also built Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola), built the well to tap into water from the springs of St. Zeno, which emerge from below Orvieto.
Pozzo di San Patrizio from the top...
The well contains two spiral staircases, with 248 steps in each, one for descending, one for ascending. The staircases are totally independent of the other, and are wide enough to accommodate the donkeys once used to carry water to the surface. Seventy windows are cut into the walls to light the staircases from the central shaft. Each window has a little ledge where you can sit, but do remember that this is Italy and health and safety may not be quite as you have back home. The top 10 or so windows have a little bar across them to stop you falling through. After that, you're on your own.
...and from the bottom, where I found a forlorn ex-iPhone,
peaking out from the detritus
Entrance to the well is €5 and, while it was interesting, I think it's a bit overpriced. Simply, there isn't much to see. You are provided with a little leaflet when you enter (most of which I've regurgitated here) and then you walk all the way down, to walk all the way back up again (there aren't any lifts). I expected more points of information throughout the well (for example, on the Etruscan tomb found 30m down, of which sadly I couldn't find any trace), or just some little tidbits of information about life at the time when the well was in use. However, it would be a shame to miss it if this is your one and only trip in Orvieto, and we did enjoy being right at the bottom.

We didn't have time to try 'Orvieto sotterranea', a guided expedition into the vast network of underground tunnels and grottoes that have served Orvieto for millennia, although it's definitely on our list for next time. The guided tour departs from the Tourist Information Office, Piazza Duomo 24 at various times throughout the day and costs €6 per person. Other sights on our list include the Etruscan ruins and the remnants of a wall that enclosed the city more than 2000 years ago. There is also an Etruscan necropolis (Crocefisso di Tufo) containing over a hundred chamber tombs laid in a rectangular street grid. We may need to stay overnight. Orvieto, I think I may like you.

Another attraction we did get to see was the Teatro Mancinelli, on Corso Cavour. This beautiful theatre is still very much active with a very busy social calendar, for example, the Russian state ballet of Rostov are performing Swan Lake there on Friday 20th January.
If you don't have time for a show, you could simply pop in for a reasonably-priced coffee/cake, or perhaps indulge in a little bookcrossing in the beautifully decorated cafe.
The ceiling of the cafe, seriously
Finally, you can't go to Orvieto and not try the local white wine. Made from a blend of mostly Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes, Orvieto and Orvieto Classico are both dry, very pleasant wines, and have been made in the area since the middle ages. They should be pretty cheap in Orvieto, costing between €3-5 per glass. If you fancy finding out a little more about Orvieto as a wine, a particular vineyard we like is the Mottura Estate, actually located in Lazio (I told you Orvieto was close) about 18km outside of Orvieto. They have a restaurant (La Tana delll'Istrice) which could be a good stop off point on the way back to Lazio ;-)

Coming from Lazio, where money often seems to be sucked into Rome, Orvieto was a welcome break. Here is a city that takes real pride in itself, that knows what it has to offer, and understands what the visitor wants. Be warned though, the dark side of this is that also means it can be more expensive than other cities, especially for the tourist. There were some tourist-trap type restaurants, and a few tacky trinket shops, but underneath Orvieto is still very much a living city, with good shops, restaurants and bars. Well worth a visit, we'll definitely be back. Orvieto, I think I may love you.

All photos copyright www.lazioexplorer.com
For more information about Orvieto, check out the following websites:
Orvieto Viva
Orvieto or Bust


  1. I love Orvieto. It's a quiet town that does not always get the credits it deserves. I was there when I was ten while we were visiting the south of Italy and I have never forgotten.Well...now I just might go back for a little trip :) Thank you!

  2. Sam - Orvieto always deserves another trip! It's quite easy to get to as well. Thanks for commenting :-)

  3. Orvieto was one of the first towns I visited in Italy. Beautiful place, but the view into the hills from the walls can be just as enchanting.

  4. Orvieto is always worth a visit, just over 40 minutes from us here in Marta. It is snowing here so I am enjoying staying warm and catching up with all my blogging friends.

  5. Orvieto is wonderful. Hopefully you'll be there on market day - so much fun interacting with the vendors and seeing all their wares.

  6. I was here for one month in February 2013.I had never been to Europe.I am Australian.I am now besotted with Orvieto.

    1. Hi Jen,

      Thanks for your comment. Orvieto is a wonderful place. I'd love to live there!