Travelling with Stabilo #21: Orvieto On a Rock
经纬游踪 #21: 奥尔维耶托古城
Orvieto is a small town on the lying close to border of the Umbria region and the Lazio Region in Central Italy. It is about an hour train ride away from Rome, and it is a popular day trip destination for people living in the Italian Capital. The most striking feature of the town is that it lies on top of a piece of rock, and it is this that earned Orvieto a place in my tightly scheduled itinerary during my Italy trip back in 2016.
We left Rome in the early morning. There are quite a few trains going north from Rome that stops at Orvieto. After an uneventful ride, we arrived at the Orvieto train station at around 9:30 am in the morning. Right by the train station is the funicular station, and from there, we took the cable car up to the top of the rock where Orvieto sits. There are buses that take travellers from the top of the funicular to the Orvieto Cathedral at the centre of the town. We thought it would be nicer to walk to our bed and breakfast while enjoying the scenes of this old town. Well, the walk was indeed charming, but it was much longer than expected. Orvieto township has kind of an egg shape, and unfortunately it turns out that the funicular station was at one end of the egg, whereas our B&B is on the other end. But we didn’t know that. So we walked. It was still very quiet and there were hardly any people walking along the main street of the town. And it was more like a lane then a street, as it is so narrow that only one car can pass at a time. Two or three stories old brick houses lined the two sides of the cobblestone street, with vines hanging on the side of the wall and flowers displaying on the balconies. Little laneways split off from the main street, and many of them were very picturesque. We stopped quite often to take pictures, as the European small town charm was exactly what it was like in story books. As we walked closer to the centre of the town, we saw more people walking about in the street, minding their business. We also see the clock tower looming high above the other buildings, and displaying the wrong time.
Past the centre square, we split off from the main street and walk through a labyrinth of laneways, until finally, we reached our B&B. Except it didn’t look like a B&B as there were no signs or door bell, and there was a big gate blocking the complex. We didn’t expect that, and my SIM card wasn’t working. Just when we started to panic, a gentleman opened the gate and asked what was going on. We gave him the phone number of the owner and he called him for us. A few minutes later the owner showed up, apologizing for being late. It turned out that he worked at a nearby hospital and he was expecting us to call him when we arrive, without realising that we are actually from overseas and don’t have a workable phone. So this B&B Sant’Andrea is actually more of a homestay. The owner lives there and he rent out the two other ensuites in his apartment. He gave us the room with the ceiling decorations that he claimed dated back to the 1700s. From the window we could see clearly the buildings next to us, which all looked very weathered and full of history. So that ceiling decoration was probably really dated back to the 1700s. After a brief and a quick lunch at a local café where I had the most amazing tuna pasta salad, we went and explore the town.
I wanted to see the town from outside so that I can take some shots of the town sitting on top of the giant rock. We went down hill from the town centre towards the south gate. On the way we saw more steep laneways and historic houses, and spent ample time posing in front of stone staircases and weathered brick walls. Eventually, we made our way past the gate, and continue going downhill outside of town. As soon as we stepped out of the town we saw grass fields and vineyards, something that is typical in the Italian countryside. As we walked downhill I kept looking back, trying to see if I could get a good glimpse of the town perching on top of the rock. It was not until we walked completely down hill and crossed the road to a nearby field before we saw what we were looking for: Part of the town can be seen on top of an elevated rock platform, with the cliffs that are almost vertical. As we walk further out, we reached a small village where we could see more of the Orvieto township. The village itself was all you would expect for a modern Italian village, with old buildings, narrow roads, lots of off-street parked Fiats and cats walking on roofs. We followed the road going uphill again, eventually came to a spot where we could clearly see the whole of Orvieto perching on top of a hill in a distance. We could even see the reflections from the gold facades of the Orvieto Cathedral. It is really quite a sight to behold.
Back in Orvieto, we decided to visit the Orvieto Cathedral up close and personal. The Orvieto Cathedral, or Orvieto Duomo, has quite a history. It was ordered to be built in 1263, when Pope Urban IV was residing in Orvieto, but the construction did not start until 1293 by Pope Nicholas IV, and the whole construction spanned 3 centuries, with the cathedral completed in 1591. Because of this long construction time, the cathedral has both the element of Romanesque architecture that was popular in the 13th century, and element of Gothic Architecture that was popular in the 14th century. This can be clearly seen in the Cathedral exterior, where at the bottom Cathedral concentric arcs, a typical design in Romanesque architecture, was used for the main gates. However, further up the exterior, golden triangular facades and sharp spires were used, which are typical features of a Gothic design. There are also various statues and cravings of bible characters appeared at different places on the front Cathedral wall.
The interior of the Cathedral is quite spacious, again displaying the change from the Roman arches and stone columns at the bottom to the triangular frescos and sharp roofs up on the top. A lot of gold has been used in the construction of the Orvieto Cathedral, as can be seen from the many golden frescos and altars in the various chapels rooms. The black and white stripes on the walls are actually alternative rows of basalt and travertine, two different type of rocks that gives alternating colours. Many colourful tainted glass windows can be found within the Cathedral – another feature that makes Orvieto Cathedral such a gem. Interestingly, Orvieto has always had strong links with the catholic church and the Holy See, and has seen many popes residing in the city over the years. During the sack of Rome the then Pope Clement VII chose to take refuge in Orvieto as geologically It is much easier to defend. He even ordered the digging of a deep well to access ground water underneath the rock in case the city became under siege.
As the sun sets, lights came on around the town square but Orvieto is really for bed. There are little shops that opens till around 8 pm, and little lanes that were decorated with colourful lights. The Catheral’s golden façade looked spectacular under illumination by the street lamps, and restaurants serves the regional specialty – wild boar meat in various forms – until late. However, night life in Orvieto was confined to a few drinks at the local wine bars and locals chit-chatting on the stone steps by the town hall. As one would expect for a quite town. We went straight back to our accommodation after dinner and quickly fell asleep.
The following morning, we were going to go to Civita di Bagnoregio but we missed the bus (more on that in my next travel blog). So instead, we spent the morning exploring more of the town. As we go towards the western end of the town we saw more of the charming lanes and old buildings, waiting to be discovered. We chanced across the morning market, where they were selling various vegetables and fruits, including a funnily shaped pumpkin. Across the market was an old building where we climbed up to get a bird-eye view of the market and a glimpse of the old tiled roof tops. We went further down to the edge of the city, and found ourselves staring at the vast landscape of Umbria, with rolling hills vineyards and cypress trees, all shrouded in morning mist. We were glad that we missed the bus, as we would not have seen this amazing scenery otherwise.
第二天一早，吃完房东准备的丰盛早餐（其中的奶黄羊角色让人回味无穷啊！）我们就出发了。原本我们想赶上早上八点的公交车去附近的 ”天空之城” Civita di Bagnoregio，可是我们把车站地点搞错了。错过了这班早车，下一班车要等到下午。我们只好在城内闲逛。我们往城西方向走，沿途都是迷人的小巷和古楼，等着被游人发现。我们找到了一个露天市场，众多的摊位上卖着各式各样的蔬菜和水果，包括一个形状可爱的南瓜。穿过市场，我们走到了小城的边缘，晀望翁布利亚的田野。连绵起伏的山丘被清早的晨雾围绕着，低低的云层像薄纱一样覆盖着平原上的小庄园和小路旁的柏树。看着这像画里一样的仙景，我们都觉得有点庆幸没有赶上公交。
To spend the rest of the morning we decided to join the morning underground tour which took us for the large number of tunnels and cave system located under the Orvieto city. These cave systems were first built by Etruscan people in the ancient times, where it was used for keeping pigeons as a livestock at the edge of the city, as can be seen from the many pigeon holes that can be found in the outside caves. As centuries passed, these underground tunnel systems became more extensive and serves as either a bunker type living area or escape route to outside of the city in case the city is under siege by enemies. It has also been used for making and storing various produce such as olive oil and wine, as indicated by the ancient stone grinds and presses that was found in these cave systems. Nowadays, many homes in Orvieto is still connected to this underground system, and many residences use this as their wine cellar. The tour took about 2 hours, just in time for us to catch the afternoon bus to Civita di Bagnoregio.
And this was the end of our two days stay at Orvieto. It was a truly amazing experience, to stay at a genuine Italian small town, to experience the rich history and the friendly locals, and to explore a place at a leisurely pace, all without the horde of tourists that we usually encounter in major tourist cities. We were glad to have put Orvieto on our itinerary, and I think you should too. So the next time you are visiting Rome, don’t forget to put aside a day or two to visit this magnificent town of Orvieto!