Orvieto, the ancient town in the province of Terni dating back to the 9th century B.C., is one of the crown jewels of Umbria and deserves at least to be visited once. Since we have already written a lot about the majestic Duomo, we propose today and alternative tour with less famous, but nonetheless fascinating, monuments.
1) San Giovenale Church.
This church was built in 1004 thanks to funding from the most important noble families in Orvieto. It rises on top of the remains of an ancient early Christian church dedicated to San Giovenale. This, in turn, was built on an ancient Etruscan temple dedicated to Jupiter (Giove in Italian). It is one of the oldest places of worship in Orvieto and was used as a cathedral before the Duomo was built.
It was originally built in Romanesque style and then renovated in the 14th century to include some Gothic elements. It is characterised by a basilica-type layout with three naves, being the central one bigger than the lateral ones. Inside, we can find frescoes from the Middle Ages dating back to the 12th century (conserved after the several restorations of the building through the centuries) and a precious Byzantine marble altar.
The most famous art piece is the Madonna del Soccorso, a painting found during the 20th century behind a layer of silver. It is an admirable copy of a Byzantine painting.
2) San Domenico Church.
The building was one of the first places of worship of the Dominican friars. It was built in the 1233, shortly after the death of the Saint bearing the same name.
The church originally had 3 naves, but only the apse and the transept remain. Inside, there are works of great historic and artistic value, like the desk belonging to Saint Thomas Aquinas, used by the saint during his theology lessons while living in Orvieto.
The funeral monument of Cardinal De Braye, created by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1282 is also of great value. It is one of the first examples of the type of tomb (which would be used until the Renaissance) which included a catafalque leaning against the wall and surmounted by a canopy (today unfortunately no longer present).
What is truly impressive for the time is the realism with which Arnolfo portrayed the face of the dead cardinal. Many historians believe the artist had a funeral mask made from the corpse.
A fun fact: to make the statue of the Virgin with Child that overhangs the catafalque, the artist used an ancient Roman statue representing abundance, substituting the cornucopia by baby Jesus.
3) Orvieto and its medieval buildings.
Like many Umbrian towns, Orvieto is full of churches, but also of the so-called “buildings of power”, specially Papal ones:
- The Palazzo Vescovile, found to the right of the Duomo and built in 997, it was ordered by Pope Benedict VII. In later centuries, it was extended and adorned by other Popes. The building, now housing the National Archaeological Museum, is easily recognisable thanks to its double and triple lancet windows that face the square.
- Palazzo Soliano is also known as Palazzo di Bonifacio VIII. Some say its construction was ordered by the Pope, other, on the other hand, believe it was built in honour of the inhabitants of Orvieto. It is located next to the Palazzo Vescovile and has two large rooms, one above the other. The lower one is the Emilio Greco Museum, while the upper one is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
There are at least three civilian buildings worth mentioning:
- The Palazzo del Popolo is probably the most representative building of civilian power in Orvieto. It was built at the end of the 13th century and housed (as its name indicates) the Capitano del Popolo (captain of the people), the Podestà and the seven Lords. The building is characterised by a steeple dating back to 1315 and was the seat of the Law, Theology and Logic Faculty (the students were called upon by ringing the bell in the tower). Centre of public life of the town, it also hosted the Mount of Piety (institutional pawnbroker) and a theatre funded by the municipality. During the 80s, it was completely restored and is now a famous congress centre.
- The town hall: built in 1216 and renovated in the 17th century, its façade is characterised by round arches subtended by square pillars topped by two rows of windows. To its left stands a twelve-sided, crenelated steeple, belonging to the adjacent church. The appearance of the current building, now the Town Hall, dates back to a restoration carried out at the end of 16th century by Ippolito Scalza, aimed at making the building more “institutional”.
- Palazzo dei Sette (Building of the Seven) was the seat of the seven representatives of the arts and then belonged to the Popes. Its civic tower is very famous and is known as the Torre del Moro. It is almost 50 metres high (on top of which are two bells dating from the 14th century) and was donated to the city by Pope Leo X in 1515. During the centuries, the building was the Governor’s seat and, more recently, houses public offices.
We have given you some tips, but now it’s up to you to venture to discover this jewel located in the heart of Umbria, living witness of centuries of history, which still are perfectly present in all its monuments.