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Orvieto History

Orvieto’s history begins in the 9th-8th century BC, when the Etruscans settled on the crag for the first time. The Etruscan town was known as Velzna (Volsinii in Latin), a city that flourished economically in the 6th century BC, due to its production of china (bucchero) and bronze works.
From a political point of view, Velzna was at the forefront of the struggle against Roman expansionism. As a result, in 254 B.C., it was occupied by the enemy and ravaged. Following the destruction of the city its inhabitants were dispersed and forced to relocate to the highlands overlooking the lake of Bolsena. Velzna then became known as Volsinii Veteres (Ancient Volsinii) or Urbs Vetus (the Old City) and Bolsena was known as Volsinii Novi (New Volsinii).

During barbaric invasions, Orvieto was seized by Alarico and Odoacre. Vitige took advantage of its strategic natural position to create a defensive stronghold in the war against the Byzantines. The imperial general Belisarius succeeded in conquering the area after a bitter siege in 538 A.D.; it was then reoccupied temporarily by Totila before finally being defeated by the Goths.

In 596 A.D. Orvieto was occupied by the Longobard Agilulfo and gained its own bishop; later, in 606, it obtained counts. Count Farolfo, within the framework of the religious rebirth imposed by Emperor Otto III and in collaboration with Saint Romualdo, promoted the establishment of abbeys and monasteries in the surrounding territories. In the 11th century Orvieto became a Comune or City-State and noblemen from the area began to build towers and palaces.


from 1,000 AD on

The institution of the Comune is documented beginning in 1137. Twenty years later a treaty was signed with Pope Adriano IV, which increased papal influence in the city and gave way to the struggle between the Guelfs (the papal faction) and the Ghibellines (the imperialist faction). This struggle extended over a long period of time and marked the successive history of the city.

Orvieto soon became the Guelph stronghold of central Italy, holding out against the repeated attacks of the Ghibellines who had been expelled, and the emperors Frederick I and Henry IV. In 1199, the Pope appointed the first Podesta' of Orvieto, Piero Parenzo, who was later killed in the civic battles between the Monaldeschi (Guelphs) and the Filippeschi (Ghibellines).


In the meantime, the jurisdiction of the Comune was extended from Mount Amiata to Orbetello. Orvieto’s success can be seen in the flourishing construction during this period.

Many churches were built including San Lorenzo degli Arari, San Francesco, San Domenico, and Santa Maria dei Servi as well as the Cathedral whose construction began in 1290. Public buildings were erected as well, including the Communal Palace, the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, and the Papal Palace.

In the years 1281-1284, Pope Martino IV established a seat in Orvieto.  With him he brought many Frenchmen against whom the citizens rebelled. Old battles were rekindled, and the Filippeschi (Ghibellines) were expelled in August of 1313. In 1334, Orvieto beheld its first Lord, Ermanno Monaldeschi della Cervara, who reigned until his death in 1337. In 1354 Cardinal Albornoz occupied Orvieto subjecting the city to papal rule. However, Orvieto preserved its communal institutions, later becoming the capital of the fifth province of the papal state.

In 1860 Orvieto was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, which later became the Republic of Italy.

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