Orvieto is a fascinating Italian city with a variety of things to do and see. Visitors should be especially excited to explore landmarks such as the Duomo plus the exquisite chapels held within, and the Pozzo di San Patrizio with its incredible Renaissance engineering and architecture. Tours into the underground caves and tunnels, known as Orvieto Sotterranea (Orvieto Underground) are particularly interesting as well. Additionally, a variety of seasonal events can also be experienced depending on the time of the year.
FESTIVAL & EVENTS IN ORVIETO
Orvieto hosts a number of fascinating events and festivals every year, both traditional and modern. One major festival held every year is the Palombella Festival held on Pentecost. Dating back to the fifteenth century, the locals commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and Mary with a dove flying through the city center. The event occurs in conjunction with Orvieto in Fiore, during which locals decorate their balconies and city squares with beautiful floral arrangements.
Another important religious event is Corpus Domini, or the Feast of Corpus Christi. This festival is held in the spring each year on the second weekend after Pentecost. On Saturday, the people of Orvieto hold the Corteo delle Dame e dei Popolani, or the Parade of Ladies and Peasants, where locals dress up in medieval costumes and parade through the streets. On Sunday, the sacred cloth of the Duomo (tied to the Miracle of Bolsena) is presented to the town accompanied by a historical procession of townsfolk wearing traditional medieval garb and carrying coats of arms and smithed weapons such as swords and spears. The procession travels through the town, and the parade is followed up by a grand feast.
Also held in the spring is I Gelati d’Italia, or the Gelato Festival. An event that is popular with young and old alike, this recently established festival invites artisan gelato makers from all over Italy. The festival centers on gelato tastings, social events, exhibitions, and cultural events held throughout Orvieto’s historic city center.
In the summer, a number of sporting events are held in Orvieto. The Gran Fondo degli Etruschi is a mountain bike race held in June, and the Staffetta dei Quartieri is a relay race held between the four districts of Orvieto as competitors run in a 1km route around the city center. And in early September, Orvieto hosts the Cronoscalata della Castellana. This automobile race is held in the hills surrounding Orvieto, as cars ranging from antiques to modern sports cars race through the roads that wind around the hill country.
On the second Sunday in August, Orvieto hosts the folk festival known as Palio dell'Oca, which is an incredible event filled with games, parades and feasting. Townsfolk and visitors engage in arts and crafts competitions, physical events such as relay races, tug-of-war, and archery competitions, and hold a parade through the historic district.
In the autumn, usually around October, Orvieto hosts the food festival known as Orvieto con Gusto. This festival is hosted by the Slow Food International Association and allows residents and visitors to get a taste of some truly delicious Italian foods. Tastings are held and special meals are prepared as attendees are encouraged to sample wines and dishes from local restaurants, and food stands crop up in the streets and squares of the town serving dishes from all over Italy. It is a great time to visit to discover unique and sometimes even ancient Italian dishes.
Also held in October is the newly established Orvieto Cinema Fest. This film festival invites filmmakers from all over Italy and the world to share their short films, usually no longer than 30 minutes, from a range of genres.
From late December to early January, Orvieto hosts the Umbrian Winter Jazz festival, where both local and international world-renowned jazz performers put on concerts in many of the historical buildings found throughout the town. Music lovers should not miss this festival, nor the Gospel concert that is held within the Duomo alongside the festival on January 1st.
There are plenty of fun activities to engage in outdoors in Orvieto. Perhaps the most obvious one is climbing the trails up to the historic city itself. The town of Orvieto is divided into two parts: the historic center that sits atop the volcanic butte, and the more modern city below. Most locals agree that the historic center is the more interesting part of the town, and while there are buses and funiculars that can take you to the top, many visitors prefer to hike the scenic pathways through the fields of olive trees and historical gateways. It is a short hike but a beautiful one that visitors should make the effort to experience.
One excellent path is Anello della Rupe. Extending just over three miles, the trail circles the Orvieto cliff and can be accessed from several different points including the Albornoz Fortress. Along the way, hikers can admire the beauty of the natural surroundings as well as some of Orvieto’s city gates, Etruscan tombs, medieval convents, and historic caves.
Additionally, Orvieto is known for its green surroundings with several natural reserves including Monte Peglia Biosphere UNESCO World Reserve. From parks to forests, there are plenty of areas to find peace and harmony, both in the historical city center and out. Not to be missed are the historic and rare plants and trees, including some specimens that are centuries old, such as the chestnut tree in Parrano that is believed to be approximately 400 years old, or the holm oak of Montegabbione, which is considered to be the largest in the area.
Visitors might also make a trip to one of the historic vineyards in the region. Here, visitors can take a tour of the winery and engage in tasting some of the most delicious wine that Italy has to offer.
If staying in Orvieto for a few days, travelers should make a trip to the Torre del Moro. This ancient bell tower is the best place to get an incredible view of the countryside. Visitors can climb the 200 steps up to the top of the bell tower and take in one of the most gorgeous views of the town and the surrounding countryside.
Lastly, the area surrounding Orvieto is known for its gorges and intricate cave systems, such as Grotta dei Pozzi della Piana, Forra di Pordo, and Tane del Diavolo in Parrano, which provide hours and hours of exploration for active travelers.
The number of historical buildings throughout Orvieto is truly staggering. An example of this is the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo di Orvieto, which is dedicated to the history of the Duomo and holds a vast amount of religious artwork. Also part of this museum is the Palazzi Papali complex where many historical popes once resided. Here, one can witness famous works of religious art, such as the famed sculpture Madonna and Child, a proto-Renaissance piece that dates back to the early 1300s. One can also visit the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo. This palace remains remarkably intact and well-preserved since its construction in the late thirteenth century and offers a glimpse into how people lived before the Renaissance.
There are many other churches and abbeys to explore around Orvieto, foremost among these is, of course, the Duomo, which is the town’s most remarkable church that is considered to have the most beautiful façade in all of Italy. Other churches to visit include the Church of San Giovenale, which contains fifteenth century frescoes by local artists and other works of religious art, the Church of Sant’Agostino, which hosts a collection of marble sculptures, and the Abbey of San Severo and Martirio, which now acts as a hotel, but also maintains many parts of the Abbey as it was back in the fifteenth century.
The city’s many museums should also be explored. There’s the Museo Emilio Greco, which houses artworks created by the famous artist Emilio Greco, including a large collection of bronze sculptures. The Museo Claudio Faina holds many artifacts from the local Etruscans including coins, pottery, jewelry, and tools that were discovered locally.
Orvieto has a variety of shopping options, typically in small boutiques found throughout the city. From cashmere scarves to tailor made children’s toys, to trendy sunglasses and stunning hand-crafted jewelry, there is no shortage of housewares and accessories to choose from. Keeping true to its roots as a winemaking town, there are many small shops that sell bottles of the exquisite local wine. Also sold are bottles of local olive oil.
Another commonly sold item in Orvieto is ceramics. Orvieto has a history of making ceramics that dates back to the Etruscan period, when wine was carried around in massive jugs. To this day, visitors can find ceramics shops that create beautiful vases, jugs, and other pottery out of the local clay featuring both traditional and modern motifs.
Another traditional craft is lacemaking, which remains the focus of many local artisans to this day.
FAMILY & KIDS
For children who feel a little restless after visiting all the various churches, palaces, and abbeys in Orvieto, it might be a good idea to take a trip to the Albornoz Fortress. This fortified military base played a major role in protecting the city beginning in the fifteenth century and was responsible for repelling many would-be invaders. The fortress has lost much of its military purpose and has been converted into a public park and event venue with an amphitheater. Here, children can run around and play and burn off their excess energy. The views of the surrounding countryside from the fortress are absolutely stunning, and many locals like to take a break in the middle of the day to enjoy a picnic lunch here.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES IN ORVIETO
Orvieto has no shortage of interesting landmarks to explore. Some of the most important places for visitors to experience are the Duomo, the Pozzo di San Patrizio, and Orvieto Sotterranea (Orvieto Underground).
Visitors to the Duomo, also known as the Orvieto Cathedral, will not only be wowed by the fanciful mosaics that cover the outer façade, but will also delight in the incredible chapels held within, such as the Cappella di San Brizio (or the Chapel of San Brizio), where five panels of beautiful frescoes were painted by the famed artist Luca Signorelli. His work here in the Duomo depicting the Last Judgement inspired Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel. One should also make sure to visit the Cappella del Corporale (or the Chapel of the Corporal of Bolsena), where religious fresco paintings cover the walls, stretching all the way up to the ceilings, and where the holy cloth at the center of a local miracle is held.
The Pozzo di San Patrizio, also known as the Well of Saint Patrick, is an incredible feat of Renaissance engineering and architecture. Consisting of a pair of spiraling staircases circling a central well, the staircases never intersect, and after going down one set of stairs, visitors then ascend the other. Visitors often describe the well as humbling, and it remains a perfect example of what human ingenuity and determination can accomplish.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, though, is Orvieto Sotterranea, or Orvieto Underground. Here in these tunnels and caverns that wind through the volcanic tuff rock, one can see the remnants of the ancient historical city that was established by the Etruscans before Roman times. Some of the artifacts and structures that the Etruscans built still remain to this day. This peek back into some of mankind’s earliest points in history should not be missed.
Lovers of history should also consider visiting the Adriano Labyrinth, a multi-level underground complex consisting of tunnels and caves. Inside, travelers can admire traces of the Etruscan Era, Middle Ages, and more. Of particular note is a petrified plant fossil located here that is nearly 250,000 years old.
The town of Orvieto, nestled at the top of a volcanic butte, is best known for its breathtaking cathedral and pristine natural beauty. During a trip to this alluring town in Central Italy’s Umbria region, travelers can also visit its fascinating museums and learn about its rich history and cultural traditions.
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