Wednesday, February 22, 2012


02/20, Monday
Our three-day adventure this week is to the nearby hill towns of Orvieto followed by Citiva di Bagnoregio. We arrive in Orvieto by train at 9:00AM, take the funicular to the old town high on a tuff (tufo) of stone (not actually tough, but very porous hardened volcanic lava, ash).

There is a little rain as we walk up the Corso to our B&B, Valentina's Rooms, recommended by Rick Steves. They are very friendly and we have a cute, comfortable room. Cookies out in the hall so Dick is happy.

The Piazza di Duomo is our first stop, wandering along cobble streets with homes and buildings constructed from tuff. Biglietti (tickets) are needed for entry into various sites including the Duomo and other museums. The Museo di Emilio Greco, our favorite new sculptor and artist, attracts us immediately. He is contemporary (died in 1995), and his art work concentrates on nudes in twisting positions. With just a few fluid pencil strokes, he can create evocative impressions. Most of the work is in bronze and left rather rough, which makes it intriguing.

The Duomo is next. The upper front facade is colorful ceramics, the lower four columns are bas relief history from the Bible: creation, New Testament, Old Testament, Jesus' life. This is a very impressive sight and very beautiful. We weren't expecting anything like this and the whole piazza is delightful.

The nave gives one the impression of being much larger and longer due to the narrowing at the altar end. The interior and exterior walls are made from tuff, horizontal stripes of grey and white. This church is really more impressive than St. Peter's, except for the size.

Dick was fascinated with San Brizio's Chapel, the walls painted by Luca Signorelli with scenes depicting The Sermon of the AntiChrist, the Resurrection of the Bodies, the Last Judgement: the Damned of Hell and the Elect of Heaven. All done with a lot of cynicism.

Near the altar is an unusual marble Pieta with four people, the two Marys, Jesus, and the man who has removed Christ from the cross, looking on with curiosity, but not sorrow. He holds the spikes, a pliers, a hammer, and the ladder. What was amazing is you could walk right up to it, not like the bullet proof glass at St. Peter's. It is a superb piece done from a single piece of marble by Ippolito Scalza in 1549, inspired by Michelangelo. Sandy did a lot of standing and staring at this sculpture.

The very ornate organ has 5000 pipes, but was quiet while we were there.

The windows were a mix of stained glass and lower half of alabaster, which made the sun shine in very softly.

Lunched at an Enotega (Greek for wine...Eno,...shelves...tega) across the Duomo. We had a glass of Orvieto Classico, asparagus soup, and a warm pork sandwich, which we shared and it hit the spot, knowing we would have a big dinner later.

We then roamed around two museums that housed many statues, paintings and frescos that were once in the church. Roamed is a good word since there was no one in sight except a couple workers carrying buckets of chipped cement.

Next, Underground Orvieto...the town is honeycombed with subterranean cellars ...some originating from Medieval times and before.These were all built by the Etruscans and are like a huge maze. Originally they were used as places to grind olives into oil (due to lack of surface land and constant temperature of 57F) It is known that olive oil and wine were being produced by the 5th century BC.

Because the tuff stone is porous, it is easy to carve out into caves. It also allows water to seep through to form underground lakes. The Etruscans dug wells, 200 meters deep, for water supply. This helped them survive long sieges with the Romans. How they did this seems unfathomable. The guide said the Etruscans were very inventive and that is an under statement.

These same cellars were used to house pigeons by cutting small indentations for roosting. These homing pigeons were not used for sending messages, but for food during Roman sieges. Pigeon is still on the menu here.

During WWII these caves were adapted to become bomb shelters. Now, residents who own homes above them use them for their private wine cellars.

Now it's raining pretty steadily. After drying out, we head to Valentina's recommended trattoria, Moro Arrone, only a block away, for more homemade pasta and local 14% white wine. Dick ordered another Rick Steves recommendation called nidi. This consists of folds of fresh pasta with gooey warm pecorino cheese. Wow ! We split this along with ravioli with truffles. I am addicted to truffles. A very good creme brule ended the feast.

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