Orvieto is a medieval hill town that's delightful to visit, and also astonishing: this small town in Umbria is home to a giant cathedral that's one of Italy's finest.
Why on earth is it here? The history involves a priest, a doubt, a cloth, and a Pope.
A priest named Peter secretly had doubts about the Catholic Church doctrine of transubstantiation: the idea that, during Holy Mass, a wafer of bread truly becomes the Body of Christ. One day, the priest celebrated Mass in a small town and at the moment when he raised and consecrated the Host (the bread), it dripped blood on the altar linen. The priest took the linen to Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was staying. The Pope declared a miracle and soon after created the feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ.) He also promised Orvieto a new cathedral, to house the relics from the miracle.
Orvieto Cathedral - Detail
Sometimes called the "Golden Lily of Cathedrals", Orvieto's cathedral has an amazing facade. Sit in the square surrounding the Cathedral, and enjoy the view. But don't forget to enter and see the impressive interior. Admission is free.
The side view is quite a sight, as well.
The cornerstone of this Cathedral was laid in 1290. Many master architects contributed to it over the next centuries, until completion in the 1600's.
Hill Town Perch Above the Countryside
Orvieto has a stunning perch overlooking Umbria's green hillsides. The walls of the town are built right into the natural rock. Visitors can take a funicular (tram) to the top, or drive up and park.
Wander through Orvieto's streets.
Graze on "fast food", such as bruschetta with mouth- watering toppings, or delicious sandwiches with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and grilled zucchini.
A Shop in Orvieto
Orvieto's lanes are full of shops: ceramics are a specialty, for souvenirs; Orvieto Classico wine is on sale, at an excellent price; food shops have fancy pasta and jars of truffle paste.
This shop above has more local character than most. Wild boars are plentiful; check out a recipe.
"Gelato" is a word every family soon learns in Italy: it's ice cream, and Italy's ice cream is arguably the best in the world. Look for ice-cream that's home-made or "artisanale". Right by the Cathedral, Orvieto has one of the best ice cream shops.
On the left side of the picture below is a convent which rents rooms to visitors.
Quite a few convents and monasteries rent rooms, these days. Generally, they charge reasonable prices and offer the visitor an unusual glimpse of a centuries-old and generally hidden facet of Italian life.
Convent (or monastery) stays can be interesting experiences and also easy on the pocketbook.