Big cities often exhaust me. And although Rome was an exception (or so I learned!), my love for the great outdoors got me itching to get to Toscana. We left Roma right after the General Papal Audience at the Vatican. We were headed north to Monteriggioni for a good five days in the countryside. It was bittersweet to leave Roma, my first taste of Italy, but I was eager to discover what else makes this country marvelous.
It was crazy driving in Rome, but once we got out of the city, it is pretty much like freeway driving in the U.S. The drive to Tuscany on highway A1 was scenic, and not very far from Rome, one would already see rolling hills and wide open greenery. There were so many many hilltop fortresses along the way that we lost count, so an hour and a half into the drive, we spotted another one of them and decided to brake for a closer look.
Most of these medieval towns are pedestrian-only within the walls so we left the car down the hill. One could already spot the imposing church structure from a distance and we know that the church is where town life radiates from. We followed the church, and around one ancient wall and through narrow cobblestone corridors, a scene familiar, although I don't know why, was my first feel of Orvieto. A child was kicking a football around with two grown men on the courtyard with a backdrop of some really old buildings. But although the walls were weathered and old, they don't look dead. Like an old hobbling lady with a pitchfork in hand about to do some yardwork, the walls were cheeky, ornery, insolent, almost rudely asking you to stop staring and mind your own business.
The air was crisp that day, the square empty. It has threatened to rain but I doubt that's the reason there was only a handful of tourists around. I refuse to believe that we have ended up in a remote, unheard of Italian town since there is quite a number of artisan souvenir shops in a couple of Orvieto's narrow alleys. I remember not to ponder any longer where the tourists where and instead feel happy for this intimate encounter with Orvieto.
The church bell would ring and fill the air a few minutes later.
For the record: Io adoro Italia. I love Italy.
About the Cathedral of Orvieto
The construction of the Cathedral of Orvieto started in 1300's and took a century to build. It was built in the gothic style and it is just plain marvelous. This is a rather important church in religious history, we later found out. In mid-1200's, there was supposedly a priest traveling to Rome who made a stop at Bolsena, near Orvieto. He celebrated mass but secretly was having some serious doubts about his faith. As he held the communion wafer, blood started dripping on the tablecloth below. This tablecloth was brought to Pope Urban IV in Orvieto and has since been preserved in this church.
This church is as beautiful inside as it is outside. Photos are not allowed inside so you just have to take my word for it until you are able to see it yourself! There are individual chapels in this massive church with ceilings that are painted in the style of the Sistine Chapel. Except that this church and its paintings are at about forty years ahead.
Inside it is my favorite painting and depiction of the ubiquitous theme of the Last Judgment. It was painted by Luca Signorelli. The paintings were graphic, gory, and gruesome. The depiction of the agony on faces, the detail on the nudes, the colors, violence, fear, and movement - it was brilliant. The colors are very vivid and bright it is difficult to imagine these frescoes are five hundred years old. The best part about it was we practically had the church to ourselves!
P.S. Orvieto is also a place rife with Etruscan ruins and for archaeology junkies, an ancient underground city. We were unable to explore these but reading about them really sounds like Orvieto merits a solid two-day visit next time!