Orvieto is a city in southwestern Umbria, situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff.
The site of the city is among the most dramatic in Europe, rising above the almost-vertical faces of tuff cliffs that are completed by defensive walls built of the same stone. This tufaceous rock was once an island in the sea that covered the Paglia valley below.
The old town centre can be reached either by using the funicular lift after you have parked your car below or via the ingenious system of lifts and escalators that have been dug out of the cliffs at 'Campo della Fiera'.
Orvieto was a major centre of Etruscan civilization – the Archaeological Museum (Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico) houses some of the Etruscan artifacts that have been recovered in the immediate neighbourhood.
28 December – 1 January: Umbrian Jazz Winter
Orvieto is noted for its Gothic cathedral, or duomo and is undoubtedly the most important architectural landmark of the city, with its splendid Gothic facing and the richness of the ornaments and internal chapels.
Orvieto has long been in papal territory. Pope Boniface VIII was from Orvieto and donated statues of himself at the main city gates, which earned him some criticism from his many enemies.
In the ancient town we also find the St.Patrizio well, built in 1527. Following the sacking of Rome, Pope Clement VII took refuge in Orvieto. The well was built to provide the Albornoz fortress with water in case of siege or conflict.
Orvieto is also home to Etruscan ruins and the remnants of a wall that enclosed the city more than 2000 years ago. At the foot of the butte, surrounded by peach and apple trees and a vineyard, the Etruscan necropolis of Crocefisso di Tufo counts a hundred or so chamber tombs laid along a rectangular street grid.
The city of Orvieto has long kept the secret of its labyrinth of caves and tunnels that lie beneath the surface. Dug deep into the tuff, a volcanic rock, these hidden and secret tunnels are only now open to view through guided tours. Their spectacular nature has also yielded many historical and archeological finds.
The underground city boasts tunnels, galleries, wells, stairs, quarries, cellars, unexpected passageways, cisterns, superimposed rooms with numerous small square niches, detailing its creation over the centuries. Many of the homes of noble families were equipped with a means of escape from the elevated city during times of siege through secret escape tunnels carved from the soft rock. The tunnels would lead from the city palazzo to emerge at a safe exit point some distance away from city walls.