Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Another hillside town: Orvieto

I have been to a lot of Italy, but there is so much more to see. We took a daytrip up to Orvieto for a change of scenery. I had not stopped there before.

Located about half-way between Rome and Florence, it’s a town that sits on the top of an oval shaped volcanic plug, putting the main town about 200 m above the surrounding countryside. In that countryside, they make one of the best white wines in all of Italy. But the town itself is cool, having been a main city in Etruscan times, and having been around a long time before that. It was even the temporary home to the Pope for a while back in the 1500’s, since it was (in those days) readily defended from attack. Today, you can drive up, or take the funicular.
Passing lane ahead
The view from the town of the valleys that surround the town are amazing.
Okay, that's nice 
An ancient turret guards nothing 
I LOVE this castle 
Heck of a valley 
Ancient eagles watch over the countryside 
And what a countryside 
The gate they guard 
You can get to the city walls, but then what? 
Houses flow down the hillside 
The commanding view of below 
Another city gate
The town is best known for the exterior of its amazing Duomo, built in the striped style of the ones in Florence and Sienna.
Them's stripes. Basalt & travertine 
That fa├žade is full of interesting carvings of bible stories.
Cain slaying Abel 
Dudes in heaven & purgatory
A purgatory dude
Many aren’t impressed by the less well-appointed striped interior (where pictures were not allowed). Aside from a non-descript floor, I found the inside quite striking, though not as good as Sienna’s.

The rest of the town is quirky. There are narrow little streets, lined with houses made of basalt and tufa.
Elegant back streets 
Arches hold the buildings apart, not together 
A main road, with JUST enough space for one car 
Like Sienna, the city has sections with their own colours 
City hall 
Love parallax 
Ancient hitching posts, in basalt
The city is full of caves, too. The bedrock is tufa, which is easy to dig, and there are over 500 caves in the city, mostly under houses. Some were dug by the Etruscans, and some of these were later (like, the 1500's) made larger and used for commercial purposes, including dovecots (a pigeon breeding area. Pigeon = cheap food). We did an underground tour into two big caves, and visited another private one.
An ancient cave converted to an olive mill. Millstone visible 
An Etruscan well. See below 
A dovecot. Accessible from the outside, doves lived in the holes 
A channel to feed rain water underground for the doves
My GOD!       A GHOST!!!
Caves leading to dovecots
The private one (Pozo della Cava) was not really worth it having been in the ones in the underground tour.

Being on the top of a volcanic plateau, getting water was a trick. About 60-100 m down is a clay layer with the water table. The Etruscans, and later others (including a Pope), dug wells WAY down to this water. One was discovered only a few years back in a dude’s basement:
VERY deep
The square shaft starting at the top was an Etruscan well (there’s one in a picture above from the underground tour). The much bigger circular hole was made in the 1500’s and expanded the Etruscan’s work. It's almost 100 m deep.

But the second well we explored (Pozzo de la San Pietro) was WAY cool. It was big. It too was deep (68 m down to the water). It was built by a Pope in the 1500’s. Mules were used to go down, get the water, and come back up, because it was so deep. So they could go down and come up it easily, they built a spiral ramp with 268 steps down and up in the shape of a double helix (concentric spirals). Basically a big one-way road down and up. Very, very cool bit of engineering.
The surface 
The endless stairs down
WAY down there
Half way down and still WAY down there
Getting closer . The bridge and water now visible
Looking back up
The town was a blast to explore, and was well worth the daytrip from Rome, though the train ride is an ear-popping experience of tunnels and more tunnels, all taken at fairly high speed.

Italy’s just full of these little towns, which is why I keep going back there.

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