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Country Roads: Orvieto's Historic Center
Country Roads:
Touching the Sky in Orvieto

Story and photos by Tom Weber

The Etruscan Chef, Lorenzo Polegri, at work in his kitchen

ith a fun-filled couple of hours kneading dough and creating strands of tagliatelle pasta for lunch with The Etruscan Chef now (sadly) behind us, our band of merry media – guests of Insight Vacations' (Insight) abbreviated Country Roads of Umbria and Tuscany itinerary – moves forward.

Insight Vacations tour group at Orvieto

old bulding in Orvieto's historic center

We've got a meet 'n greet with the "premier" in Insight's premier-escorted journeys: Marco, one of the most passionate Umbrian art historians around and our guide on an informative afternoon stroll along the cobblestone streets of Orvieto. Roll the "R" and repeat after me: ohr-vee-AY-toh. Perfect!

Belinda, our tour director-slash-storyteller, makes introductions and off we go.

With our U.S. Secret Service agent-like earplugs in place and our radio receivers on, we follow behind Marco, listening and shooting – Canons, Nikons and assorted mobile handhelds; not Berettas, Smith & Wessons and SIG Sauer handguns – as he narrates scenes that unfolded on these very streets when Etruscans ruled the roost in this part of the world millennia ago, followed by sandal-clad Romans and later the Vatican, where wandering popes lodged regularly just to stay alive while St. Thomas Aquinas lectured at the studium generale (university).

Despite today's date on the calendar, everything about Orvieto, perched atop a massive rock of volcanic tuff, looks much the same as it did eons ago. Modern-day Orvietani have adapted to this city that nearly touches the sky, and not vice versa.

flowering plant at the side of an Orvieto street

the La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption), Orvieto

A picture-postcard perfect, almost pedestrians-only city – cars, vans and buses park way down below and visitors ride a series of elevators to the top of the rock – Orvieto is an impressive living, breathing example of Italian History 101. Insight's "Professor" Marco points it all out as we make our way to the jewel of Orvieto: La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption).

Situated in a position that dominates the city, the cathedral's facade, originally designed as a Romanesque basilica, is a superb example of 14th century Italian Gothic architecture that dots the landscape all across the Bel Paese's midriff.

As Marco, Insight's Umbri specialist, explained, this massive house of worship was commissioned by Pope Urban IV in 1290 to commemorate and provide a safe home for the Corporal of Bolsena, a miracle that was documented to have occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena when a traveling priest, who had strong doubts about the validity of transubstantiation, found that the host he used celebrating Mass began to bleed and stain the altar cloth the moment it was consecrated. That very same stained cloth, testament to transubstantiation, now rests undisturbed in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.

front facade of the The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Orvieto viewed from street level

One of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages, the cathedral's three-gable design, striped in white travertine and greenish-black basalt – similar to the schemes of the landmark cathedrals of Florence and Siena – rises up toward the heavens.

winged lion figure, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

intricate bas-reliefs of biblical stories at the The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

winged bull, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

The most exciting and eye-catching part of the bright, gold-colored face is the multitude of decorations and intricate bas-reliefs. Symbolic statues of the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – punctuate the facade while the bas-reliefs depict biblical stories from the Old and New Testament: the Books of Genesis, Redemption, Abraham, and most imposing and frightening, Revelation's Last Judgment. Knees shaking, I move as far away from the depicted scenes as possible, because I'm not quite ready to meet my Maker.

Telling our group that we've had enough religious enlightenment for one day, Marco leads us down and out of the city that nearly touches the sky and onto the awaiting executive motorcoach.

Who's up for pizza, beer, wine or whatever when we get to Perugia?, asks Belinda.

Blank faces stare back at her. Nary a peep.

Then she exclaims, John Boulding, the President and CEO of Insight, is picking up the tab!

Here's the formula for our collective response: journalists-photographers + free pizza + free beer + free wine + free whatever = SI!

Insight Vacations Country Roads of Italy guides

To learn more about traveling in style on one of Insight Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

Perugia at night

Andrea Bocelli takes our breath away as he serenades over the onboard sound system while we recline our business class legroom seats and head for Perugia, home of the chocolate kiss.


Related Articles:
Take Me Home Country Roads; Orvieto and the Etruscan Chef; Underground in Perugia; Saintly Assisi; Rome - Caput Mundi; Vatican Museums; Norcia, Umbria

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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