Umbria is often referred to as “the green heart of Italy”, and that's not an overblown description. It lies in the middle of Italy and is the only region that borders neither the sea nor another country. With a population of less than 900,000, it is a predominantly beautiful and largely unspoiled region of rolling hills, woods, streams and valleys. The region's lush good looks result from a generous supply of water; Lake Trasimeno lies to the west, while the Tiber and its tributaries wind through Umbra’s leafy valleys and ravines. Within its borders Umbria also contains a dozen or so classic hill-towns, each very individual and crammed with artistic and architectural treasures to rival larger and more famous cities. There’s also the same glorious pastoral scenery as Tuscany – the olive groves, vineyards and cypress-topped hills and high mountain landscapes.
Umbria doesn’t have the big set pieces of Florence and Siena, but it does have a selection of far more intimate and easily visited hill-towns – Perugia, Assisi, Orvieto, Gubbio, Todi, Spoleto and Norcia are all within easy reach of each other, making Umbria manageable and straightforward to explore. There is also a second tier of charming and even more intimate smaller centres, such as Montefalco, Bevagna, Spello, Trevi, Narni, Bettona, Città di Castello, Montone, Monte Santa Maria Tiberina, Città della Pieve and many more.
Umbria was named by the Romans after the mysterious Umbrii, a tribe cited by Pliny as the oldest in Italy, and one that controlled territory reaching into present-day Tuscany and Le Marche. Although there is scant archaeological evidence about them, it seems that their influence was mainly confined to the east of the Tiber; the darker and more sombre towns to the west – such as Perugia and Orvieto – were founded by the Etruscans, whose rise forced the Umbrii to retreat into the eastern hills. Roman domination was eventually undermined by the so-called barbarian invasions, in the face of which the Umbrians withdrew into fortified hill-towns, paving the way for a pattern of rivalry between independent city-states that continued through the Middle Ages. Weakened by constant warfare, most towns eventually fell to the papacy, entering a period of economic and cultural stagnation that continued to the very recent past.
Historically, however, Umbria is probably best known as the birthplace of several saints; St Benedict, St Valentine, and St Francis of Assisi being the most famous, and for a religious tradition that earned the region such names as Umbra santa, Umbra mistica and ‘la terra dei santi’. The landscape itself has contributed much to this mystical reputation, and even on a fleeting trip it is impossible to miss the strange quality of the Umbrian light, an oddly luminous silver haze that hangs over the hills.
Most visitors head for Perugia, home to Umbria Jazz and an annual chocolate festival, Assisi with its extraordinary frescoes by Giotto in the Basilica di San Francesco – or Orvieto, whose Duomo is one of the greatest Gothic buildings in the country. Lesser known places such as Todi, Gubbio, ranked as the most perfect medieval centre in Italy, and Spoleto are also not to be missed.
After years as an impoverished backwater, Umbria has capitalized on its many charms. In recent years foreign acquisition of rural property became as rapid as it was in Tuscany some thirty years earlier, yet, in terms of character and style, Umbria is gently different to its more famous neighbour. While Tuscany is bold and striking, Umbria is understated and contemplative, exuding a sense of timelessness and a wonderfully serene atmosphere. As you might expect of a region with such manifold charms, Umbria has become a highly desirable place to own a property and is still judged absolutely worth it by its countless fans, many of whom prefer its charms to Tuscany.
The ‘Niccone Valley’ or the ‘Valle del Niccone’ is where Tuscany meets Umbria. The northern valley is mainly in Tuscany, topped by five ancient castles or fortified villages; all standing opposite their Umbrian counterparts that lie on the hills of the southern valley and all built over a 1,000 year period of Papal and Renaissance history. Today, the 11 miles of the Niccone valley, which includes the Val di Pierle, is dotted with restored private farmhouses, luxury villas and apartments, all popular with discerning visitors. The villages of Lisciano Niccone – Umbria – and Mercatale di Cortona – Tuscany sit at the western most extreme of this wide valley. A drive east along the valley road gives access to Preggio, once the medieval seat of power for the region and eventually to the village of Niccone, standing in the mouth of the Niccone Valley. A short few miles away to the west is the site of the Battle of Trasimeno – where Hannibal routed the Roman legions in 217BC. The area bore witness to one of bloodiest battles in history and even today, the stain of this incredible event can be felt amongst the hills and valleys.
Lake Trasimeno has a surface area of 128 km2 (49.4 square miles) and it is the fourth largest lake in Italy (only slightly smaller than Lake Como). Only two minor streams flow directly into the Lake and none flow out meaning that the water level fluctuates significantly according to rainfall levels and the seasonal demands from the towns, villages and farms near the shore.
Historically Trasimeno was known as The Lake of Perugia and in prehistoric times it almost extended as far as Perugia. The Battle of Lake Trasimeno occurred on the northern shore of the lake in April 217 B.C. the exact location of the battle is unknown because the lake extended further north in those times. The first civilisation to inhabit this area were the Etruscans; three of the main Etruscan cities - Perugia, Chiusi, and Cortona - are within 20 kilometres (12 miles) of the lake. Little physical evidence remains from the period of Etruscan or later Roman settlement but Castiglione Del Lago has some Roman ruins and the main streets are laid out like a chessboard, in the Roman style.
Trasimeno has high hills to the east, which help to capture rain and partially protect the lake from cold eastern winds. Most of the water in the lake comes from the network of streams on the western side of the lake. The nearby inhabitants around Trasimeno have successfully protected their lake and the water is fit for swimming. In 1995 a natural park was established over the entire surface and the shores and a 50 km (31 mi) bicycle path was opened in 2003 around the lake.
Half of Trasimeno is surrounded by hills, rich in olives that are an important agricultural resource. On the western shore, near Tuscany, there are vineyards, and fruit and vegetables are grown. The hills are much lower and the climate is warmer. Monte Subasio (near to Assisi) is about 70 km (43 mi) to the east, and Monte Amiata about 70 km (43 mi) to the west and both can be seen. The vegetation includes pines, willows and poplars around the shores, many over 30 metres tall.
The main lake towns are Passignano sul Trasimeno, Tuoro, Monte del Lago, Torricella, San Feliciano, San Arcangelo, Castiglione del Lago, and Borghetto. Castiglione del Lago has the longest shore, being on the only significant peninsula of the lake. This may have once been an island that was joined to the shore by the Romans.
There are three islands in the lake. The largest of these islands is Isola Polvese, which measures almost 1 km2. The second largest, Isola Maggiore, is the only inhabited one. The small fishing village, which reached its height in the 14th century, today has only around thirty residents. Most of the buildings, including the ruins of a Franciscan monastery, date from the 14th century. The smallest island, as the name suggests, is Isola Minore. It is now uninhabited but in the past had a village with over 500 residents.
Originally a medieval town, Montone was already fortified in 1121 and was under the direct control of Perugia which is 40 kilometres distant. The presence of the Fortebraccio family was documented from the 13th century. Andrea Fortebraccio (known as Braccio) was a famous ‘condottiero’ possibly the most famous of his time. During the first 10 years of the XVth century he created a strong central state in the peninsula, audaciously attempting to create a state that was independent from the power of Papal states.
In 1414 Montone was elevated to a contea (county) by the ‘anti-pope’ Giovanni XXIII and Braccio received an investiture for himself and his descendants. 10 years later the investiture was repeated and bestowed upon Braccios’s son Carlo, this time by the ‘legitimate’ pope, Martino V. Carlo, flowing his father’s footsteps, fought for the Venetian republic and for his services received a thorn from Christ’s crown. The precious relic was sent to Montone and the Festa della Santa Spina was initiated, an event that is still celebrated every Easter Monday. The legend says that as the returning soldiers began to approach Montone with the thorn, the bells in the town began to ring by themselves. The veneration of the thorn was extremely fervid, so much so that in 1638, due to the enormous interest by pilgrims, a second viewing was organised on the penultimate Sunday of every August. Today a week of celebrations accompany the events and the three zones of the town compete against each other in various ways in order to recreate the medieval atmosphere.
In addition to traditional events such as the Donazione della Santa Spina and the Feste del Bosco in the Autumn, there is the now well established Umbria Film Festival where one might brush shoulders with the likes of Terry Gilliam, Mike Figgis, Ralph Fiennes, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Stephen Frears!
Città di Castello
Citta di Castello is a working town built on the Tiber and tourists often pass it without a second glance. Those that do are missing out on a charming old centre (with some good bars and restaurants) and two art galleries, the Pinacoteca Comunale and the Burri Collection, located in two buildings around the town. Pinacoteca Comunale located in the Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera, the town art gallery has works by Luca Signorelli (from Cortona) and Raphael. A member of the Vitelli family (who used to own the palazzo) is mentioned in Macchiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, the unfortunate mercenary captain is garrotted on the orders of Cesare Borgia. If you fancy a break from medieval and Renaissance art, the Burri collection is the ideal place. Alberto Burri was born in Città di Castello and was leading member of the Arte Povera movement, using cheap and recycled materials to create abstract works of art. The collection of 257 pieces is located in the Palazzo Albizzini in the town centre and in buildings previously used for tobacco drying, south of the town centre.
Monte Santa Maria Tiberina
Monte Santa Maria Tiberina is a hilltop village that was once an independent state, one of two places in Europe where duels were legal. Located in the Upper Tiber Valley is has Etruscan roots but a Medieval heart, with narrow streets, historic stone buildings and a panoramic position with unparalleled views of the surrounding area. Close to the border of Umbria and Tuscany it was part of the latter up until 1927. It enjoys the cultural and gastronomic pleasures of both regions, with truffles, porcini mushrooms, excellent olive oil, fantastic wines, and traditionally-made cheeses and salamis. The location is ideal for visiting Arezzo, Citta' di Castello, Monterchi and Perugia.
The Bourbon palace, built in the 1500’s, dominates this tiny village along with a crenellated castle. The pretty church is dedicated, as the name of the village suggests, to the virgin Mary, and has an interesting baptismal stone font and a Bourbon family chapel. The procession of the Ascension, re-enacted for centuries on the 15th of August, honours the virgin Mary, the protectress of the village. There are several food festivals throughout the year, dedicated to the area's primary products of mushrooms, truffles, chestnuts, and roast pork.
In the 1990’s Todi was selected as the model sustainable city because of its scale and the ability to reinvent itself over time. After that, the Italian press reported on Todi as being the world’s most liveable city.
According to legend, Todi was said to have been built by Hercules who gave the city the name of Eclis. Historical Todi was however founded between the 7th and 8th century B.C. by the Umbrii. The city was then called ‘Tutere’ or ‘border’ as it was located on the confines of the Etruscan dominions. Legend also says that the town was originally to have been built at the foot of the hill on the left hand bank of the river Tiber. Apparently a cloth, on which the founders had laid their breakfast, was whipped away by an eagle and eventually dropped on top of the hill. This event was interpreted as a sign from the Gods and so the town was built on the hill-top.
Todi developed in particular between the V and VI centuries with a strong Etruscan influence and then during the III century B.C. it began to be Romanized, though local autonomy continued to be respected. Todi obtained Roman citizenship after 89 A.D. and from the time of Augustus there was a vigorous increase in construction with villas, an amphitheatre and civil buildings being built in the town. The double line of city walls prevented Todi from being conquered by Hannibal after his victory at Trasimeno.
Christianity spread to Todi very early through the efforts of St. Terentianus. After the Gothic wars (535-553) Todi was taken over, like the rest of Italy, by the Byzantine empire and in Lombard times it was part of the Duchy of Spoleto.
After the 12th century the city began to expand again and in 1244 new buildings were constructed to house the new artisan classes. Thus, even today, there are three sets of more or less complete concentric walls; the outermost medieval, the middle Roman and the inner recognisable as Etruscan. By 1290 there were a staggering 40,000 inhabitants. In 1367 the city was annexed to the papal states and local overlordship shifted amongst various families including the Tomacelli, the Malatestas, Braccio di Montone and Francesco Sforza. Despite the population being pretty much halved, Todi lived a brief period of splendour under bishop (later cardinal) Angelo Cesi who re-built many edifices and constructed a number of new ones like the Cesia Fountain.
Almost all of Todi’s main medieval monuments are in main square and the whole landscape is sited over huge ancient Roman cisterns, more than 500 of them, which remained in use until 1925. The cathedral is an 11th century building probably erected over an ancient Roman temple dedicated to Apollo. It was almost totally re-built in 1190 after a fire. Angelo Cesi commissioned Ferraù Faenzone to paint a giant fresco depicting the Universal Judgement on the counter façade. The Palazzo del Popolo, which houses the city art gallery, was already in existence in 1213 and is one of the most ancient communal palaces in Italy. The Palazzo del Capitano and the Palazzo dei Priori were both built in 1923 and the Palazzo Vescovile was constructed 300 years later by Angelo Cesi.
The 7th century church of San Fortunato is on the other side of the hill on which the city is built. In 1292 the Franciscans started to construct a new Gothic edifice but work was halted in 1348 due to the Plague, and the lower part of the facade was eventually completed in the second half of the 15th century. The crypt houses the body of St. Fortunatus of Todi and is the burial place of Jacopone da Todi; the city’s most famous son.
The construction of the domed renaissance church of Santa Maria della Consolazione started in 1508 and is often attributed to Bramante. Architects who worked on it include Cola da Caprarola, Antonio da Sangallo the younger, Baldassarre Peruzzi, Galeazzo Alessi, Michele Sanmicheli, Vignola and Ippolito Scalza. The church was inaugurated 100 years after it was begun.
Sights in Todi also include a colossal Roman niched substructure of uncertain purpose called the Niccioni, some ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and about a dozen smaller churches. The surrounding area has many castles, fortresses and ancient churches including the famous Todi castle which has now been restored by the Santoro family. Villa Pianesante one of the properties on the castle estate, is for currently for sale with Abode
Perugia is the regional capital of Umbria, it was once one of the great Italian city states but proximity to Rome meant that it was absorbed into the Papal States in the mid 1500’s. Papal rule did no favours for the town other than that the lack of investment and high taxes meant that today the city centre has very few new buildings. Today Perugia is famous for chocolate production and a lively jazz festival (Umbria Jazz) held in July. Its typical steep streets offer unexpected glimpses of ancient houses and the surrounding distant green hills.
When Pope Paul III sent his army into Perugia he ordered the building of a fortress (Rocca Paolina) over the houses of the ex-ruling family, the Baglioni. Instead of completely demolishing the houses, the Pope had their roofs removed and brick barrel vaults were built over the tops of the houses. The medieval streets and houses then became the store rooms to the enormous fortress built above. Upon the unification of Italy in the 1860’s, the Perugians tore down the hated symbol of oppression and new buildings were built on the site. This is why the buildings in Piazza Italia date back to this period. Today you can walk through the underground city and marvel at the huge barrel vaulted ceilings overhead. When an escalator system was built to bring pedestrians into the city centre, the underground city was incorporated into it. Thousands of people enter Perugia through the underground city every day.
The Palazzo dei Priori is still the seat of local government today, this impressive medieval building is also home to the Galleria Nazionale dell’ Umbria. The gallery is home to a fine collection of Renaissance and Medieval art. Highlights are altarpieces by Piero della Francesca and Beato Angelico as well as several paintings by Pietro Vannucci (Perugino). In a separate part of the building, don’t miss the frescos by Perugino in the Nobile Collegio del Cambio, the money changers’ guild.
The central piazza of Perugia is called Piazza IV Novembre. The Duomo (Cathedral) and Palazzo dei Priori face each other across the square. The centre is dominated by the Fontana Maggiore, a beautifully carved medieval fountain.
The city’s main source of water in Etruscan times was the Etruscan Well, it is an impressive piece of engineering. The true depth is unknown as the bottom has never been cleared of submerged debris. The chapel of San Severo has frescos started by Raphael as a young man. Raphael was a student of Perugino and you can see the influence of his teacher in his painting, this is the only documented work of his in Perugia but it is possible that he helped on the Nobile Collegio del Cambio frescoes. He was summoned to Rome by the Pope having completed only the top half of the painting. He died in his mid-thirties without returning to finish the fresco and a very old Perugino was asked to complete the work. The Etruscan Arch is on the northern entrance to the city, this is truly impressive with large Etruscan stone blocks at the bottom, Roman stone work higher up and a Renaissance loggia on top. The Medieval Aquaduct, now a walkway, used to bring water into the town to supply the fountain. The facade of the Oratorio di San Bernardino is decorated with beautiful carvings showing scenes from the life of San Bernardino, a popular Sienese preacher.
Gubbio is a wonderfully preserved medieval town. The town in Roman times was down in the plain and there is a fairly well preserved Roman amphitheatre there (the car park here is a good place to leave your vehicle). The town has a less “touristy” feel than many other medieval towns due to its location in northern Umbria. Along with Deruta, Gubbio is known for maiolica ceramics and there are several shops in the old town.
Gubbio is also famous for a race held on the 15 May each year, the Corsa dei Ceri. The route is up Monte Ingino, the mountain behind the town and relay teams carry huge wooden “candles” up to the Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, the church of the town’s patron saint.
The Palazzo dei Consoli is easily the most impressive building in Gubbio, it’s worth paying to enter the medieval town hall. There’s an interesting art collection (but no masterpieces) and the Eugubine Tablets, bronze tablets with various instructions in the Umbrian language written in the Etruscan and Roman alphabets. The main attraction is the interior of the building itself, the ceiling of the ground floor is an enormous barrel vault, also look for the medieval toilets at the back of the top floor. At the back of the building there is an archaeological museum that you can visit on the same ticket. The huge piazza in front of the Palazzo is supported by enormous arches to create a level space. Unusually for an Umbrian town, the Duomo (Cathedral) is not built on the main piazza, this is probably because of the steep gradient that Gubbio is built on. It is of architectural note for its strangely vaulted ceiling, but children will probably be more fascinated by the blackened bodies of various bishops kept in glass coffins. When Gubbio lost its independence the Palazzo Ducale came under the influence of the Dukes of Urbino, the most famous of whom was Federico di Montefeltro, a famous mercenary and Renaissance Man. This is a smaller version of the Duke’s Renaissance palace in Urbino and often houses modern art shows.
It’s fun to take a ride to the top of Monte Ingino on the funivia . This is a slightly scary ski lift /cable car, the cages take two people at a time and you hop on and off while it is still moving! At the top you can enjoy the views, visit a bar and go to the Basilica di Sant’ Ubaldo. Sant’Ubaldo was a bishop of Gubbio who used his negotiating skills to stop the town being sacked by Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. His blackened corpse is on display in a glass coffin behind the altar. Look out for the Ceri, the wooden ‘candles’ used in the race; they are kept in the church.
Tuoro sul Trasimeno
Tuoro sul Trasimeno is located on the northern shore of Lake Trasimeno. It is built on the site of the famous battle between the Romans and Carthagians, who were headed by Hannibal. The foundation of the town itself is, however, much more recent, dating back to XIV century. Places of interest include Ranieri Castle, which belonged to the Montemelino family and the Pieve (Chapel) di Confine which was constructed at the beginning of the XII century.
Passignano sul Trasimeno
The most ancient part of Passignano is encircled by medieval walls but not many historical buildings remain in the town due to the destruction during WW2 but there are two churches, San Rocco ( XV century) and San Bernardino, which were built at about the same time.
You can reach Isola Maggiore, the largest island on the lake, by ferry in a few minutes from Passignano. The island is well worth a visit, as is the XII Romanesque Church of San Salvatore and the church of San Michele Arcangelo that dates back to the XIV century. There is also the interesting and dilapidated Villa Isabella which belong to the Guglielmi family. St. Francis lived on the island for a while and one can visit the spot from where he would pray.
Castel Rigone, a small village on about ten kilometres from Passignano, has an extremely elegant renaissance church dedicated to the Madonna dei Miracoli.
Umbertide and the surrounding area was inhabited in pre-Roman and Roman times. The 19th century archaeologist Mariano Guardabassi attributed a small building, located about 1 km from the town centre, to the Etruscan but this is by no means certain. The Roman town of Pitulum was destroyed by Totila in the mid-6th century but the present incarnation, then known as Fratta, was said to have been founded in the 8th or the 10th century depending on which scholar you prefer to believe. The present name was adopted in 1863 in honor of then Crown Prince Umberto.
Although there are remains of the medieval walls, a few medieval houses, and part of the impressive Rocca, many of Umbertide's best monuments are of later periods. The main church in town is the collegiate church of Santa Maria della Reggia. It is an octagonal 16th century brick building topped by an elegant cupola, housing a few paintings by Niccolò Circignani. Santa Maria della Pietà, with the attractive funerary chapel of the counts of Sorbello, is late medieval and Renaissance. The seventeenth century church of Santa Croce houses a museum with a good collection of paintings, including a Deposition by Luca Signorelli. The largest church, San Francesco, is Gothic.
Beyond the town limits the principal monuments are the castle of Civitella Ranieri, one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in Umbria. The abbey of San Salvatore di Montecorona which has a beautiful eleventh century crypt with early Romanesque capitals and naïve 18th century painted ceilings. The medieval castle of Polgeto, the abbey church of S. Bartolomeo de' Fossi and the walled medieval village of Borgo Santa Giuliana.
Castiglione del Lago
Città della Pieve
An attractive medieval hilltop town, dominating the Chiana Valley and with perfect views of the impressive Monte Cetona sitting directly across from the town. Possibly with Etruscan and Roman origins, the town is built in a mixture of local stone and red brick. The home of Perugino, Città della Pieve is striking for its intense terracotta colour. At the highest point the fortress dominates with its five square towers, while the town centre is Piazza del Plebiscito, which has as its historical and architectonic fulcrum in the cathedral, the ancient church, with works by Perugino. From the square the terzieri towns (the subdivision of three town quarters) take form: the “Castle”, with Piazza XIX Giugno dominated by the Fargna Palace, the “Casalino” with the oratory of S. Mary of the Bianchi, precious for the fresco of the Adoration of the Magi by Perugino, and the “Borgo Dentro”.
A walk in the historic centre, with a visit to the numerous evidence of Perugino. The Palio of the terzieri, a renaissance costume parade (August). The Aphrodisiac Festival (September). The saffron, a specialty product cultivated since the XIII century is worth tasting.
Orvieto is a city and municipality in the province of Terni in Southwestern Umbria. It is situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic rock. The site of the city is amongst the most dramatic in Europe, rising above the almost-vertical faces of cliffs that are completed by defensive walls built of the same volcanic stone; Tufa. The city was once called ‘Urbs Vetus’ and has been populated since Etruscan times when it was a major centre, as the locally discovered artifacts in the archaeological museum attest. Orvieto is home to Etruscan ruins and the remnants of a wall that enclosed the city more than 2,000 years ago. An Etruscan necropolis, with a hundred or so tombs, sits at the foot of the butte surrounded by a vineyard and orchards.
Orvieto was annexed by Rome in the 3rd century BC but due to the location it was virtually impregnable. After the collapse of the Roman empire the defensible site gained new importance, the episcopal seat was transferred from Bolsena and the city was held by the Goths and Lombards until a self-governing municipality was established in the 10th century. Orvieto has always had a close relationship with the Papacy; in the 10th century Pope Benedict VII visited the city with his nephew Filippo Alberici who later settled in Orvieto and became consul of the city-state in 1016. By the 13th century three papal palaces had been built there.
Perched on its impenetrable rock controlling the road between Florence and Rome where it crossed the river Chiana, Orvieto was a large town in the middle ages with a population of about 30,000 at the end of the 13th century. Orvieto’s municipal institutions had already been recognised by the Papal bull of 1157 and from 1201 Orvieto was self-governing through a Podesta, who was more often than not, the bishop acting in conjunction with a military governor. Bitter feuds divided the city in the 13th century when the city was at the height of its wealth and it often found itself at odds with the papacy.
The city became one of the major cultural centres of its time when Thomas Aquinas taught there before being called to Rome in 1265 to serve as papal theologian to the newly elected Pope Clement IV. Under Papal control long before it was actually made part of the Papal states, Orvieto was eventually annexed to a unified Italy.
The Cathedral or Duomo is stunning and the cornerstone was laid on the 15th of November 1290 by Pope Nicholas IV when it was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, a feast for which the city had a long history of special devotion. The design has often been attributed to Arnalfo di Cambio but modern opinion seems to suggest that the master mason was an obscure monk from Perugia called Fra’ Bevignate. The amazing church has layers of white travertine and greenish black basalt; similar in many ways to the cathedral in Siena and other cathedrals that were built in central Italy during that era. In the following decade the cathedral authorities called Sienese architect and sculptor Lorenzo Maitani to stabilise the building and design a façade which eventually included some of his remarkable sculptures. He enlarged the choir and planned a transept with two chapels, spaces that were not completed until long after his death. Inside the Chapel of San Brizio has frescoes by Fra Angelico as well as Luca Signorelli’s stunning masterpiece, The Last Judgement (1449 – 51).
The Corporal of Bolsena, on view in the duomo, dates back to a eucharistic miracle that occurred in Bolsena when a consecrated host began to bleed onto the corporal (the corporal being a small piece of cloth on which the host and chalice rest during mass).
From the 11th century onwards the popes maintained an aggressive political presence in the Papal territory which occupied central Italy. The Pope and his court moved from palace to palace in the manner of their secular European counterparts. Outside of Rome, only Orvieto and Viterbo had papal palaces that were considered suitable for hosting the pope and his retinue though there was eventually one in Avignon.
During the sack of Rome in 1527 Orvieto was under siege by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Pope Clement VII took refuge in the town and fearing that there would be insufficient water he commissioned the sinking of a spectacular well, the Pozzo di San Patrizio. The inspiration for the well was from the medieval legend of St. Patrick’s purgatory and the construction was engineered by Antonio Sangallo the younger. He designed two sets of ramps in a double helix formation; they wrap around the central well shaft and enabled mules laden with water to pass downwards without obstructing the passage of other mules on their way up.
In the addition to the well Orvieto has a labyrith of caves and tunnels that are dug deep into the volcanic rock, these tunnels are now only open for guided tours and have galleries, wells, stairs, quarries, unexpected passageways, cisterns and rooms. Many of the homes of the noble families were equipped with escape routes into the tunnels and these emerged some point distant from the city walls.
The construction of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo began in the 13th century and was built on a site that had been occupied by a papal palace since 1157. The original building was a single ground floor loggia used as a market or meeting place. The structure was enlarged within ten years of its construction and in 1315 the bell tower was added. The upper part of the structure was covered over in 1472 and the existing hall was divided into two rooms; the larger of which is known today as the Sala dei Quattrocento. From 1596 one of the rooms in the lower section contain the ‘studium’ where students of law, theology and logic came to study twice a week.
The Fortezza of Albernoz was constructed on the site of an old temple by order of Pope Innocent VI and designed by the military engineer Ugolino di Montemarte. Originally known as the Rocca di San Martino, the construction started in the 1350’s. The original plan was to surround the square building with a moat and drawbridge and then to flank it with a small building near to the entrance. The Rocca was almost completely destroyed in 1395 and subsequent attempts to re-build it were unsuccessful until the mid 15th century.
Worth seeing is the oldest church in Orvieto, the church of San Giovenale. Probably constructed over a pre-exisiting church, it was built in 1004 and contains many 13th-century frescos. Also San Domenico, one of the first Dominican churches.