Orvieto or the “Land of NO Pigeons”

A typical street in Orvieto

So I decided with my friend Sam to go to Orvieto this weekend since we were basically home alone because our roommates were at Oktoberfest. Laura also decided that she was going to join us so the three of us set off early this morning to a place called Orvieto.

Upon boarding the train, we found a small boxed compartment of the train with 6 seats and decided to occupy three of them and then another two men occupied two more of the seats. We waited around and read things and talked until the conductor came by and said something to us in Italian that we didn’t understand. It turns out that we were accidentally sitting in a first class compartment. He stamped our tickets and motioned us to move some place else. We just moved out of the compartment literally about ten feet away into some seats. I’m pretty sure that they were also first class but no one came around to check our tickets again so we basically got to sit in first class for free! Not that it really made a difference or anything though. But it was still fun.

When we arrived to Orvieto, we picked up a map and rode this adorable funicular tram up the hill to the town. The city is situated on a giant mound of a volcanic rock. The rock is actually made of the same stuff that covered Pompeii in ancient times. Riding the funicular train was tons of fun and it had this one point where it looked like you were going to hit the train coming down but then the tracks split at the last minute and everyone was safe. We set off down the streets of this quaint city and found a small panino shop where we could buy a quick lunch before heading to tour the underground caves.

The rock that Orvieto sits on is super soft and easy to dig into, so the citizens, dating back to Etruscan times, dug and built tunnels and workplaces underground because of its stable temperature. On the tour of the caves, we saw an ancient olive press, probably one of the first, and grinding mills, as well as cisterns and wells and even places to raise pigeons. The Orvietans created this huge network of caves and tunnels to supply themselves in their times of need. So that when they were under siege, by say, the Romans, they were completely self sufficient. So one family was in charge of the olive oil, another for the water, one for wine, and another for the food source, or the pigeons. Turns out that Orvieto is known for their local delicacy of pigeon, or, “la pombolona.” We asked the tour lady where we could fancy a dish of such proportions and she gave us the name of this particular osteria where we could enjoy the local tradition. Unfortunately, our timing was a little off and the time that we needed to catch our train coincided with the opening time of the restaurant.

After the tour of the caves, Sam, Laura, and I sat on the wall overlooking the Perugian countryside and soaked in the warmth of the glorious sunshine whilst drawing for our class. It was so beautiful, I could have sat there for hours and it would have never gotten old.

We set out to find a store to buy the city’s olive oil, especially since we learned what makes olive oil extra virgin, and also to buy the city’s famous wine. We bought the wine and the shop gave us little plastic cups and we drank it on the grassy, clover filled hillside next to the duomo. After enjoying the moment of respite, we decided to explore the archeological museum adjacent to the duomo. We were lucky enough that since we were architecture students, we were able to gain free entrance to the museum. The museum was filled with adorable pieces of Etruscan jewelry, tools, pots, coins, and even armor. There were even burial frescoes that were found under the city that date back to the Etruscans. The curator spoke to us in Italian about the frescos, and although I don’t remember exactly what she said, we all were able to understand what she was talking about! It was a happy moment. In the frescos were even pictures of a fancy pigeon meal

Orvieto’s Duomo

Next on the list was the spectacular Duomo. It was so interesting from the outside because the facade was so ornate and massive, but oh so flat! It was literally a facade tacked on to a “Siena” striped Romanesque cathedral. Upon entering, we were faced with one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t take any photos, but it was immense and eerie. It reminded us of the Siena cathedral, but much much simpler. There were beautifully preserved frescos depicting the antichrist, hell, heaven, and the end times in one wing of the church, and in the other, the sacred bloody napkin for which the church was founded. Apparently, in old times, there was a priest who once doubted that the bread and wine served in communion were actually the blood and body of Christ. In his moment of doubt, the communion bread began to bleed onto the tablecloth on which it sat. This was clearly a miracle and the napkin has supposedly been preserved and remains to be seen today in the opposing wing of the frescos

The rest of the day we spent meandering the streets of Orvieto, capturing and enjoying the countless picturesque alleyways and city monuments. We found a beautiful lookout point with another spectacular view of the Perugian countryside. There was also a children’s playground at which we decided that if we grew up as children in Orvieto playing at a playground with THIS great of a view, we would think that the whole world was awful outside of this small paradise. Since it was too early for us to eat at the pigeon restaurant, we went back to the shop where we bought wine and olive oil to enjoy a panino of wild boar prosciutto, which was satisfactorily delicious.

View of Orvieto Wall from St. Patrick’s Well

Making our way back to the edge of the cliff, our final sight for the day was Saint Patrick’s well. A well commissioned by the pope to stand as a symbol for Orvieto’s resilience in times of siege, since no one would attack a city with such a stable supply of water. The well is a double helix so that mules could go up and down it easily. We went down one way and back another, which was super cool. It was also sunset so it was really dark inside, which contributed to the spooky ambience. We each made a wish at the bottom of the eerie well and then headed back up to catch the sunset over the countryside. We had just as much fun riding the funicular down as we did up and made our way to the train station to buy our tickets. After a small mix-up with the train times, we were able to snag a spot on a train leaving about 30 minutes earlier. This train turned out to be a sleeper train, and we walked the entire length of the train since we couldn’t immediately find seats of three. We got to the end and then turned around to begin the quest of finding actual seats, but not without creating a little game of trying to walk the narrow train corridors without touching anything. It didn’t help that we had each helped finish off the bottle of wine from earlier in the day. We eventually found three open seats that opened up literally right in front of us. We were seated with two other guys who were traveling to Austria and Germany that night. We talked about our travels the whole way back and it made the time pass much more quickly.

Once we were home in Firenze, Laura and I walked Sam back to her apartment and were in the process of walking home ourselves when we HAD to detour through the food fair in Santa Croce. We finally got to taste the Dutch crepes drizzled with Nutella and powdered sugar. They were perhaps the best crepes I had ever had. I don’t even know if crepes are Dutch, but at this point I don’t even care; I prefer Dutch crepes to French ones any day of the week. I also bought a pack of stroopwafels and enjoyed one of them with Laura as we sat, talked, and people watched in the Piazza. We eventually went home and I went to bed satisfied, but very exhausted.

Orvieto is probably one of my favorite little cities in the Italian hills. It had so much history and charm and I so enjoyed my time with my friends. It is on par for me with San Gimigniano, if not it might be a little bit better. I will never forget today and the memories I shared with my friends. It was such a pleasantly surprising adventure filled with beautiful scenery, history, culture, and fantastic memories with people I really treasure (as cheesy as it may sound, it’s 100% true).


Orvieto, a set on Flickr.

Pictures from our day in Orvieto!