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Orvieto

Peaceful Houses - Dark Caves

Seven Days

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In the course of spending much time here, while roaming peaceful streets with quaint structures topped with terra cotta tile, one becomes aware of mysteries lying deep beneath the surface. The dramatic ramps shown descend about 175 feet below the town's streets, to enable jars of precious water to be lugged up via pack animals — normal siege procedures of the era.

​More than two millennia ago this particular upthrust landform was occupied by a community of mysterious Etruscans. Their alas mostly-obliterated culture (the Romans again) thrived on a number of mesas such as today's Orvieto occupies here, in the westward province of Umbria. This ancient city, nowadays lies about halfway along the direct rail line between Rome and Florence.

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Above ground structures of course are less mysterious and rudimentary, in terms of what human cultures have built and why. Since the 1200s this magnificent late Romanesque-gothic or early-renaissance style bishop's church/administrative complex has graced the Orvieto skyline. Built at about the same time as Siena's, the Orvieto Duomo has similar features, among which are its alternate dark/light layers of stone, designed apparently under the guidance of the Siena duomo's architect.

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One marvelous bit of cleverness in the cathedral's structure, is the deliberate distortion of the visitor's perspective. The dimensions towards the rear of the church are deliberately larger than those in front — thus it appears when one enters the back of the nave, that the sanctuary is much longer than it is. Conversely when you turn back towards the rear, the illusion of scale is reversed and the interior appears very tiny indeed.

The best artists of the time, such as the Pisano brothers and Donatello, Ghiberti, and Bernini, were recruited to adorn the interior. I am truly fascinated simply to study the details of the last judgment, flowing over the arched ceiling above the apse.

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Not far from the main thoroughfare rises a practical clock tower  which sports an odd little pergola-looking bell-support over all. You don't get an idea of the scale involved, until you go inside and trudge the many stairs upward to inspect the clock-face from within. The big axle from the center gears, turns ever so slowly ....

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At the other end of town is the church of San Giovenale (or Juvenal: of whom not much is known, except that he died in 132 a.d.) Regardless, the place is a rich trove of millennium-era paintings now in the process of being restored to their original luminance. Here are two images from the distant past, who continue to encourage and maybe scrutinize the Faithful attending mass here, these modern days. Earlier still on this site was a 6th century Christian church which in turn was preceded by an Etruscan temple.

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Then by trains to the coast and

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They're Going Again!