Last week, we took a day trip to beautiful Orvieto. It was a one and a half hour train ride to get to the little town, which is situated atop virtually vertical cliffs. One of my favorite parts of Orvieto was taking the funicular to the upper part of the medieval town. We were only in the little train for two minutes, but the views were stellar.
Walking into Orvieto was like walking in a storybook: it was drizzling and the cobblestone streets glistened as the sun tried to break through the clouds. The houses were tiny and had flower boxes under their windows while sheets hung out the windows to dry. I could have spent the entire day wandering in and out of the little shops and adoring the picturesque streets. However, there is a lot to see and do in the small Umbrian town.
If I were to just pass Orvieto on the train to Firenze, I never would have imagined there was an underground town below the magical one we spent the morning strolling through. We were actually able to take a guided tour through the labyrinth of hidden tunnels and caves. People built this underground city because Orvieto is situated on tuff cliffs. The volcanic rock is actually soft to the touch; it crumbles under contact. Many noble families of Orvieto had homes with access to tunnel systems that they were able to use to flee when the town was under siege. The escape routes were later used for other purposes. One of my favorite “rooms” had hundreds of tiny holes carved in the walls. The hollows used to house pigeons, which happen to be a delicacy in Orvieto. After hearing this, we had to try pigeon for lunch. As soon as we emerged from the dark tunnels, we took off to find a restaurant.
Once I was able to get past the fact that I was eating the cousin of one of the birds that populate the streets of Philadelphia, I really enjoyed my meal. Needless to say, I would highly recommend the pigeon to anyone who visits Orvieto. Even sitting down to eat in Orvieto was more relaxing and slow-paced than anywhere I’ve been to in Italy. Most of the shops closed in the afternoon for siesta and I enjoyed people watching while nibbling my pigeon in an adorable restaurant in the Italian countryside.
After lunch, we ventured to the monumental Orvieto Cathedral. Pope Nicholas IV commissioned the building of the Duomo and the massive church looked every bit the part. I was surprised to learn that Orvieto was one of the only cities outside Rome to have a papal palace. Pope Adrian IV and Pope Boniface VIII were just two of the popes to have special ties with Orvieto during the years the popes didn’t have an official residence.
The Duomo looked even cooler from the top of the Torre del Moro. For a couple of euros and a couple hundred steps, we were able to enjoy some of the best views I’ve seen in Italy yet (which is impressive in a country where every sight is astounding). Climbing the bell tower was the perfect way to end a lovely day in Orvieto.