Sunday, February 14, 2010


On Saturday we had set out, mapless, to travel through the snow-on-ground-briefly Cimino hills to Viterbo, the provincial capital, then from there were enticed by the sign for Siena, to the north, though we knew Siena was a considerable distance away. En route we left the winding road to enter Montesfiascone, a hilltop village (most villages are) and did not stop because there was nowhere to stop, passing on then to Orvieto. Orvieto looms from the floor of the valley on a great block of tuff, volcanic ash based rock; a site preferred by the Etruscans as a defended city, later depopulated by the Romans who could see there was no security on the main road north from Rome without depopulating it. Five hundred years ago the pope of the day sat safely up there while the Holy Roman Emperor and armies marched south and north below, to sack Rome. 

As an impregnable refuge, Orvieto has a well, with track for donkey, from the top down to the bottom.

We parked the car in the civilised car park not far from the bottom of the hill and proceeded by escalator (steps coming down later) to the town above. There are roads, there would have been, on this winter day, plenty of parking places at the top, but it was nice not to take another machine up there.

There is much style in this extraordinary town, well-maintained with a major income from tourists. And then (second photo below) one comes around a corner and there ahead is the most extraordinary building.

When you come out of narrow streets into the piazza and are confronted by the duomo (cathedral) its proportions are startling.

Though some continue to do daily things....

and parents photograph small children, as I did here in 1968-69...

The duomo was designed and then redesigned from 1280 to 1302 and most of it built by 1330 (or so, lots of bits still to be done and see the date MDCCCXIX (1819) on the front steps, above, note that in 1969 when I was last there there was still squabbling over the big front doors, now installed), a timetable very favourably comparable with the Sydney Opera House given the resources of the time. The scale of the building and the profundity and power of its religious iconography must have made it of enormous power, both religious and political, for many centuries - among the locals if not beyond, it mainly being a refuge, not otherwise powerfully located.

The details on the exterior are both beautiful and well maintained.

There is somehow both a counterpoint and visual symmetry between the cathedral and this shop around the corner, in the immense complexity of their wares. We liked the message, gold on red below (remember all photos enlarge if clicked on) which reads "CRUSHING DREAMS PROHIBITED'... But is it beneath a model of the Titanic?

... and then one is walking back towards the end of the day and the car park, along cobbled streets, looking in courtyards, wondering if Dante's feet trod here, which of many popes' molecules are blowing here or there; what soldiers, what princes, what tired workers, what craftsmen; which women held in what regard and circumstance; what hopeful, what despairing, what decent, what rotten person; with what culture, what language, what expection, over thousands of years, are we following here?

1 comment:

  1. Just caught up on all your adventures. Makes me wish I was there.

    You know if you guys move to Italia we shall most certainly visit :-)