It seems like I should tell you a bit more about Orvieto than I have so far.
Its big claim to fame is its gorgeous Duomo, which I’m sure I’ll talk about in more detail at some future date. For now the important things to know are that it has a top-of-the-line art treasure, it truly IS gorgeous (see below) and it brings in hordes of tourists.
(An important aside: Every town has a church designated as its Duomo, which is its most important church. Occasionally it won’t be the showiest church, but in that case, it probably has some kind of historic precedence over the grander one. In Orvieto’s case, Duomo and showy are one and the same.)
The other thing that brings in tourists is the town’s proximity to the Autostrada. All the tours going from Rome to Siena, Florence and other points north must drive right by the base of the town. From the tour’s standpoint it’s the perfect way to amuse the clients for a few hours before herding them back on the bus. It satisfies the religious, the art-lovers, the shoppers and those who just want to sit with a cappuccino and get away from their fellow tour-mates, with whom they’ve already grown weary.
There are 2 main streets where the guides usually direct the tourists. If you picture Orvieto as a long oval sitting high above the valley floor, Corso Cavour runs lengthwise down the middle, though it changes its name a couple of times along the way just to confuse you. About half way along the Corso is Via del Duomo off to the left, which leads you to Piazza del Duomo, and I’m betting you can guess what you’ll find there.
At the intersection of these 2 streets is the Torre del Moro – a high clock tower that you can climb (240 steps) and enjoy the incredible view over the town, out to the surrounding countryside. At the top are bells that ring every quarter hour. The big, masculine bell tolls the hour, then there’s a slight pause after which a more feminine bell will ring once for the quarter hour, twice for the half, and three times for three quarters. The one time you definitely do NOT want to be on the top is 12:45, when you’d have to endure 12 masculine rings, a much too short pause, and then 3 feminine rings. Often I won’t pay attention to the chimes until they’re in the middle of the hour tolls, so I end up wondering if it’s 15 minutes past 5, 6 or 7 o’clock.
For shopping, the Corso has the major clothing stores (though you shouldn’t confuse “major” with “large”), while it seems that every other shop along Via del Duomo is a ceramic shop. Of course there are many other stores, but most tourists just stick with these 2 streets.
If you turn right at the Torre del Moro instead of left to the Duomo, you’ll find Piazza del Popolo, where the outdoor market is held on Thursday and Saturday mornings. Yes, there are fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, cheeses (98% of which are, of course, pecorino), roasted chickens and flowers, along with an incredible array of what I’ll call junk. No — you won’t find 10 interesting kinds of mushrooms or 7 varieties of potatoes — and definitely not 25 totally different cheeses like you would at a French outdoor market, but as Italian ones go, this isn’t bad.
Driving and parking in town are almost impossible for visitors. You would have zero chance of figuring out where you were on the one-way, incredibly narrow serpentine streets because so many of them are pedestrian only, and then it would take a modern miracle to find a legal parking spot. The best thing is to park in the lots on the edges of town and walk to the center.
And speaking of parking lots, I’ll leave you with a story about one of them. The town built a lovely 2-story underground lot, utilizing the top as a soccer field and little park for people to enjoy. It took well over 2 years to build, with all the usual din and dirt of workmen hammering away and trucks transporting cement and huge steel beams. It was finished several years ago. To date, the only time there have ever been cars in it or people enjoying the top was this year when they needed extra parking for one day because the prestigious Giro d’Italia bike race was coming through town. Why has it been used only one day? The word is that after all the construction noises finally stopped, someone pointed out that the city didn’t actually own the land. It’s quite doubtful that I have enough years left in my life to ever see the untying of this particular bureaucratic knot. Yes, I adore this place, and I don’t expect it to be perfect…….but sometimes you just have to wonder……