By now you know that I absolutely love Italy in general and Orvieto in particular. However, just because you love something doesn’t mean you can’t grumble about it and point out its warts. In this case, the warts are on our Piazza della Repubblica, which happens to be one of our 4 major piazze (piazze being the plural for piazza).
But first, let’s agree on a definition for “piazza”. According to the rather elementary dictionary in my phone, it’s “an open square or public place in a city or town with room for pedestrians”. It doesn’t say that it has to be pretty, but when you hear the word piazza, you’re hopeful that, at the very least, it’s not a toxic waste dump. And it’s true that the definition also doesn’t say that it has to have any kind of plants, nor be a welcoming place to sit and relax. Still…….
Back to Piazza della Repubblica (current photo above)……. When I first came to Orvieto, the only way to get to the Hotel Piccolomini (which is where I always stayed) was to drive through the arches you see on the right, swing around to the left where the trucks are parked, and then swing around to the left again, right in front of where I was standing to take the photo, making a wide “U”. At the time I thought it was odd that they’d have you driving through a people-filled piazza, but to make sure cars didn’t venture into any of the “pedestrian only” areas, they lined the way with planters and wooden benches. They weren’t the most beautiful planters, and the selection of plants could have been a bit more imaginative, but the overall effect was pleasant. (See photo from 2006 below).
Last year at this time, I mentioned in a blog that one of the changes that had taken place in town while I was gone was the change in the direction of the traffic in the piazza in front of our apartment. The reason for this was that they had stopped cars from going into the Piazza della Repubblica and directed them instead to our piazza. Since the most generous description you can say about our piazza is “charmless”, the new traffic pattern seemed like a good idea. And I heard there was talk of putting in a fountain, which is usually – though not always – a plus.
A year has passed, and as you can see by comparing these 2 photos, poor Piazza della Repubblica is now actually much less inviting than it was with cars buzzing around. If you look at Photo #1, those trucks on the left are there because of work being done to the only coffee shop/restaurant in the piazza, the front of which is currently wrapped in green and orange plastic. While I’m not a huge truck fan, it’s sad to say that in this case, if you take them away, the scene will be even more drab.
It will help somewhat when the coffee shop/restaurant re-opens, but since it’s a private enterprise, the town really can’t dictate how appealing it will look. A fountain could take years to finish, and you never know if Orvieto’s Design Committee will choose something suitable for this lovely space or a fountain like they put in one of the little piazze on the other side of town, which MIGHT look good in a modern setting, but is almost a negative in a medieval town like ours. What can be done NOW is, at the very least, bring back some of the planters and benches we had when cars were allowed. It really wouldn’t take that much money or time to make Piazza della Repubblica a place where people feel welcomed instead of a place they want to scurry through as quickly as possible. And let’s face it — having a goal of making a piazza without cars as good as it was when cars were zipping through doesn’t seem like THAT high a hurdle.
See – I told you that as soon as I returned to Italy I’d find something to “discuss”. And you need not suggest that my grumbling would be much more useful if I voiced it to the Orvieto hierarchy rather than to you, because then I’d have to deal with that old language problem, and you don’t want to get me started on that again so early in my stay……