Sabrina Tatta, one of the LSJ professors invited me to join her program on their day trip to Orvieto on Friday. Seeing as how I like to take advantage of as many free things as I possibly can, I said sure without hesitation.
We met at the Portone bright and early on Friday morning and as we were walking to the bus, it started to rain. It was the first raindrops I have felt since arriving in Rome a month and a half ago. It felt so refreshing. On our way to Orvieto we made a pit stop at Bomarzo. Bomarzo was made famous by the Park of the Monsters, AKA Villa of Wonders, AKA Sacred Grove. It is a park commissioned by Prince Orsini after his wife’s death as a kind of tribute to her. It includes a wide variety of monstrous sculptures intended to astonish. My favorite one is a monster’s face that you can walk into. The acoustics of the room inside the monster makes your voice carry and echo. Lucky enough, I went inside with Dominique, a singer, and she serenaded me. It sounded so beautiful.
Back on the bus and we were in Orvieto in no time. Orvieto is situated on top of a flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff that was once inhabited by the Ancient Etruscans and then the Romans. First we visited the duomo/cathedral, which held a particular surprise for me. I had no idea that the Chapel of San Brizio was in Orvieto! This chapel is home to Luca Signorelli’s most famous frescoes.
Next we signed up for a tour of Orvieto’s underground. I really think dad would have enjoyed this. The tunnels and caves were carved into the cliffs by the Etruscans and the Romans searching for sources of water to supply the ancient towns above ground. In the middle ages the tunnels were used as a means of escape during enemy sieges. In the early Renaissance, families who owned property above carved niches into the tunnel walls to encourage pigeons to nest there. Then the families would make money selling the eggs at market. In the 1700s, the tunnels were excavated a little too enthusiastically and the town above started to sink in and reinforcements had to be made. During WWII, the underground was used as a bomb shelter for the inhabitants of Orvieto and surrounding towns. Today there are over 1,000 tunnels underneath the city. So cool!
After the tour, we climbed the stairs of the clock tower for a beautiful view of the city. One of the great things about Italy is that in every city there is something that you can climb to get a view. After a little shopping and museum-bathroom-using, we headed down to St. Patrick’s Well. Apparently the well is so deep that the Italians have an expression about it. When you want to say that you don’t have enough money for something, you say that your pockets aren’t as deep as St. Patrick’s well. After that, it was time to hop back on the bus and head home!