Once you get past the facade, there is some exceptional work to see inside as well, particularly in the famous San Brizio Chapel, located on your right as you walk down the aisle.
As with most things worth seeing in Italy, it costs and you can't take photos. Started by Fra Angelica and Gozzoli, then finally completed by Luca Signorelli in 1504. The work is considered to be the latter's masterpiece and I have to say it certainly impressed me as being more than your standard church fresco.
The Preaching of the Antichrist lunette, located on your left as you face the chapel, is a stunner. Some of the notable people included in the painting include the artist himself with Fra Angelica on the left, then, in the crowd in the middle you might find the young Raphael, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Cesare Borgia and possibly Christopher Columbus.
Beneath you can see Dante seated, obviously in study mode with opened books. The End of the World and The Resurrection of the Flesh are the themes of the other two walls.
On the other side of the church is the Chapel of the Blessed Corporal, set into one of Maitani's fllying butresses. It was specifically built to house the bloodstained or corporal from Bolsena, still on show on the altar.
The reliquary (1338) is a real eyecatcher. Originally made for the corporal and fragments of host, long since turned to dust. Made of silver, gilded silver and translucent polished enamel it is Matteo di Ugolino da Bologna's finest work, inspired no doubt by the front of the church.
Another piece is the pieta Ippola Scalza and dated 1579. Possibly inspired by Michaelangelo, some have judged it overly theatrical and thus not as powerful as the more famous one at St. Peters but, he with no art education whatsoever liked it and thought it a splendid work. (pic 3)
Look at the colour of the egg yolks
I took a cooking class at Castello della Sala, which is the medieval castle where the wine of the same name is produced. The egg yolks have a deep rich colour, because they feed the chickens with goat milk. Also, the castle is rumoured to be haunted. One of the men in our party reported his camera taking pictures on its own in the middle of the night. Very strange.
The carved panels are like reading the bible
Apart from the marvellous mosaics the western façade of Orvieto’s duomo has another striking masterpiece: the “picture bible”. It consists of four stone carved panels of early 14th century, each approx. 8x4 m. They show scenes from Old and New testament and finally the Last Judgement. Start exploring these with the one to the left: it is about genesis, the second one has scenes with prophecies of messias, the third one is about life of Christ and the fourth one (to the right) is the one called Last Judgement. It is said that this one inspired Luca Signorelli to paint his famous frescoes inside. These panels are a real piece of art with a lot emphasis to details. But it is difficult to identify the scenes in the upper parts. A movable ladder would be perfect…..
More photos in my travelogue: ”picture bible”
Orvieto underground, step back in time
The soft tuffa stone “below” Orvieto is ideal for carving. Already the Etruscans knew this and dug holes, cellars and caves. This all had the fascinating benefit to enlarge “room” but without making it visible to the outside world. And in the warm climate underground cellars and caves had another big advantage: keep food cool and stay out of the heat for daily work. In addition to Pozzo della Cava (see previous tip) there is also “Orvieto Underground”, which can be visited, only through a guided tour however. This is a series of caves in the outmost part of the city’s tuffa “block”, south of the duomo, about a five minutes walk. These caves were mostly used for community purposes, spacious cavities with oil mills (photo 3, which were in use until 19th century), wine cellars, wells and artesan shops. Fascinating are also many caves facing the outer walls with holes to the outside and a hundreds of little cavities (approx. 30x30x30 cm). These were dovecotes, where doves were bred to guarantee food, also in cases of siege. In addition, dove droppings were used as fertilisers in the vineyards (haha, this might be an idea for cities with pigeon problems…). It is fascinating to walk through all these caves and cellars. Ou r guide Gabriella did an excellent job explaning all the little details and history of Orvieto’s underground. At the entrance is also an explanatory board (illuminated) which shows how much of the city actually has underground cellars and rooms: 1200 caves were found up to now, and the ground below Orvieto seems to be something like a Swiss cheese.
Tours can be booked at the tourist office opposite of the duomo (with the duomo in your back it is to your left at the piazza). They leave from there every approx. two hours, but this depends on the amount of requests. Even in April (2008) three tours were leaving after 3 p.m. Most of these are in Italian, but they also offer several tours in English, German and Spanish, usually in the afternoon. In the group I joined we were only three plus our guide, so there is no minimum of visitors necessary. The tour was 5,50 €. Bring a torch in case you feel uncomfortable in the dark, although it is properly illuminated. And bring a warm sweater, it is cool inside.
"Orvieto and Its Magnificent Cathedral"
Tourists in Orvieto are drawn first and foremost by the amazing cathedral, one of Italys finest Gothic buildings. The town rests on top of a craggy cliff, and although medieval Orvieto is the main tourist magnet, Etruscan tombs and the citys underground chambers testify to the areas history.
Little can prepare you for the visual image of this cathedral. Started in 1290, this remarkable building was originally planned in the Romanesque style but, as work progressed and architects changed, Gothic features were added. The building took 30 years to plan and three centuries to complete! It was probably started by Bevigante and later added to by a number of well respected architects. Inside, the fresco titled the Last Judgement is mindblowing. Signorelli began work on the series in 1499 and Michelangelo is said to have taken inspiration from it. Some say that Michelangelos masterpiece runs a close second to Signorellis work. The cathedral is truely stunning.