Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 19, 2012

Oh, Orvieto, I think I love you

Orvieto is one of my favourite towns in all of Italy. I pass it regularly when I am on the train from Rome to Florence and I never fail to be amazed at the sight of the town sitting high on its tufa plug above the surrounding countryside.

The opportunity to spend a couple of days there recently was too good to refuse.

The origins of the town are unknown, but the Etruscans were there, and the Romans and it suffered under the Barbarian invasions. In the 11th century Orvieto became an independent city-state and began to acquire the incredible monuments that remain today. It was annexed to the Papal states in the 15th century.

The most outstanding building in the town is the magnificent cathedral. It was begun in the late 13th century and despite the fact that there were several architects involved, the building has an exceptionally harmonious appearance. My one gripe is that the area in front of the cathedral is not deep enough to allow you to stand back far enough to admire it. You could get a serious crick in your neck from looking up.


The facade is an exotic jewel of Gothic architecture. The gorgeous panels, a series of sculptures, bas-reliefs and mosaics, that cover the front of the building could keep you there for hours, not wanting to miss one bit.














The interior of the church is beautiful too.



The walls are covered with remnants of old frescoes.




I have gone on far too long about the cathedral, but it really is spectacular. I will show you more of Orvieto is the next post….or 2.

The cathedral takes on a golden colour in the late afternoon.




  1. Indeed one of the most beautiful places in Italy

    • There will be more on the gorgeous town in the next post.

  2. What an amazing cathedral, Deb! I think it’s amazing to think that it was built centuries before the First Fleet arrived in Australia…

    • I think it is incredible that it is still standing.

  3. This is one of my friend Donna’s favourite places. I must visit there one day cause I know I will also love it Lyn

    • Orvieto is a beautiful town, with lots to offer. It definitely needs a visit.

  4. Yes agree about the beautiful cathedral. Please please do another couple of posts on the actual city. Cannot wait to see more of your incredible pictures on Orvieto.

    • That post was getting a bit long, so I will do the actual town soon.

  5. I could not agree more… Orvieto is an amazing town…. Too often overlooked, especially when you consider it is about 1/2 way between Firenze and Rome (closer). We stayed in the hills around Orvieto in June last year. I especially liked the underground caves & of course the natural beauty. food & wine of Orvieto.
    However, did you manage to see Civita di Bagnoregio. Seeing is believing. A very small++++ town about 25 Kms drive south west of Orvieto. The “dying town” is breath taking. It was founded by Etruscans over twenty-five hundred years ago but has seen its population dwindle to just fifteen residents over the last few years.The town was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s 2006 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites, due to the threats it faces from erosion++
    It is a great day trip from Orvieto… great drive past Lake Bolsena. But you need a car. I still remember the meal at Civita di Bagnoregio … white beans, oil and anchovies with crusty bread with a local red. One of the best meals in Italy. Whilst Orvieto was pasta, truffles and Sicilian sausage. Highly recommend Orvieto & surroundings.

    • I went to Bagnoregio a few years ago and did a short post on it. I will definitely go back. I want to return to Pitigliano and see Saturnia, so another trip to the area is called for.

  6. One of my favourite places too!

    Pam Proctor

    • I have been a few times to Orvieto and just love it.

  7. I love the cathedral! Beyond beautiful!

    • The rest of the town is lovely as well.

  8. Thank you Debra. I just love your photos – they are breathtaking! I can’t wait to go to Italy and your blog has helped me enourmously, maybe too much!!
    I look forward to your posts each day.

    • Thank you for your kind comments…..I love Italy.

  9. John and I admired Orvieto from our train window, with John commenting he always wanted to visit Orvieto. Sadly, we missed the opportunity last time. Seeing your pictures of the beautiful cathedral have whetted our desire even more! Medieval churches were supposed to represent “heaven on earth” – the stunning Orvieto Cathedral fits into this element superbly. I love everything this cathedral represents, especially the carvings, the frescos and the intricate mosaic details.

    • As I said, you could sit looking at this church for hours, taking in all the details.

  10. I always love your posts and how you put together such a lovely collection of photos! Work of art! Lovely cathedral and I love the pastel colors.

    • I love the animals stepping off the facade.

  11. Spectacular Debra. Thank you for picking up all the gorgeous details. It really makes you appreciate the bigger picture. What a gorgeous sky. That late afternoon glow made me feel all nostalgic for Umbria!

    • That golden glow in the late afternoon is magical.

  12. This is so very beautiful, and in amazing condition. They really knew how to build to last, in those days. The detail is stunning. What artistry and workmanship. Thanks for the great photos, Debra.

    • I think it amazing that these buildings were constructed without cranes, electricity……how did they do it???

      • It’s a mystery. 🙂

  13. Debra…looking forward to Part due…e’ the???? It’s making me homesick. toni

    • I can understand why you are so keen to get to Orvieto to live.

  14. Great photos, Debra, and we also love Orvieto and its wonderful cathedral. The clever use of those wonderful gold mosaics has allowed us to see and admire this fine Gothic masterpiece in all of its polichromy. Mosaics survive much better than frescoes, which are better protected inside.

  15. OK … you keep adding stops to my list. Stop it! 😉 Wonderful pics, and I love the change in appearance depending on the sun!

  16. Stunning!

  17. Great set of images, Debra! I especially love the spiraling posts with mosaics – seems very unusual.

  18. Wonderful Debra.. Thank you for the great photos as usual & I can’t wait for the next post on this area close to where my new home will be… Next week! Yay! So, on your next visit to the area, stop off at Parrano, another amazing hill top town, totally renovated and 1km from my home.

    Thanks to Paul for the info re Civita di Bagnoregio.. duly noted as a ‘must’ to visit.

  19. We spent a few nights in Orvieto and loved wandering the streets late in the afternoon before settling down at a bar for a glass of vino and some snacks. The cathedral is a magnificent building, the golden light in the afternoon that causes the change in colour of the facade made it hard for me to look away. Your photos are beautiful.

  20. These pictures have been floating in the front of my mind all day. What a stunning cathedral. The skill in the workmanship and the artistry is amazing. There must have been so many highly skilled workmen whose entire working lives were spent working there and the architects obviously knew that anything was possible.

  21. There is so much more of Italy that I simply must see! 😀

  22. Your post and pictures have left me pining for Italy. Hope to see some of local food (read pastas) in the next post 🙂

  23. Orvieto was famous for it’s wine even before it was famous for it’s 14th century cathedral. Around 1100, a German bishop was making his way to Rome. But priorities are important, and so he sent a scout ahead to identify taverns with good wine to ensure a pleasant journey. The story goes that the scout would write “Est” (Latin: “This is it”) on the outside of taverns with decent vino.

  24. […] I did a couple of day trips within Italy, to …Orvieto…. […]

  25. […] Orvieto sits marvellously on top of a tufa plug. I say hello every time I go past on the train between Rome and Florence and I visit as often as I can. We usually stay overnight as it is a 3 hour drive from Bagni di Lucca and there is much too see and do in Orvieto. The underground tour through some of the tunnels under the town is really worth doing. […]

  26. How do you get to Orvieto from Lucca without a car. Is it difficult to navigate with luggage. I would love to spend a couple of days there but not sure what the best way to go is. Can anyone suggest a plan.

    • Train! Really cheap and easy….. Lucca to Firenze, then change for the Rome train and Orvieto is a couple of stops before Roma Termini.

  27. If I had to choose between Orvieto vs Lucca/Pisa which would you recommend to me. My schedule will only allow one and I could really use your help in making that decision since you have been to both…..:)

    • Lucca! No contest. I live near Orvieto and have been there a few times… yes it’s lovely, the front façade of the cathedral is mind-blowing, the rest of the building I consider ugly. The ‘caves’ were disappointing. Once you have been…. But Lucca? Wonderful place… I love it more every time I go and a must is a train ride to Bagni di Lucca! Pisa? Not much to see apart from the main attractions.

      • Thanks for the quick response! So sounds like Lucca is where I should go. And maybe skip the Pisa Leaning Tower maybe?

      • The tower and the adjacent attractions are certainly worth seeing, though the rest of Pisa has nothing really to offer apart from the cheap flights to/from the UK! Don’t get me wrong… Orvieto is worth seeing as a day trip, but of the two, Lucca wins for me!

      • I agree with Maggie, but it is a tough call. I love Orvieto, but Lucca is a beautiful town. Riding or walking around the wall is great in any season and there is plenty to see within the walls. It has good shopping and some good restaurants. If you go to the “Lucca” category on the blog you will find some suggestions.
        You should not miss Pisa. The Piazza dei Miracoli, where the tower is, is stunning. It is worthwhile to climb the tower and I actually think that the old centre of Pisa is quite interesting, especially around Borgo Stretto.
        You can take a bus from Lucca to Pisa. Ask to be let off at the tower. There is more in the “Pisa” category.

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