I was missing out. Orvieto is not only easy to get to, but it’s a lovely hilltop town. It offers visitors a little of everything: culture, beauty, great food, and friendly people. I first went to Orvieto to teach in the Arizona in Italy Summer Study Abroad Program. Otherwise I might still be missing out!
The city offers rich rewards, however. Its Duomo was decorated with frescoes by Luca Signorelli. In fact many of the town’s visitors take the funicular from the train station to the top, rush down the main drag to Via Duomo, tour the church, and turn around and leave again. But there are lots of other churches in Orvieto, and there are secular delights as well.
One of my own favorites is Patrizio’s Well, a structure built by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger around 1530 and whose ramps are in the shape of a double helix. Archaeologists would probably prefer the Etruscan Tombs that are on the hillside slope or the many Etruscan artifacts in the city’s museums.
There are crafts to be appreciated in Orvieto as well. There are a number of potters who handcraft plates, vases, and wall hangings. There are merchants who sell local wines. Orvieto Classico is a big favorite.
My own preferred hangout is the shop where Anna Spallaccia creates and displays her pottery on a little street that shoots out from the main square. I’ve spent hours watching Anna paint delicate flowers or modern designs onto her array of wares. She’s a regular Orvietana, meaning that she takes complete pride in her work. Nothing makes her happier than knowing her work will be traveling as far away as Australian or the U.S!
For those who need a physical challenge, there’s a helpful path that goes almost all the way around the top of the town. It’s called the “rupe.” Signs along the path help hikers take in the sights. When I walk the whole path myself, it takes about 90 minutes. Every time I go, I’m put to shame by joggers who are going much faster than I do! But there are also elderly couples walking hand in hand and teens with dogs. The “rupe” gives great views of both the newer part of Orvieto below as well as surrounding areas.
But the best sight in Orvieto isn’t a “sight” at all. The people are friendly in this quaint town. My students have often told me about visits to coffee shops where they tried out their limited Italian and were thoroughly rewarded with smiles and helpful baristas. They report evenings they spent at cafés where they joined in with locals to cheer over soccer games. They report on the summer night life where the bars get so crowded that the patrons spill into the street, enjoying the pleasant night temperatures while sharing tales about their recent adventures.
At first I assumed the university students would rather do a study abroad program in a bigger city such as Rome. However, I’ve found that the opposite is true. By the time we get back from a field trip to a busier city, my students are delighted to get back “home” to Orvieto. They feel comfortable here. They feel welcome.
And I’m delighted that after years of ignoring the town, I’ve finally had the chance to enjoy and appreciate one of Italy’s most beautiful spots.
If you’re interested in studying in Orvieto, find out more about the University of Arizona program at http://ransdell.faculty.arizona.edu. The program offers classes in English, art, Italian, photography, and more. I teach classes in Creative Non-Fiction, Film & Literature, and Shakespeare’s “Italian” Plays.
For the Orvieto tourism site: http://www.orvietoviva.com/en/