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The city of Orvieto, the majestic Umbrian splendor

A shield surmounted by a crown containing four ancient symbols: firstly, a red cross, memory of a fervent Guelph past; a black eagle, as a tribute to a long Roman domination; then, a Florentine lion, banner of a faithful alliance; finally, a goose, to remember the roman event of the Campidoglio. There is no better way to describe history, art and the most deep meaning of the ancient city of Orvieto along the centuries and the events concerning central Italy. A city marked by periods of unrivaled glory, of exciting territorial expansions and several artistical and cultural milestones.ย 


The city of Orvieto has ancient origines which, according to a shared historiography, date back to the Bronze age. The first settlements were born on a tuff cliff placed at 300 meters over the level sea, near the most extended volcanic lake, that one of Bolsena.

Ancient age

However, the first archaeological testimonies come from the Etruscan period. During this time, Orvieto corresponded to the ancient Velza, one of the twelve main city-state of the Etruscan. The city was also near the sanctuary of Fanum Voltumnae, although the identification of this last is controversial. The city expanded in the 5th century BC, and was an important commercial and military settlement of the Central Italy.

City of Orvieto
Etruscan remains

The participation of the Romans (264 BC) to help the Etruscan noble, submitted by the people, led to the complete destruction of the city, called by the conquerors Volsinii. The inhabitants who escaped the terrible slaughter were deported to the shores of the Bolsena lake, where the homonymous city arose.

City of Orvieto
Roman findings

Still today, there are several testimonies of the Etruscan period, particularly for those concerning the living environments inside the cliff, that constitutes the so called “Underground Orvieto”.

City of Orvieto
Underground Orvieto, main gallery

Middle Age periodย 

Orvieto was refounded on the same cliff where it is now located, only in the Medieval period assuming the name of Ourbibentos and then Urbs Vetus (ancient city).

Until 553 Orvieto was dominated by the Goths and after by the Byzantines. Then it became Lombard and, around the year 1000, it faced a period of a new military, artistic and commercial flourishing.

City of Orvieto
Glimpse of the Medieval Orvieto
The 1013 Church of Sant’Andrea

In 1157 the pope Adrian acknowledged the municipal government of the city, which represented a residential headquarters of the popes from several years. In 1264, the pope Urban IV instituted the solemnity of the Corpus Domini in Orvieto, whose liturgical office was established by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Since the 12th century the city, allied with the powerful Florence, started a period of rapid territorial and demographic expansion which culminated two centuries later. To this period pertain the impressive buildings, the graceful architectures and the internal fights between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, between the Monaldeschi and Filippeschi families.

Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo
Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, detail of the tower
Glimpse of the Medieval Orvieto
A Christogram

The riots animated the city until 1354, when Orvieto was conquered by the cardinal Egidio Albornoz, who commanded the construction of the majestic fortress.

Albornoz fortress
The Albornoz Fortress
Interior of the Albornoz Fortress

From the Middle Age until today

After various lordships, Orvieto was annexed to the State of the Church in 1450. The Napoleon age marked a period of slight decline, until Orvieto was annexed to the nascent Reign of Italy.

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