Friday, 5 October 2012

Alto Lazio: Orvieto

Autumn is here and it time to get back to blogging. First, my late summer holiday.  In September I had a week in Italy with Art Pursuits  This is the third holiday I have had with them and all of them have been absolutely wonderful, if hard work.  I consider the holidays to be my adult education for the year!

This year I went to Alto Lazio which is the Etruscan area north of Rome. The holiday included Etruscan ruins, medieval cities and Rennaisance gardens.  I had not realised how hilly this part of Italy is and unfortunately my leg problems meant that I had to pass on some of the attractions including the Etruscan tombs which are underground.  I am having increasing problems dealing with steps and did not dare risk falling so on that day I had to stay on the surface and admire the views of the countryside.

I think the best day for me was the day we spent in Orvieto.  This is an amazing town built on a volcanic outcrop and approached by a funicular railway.  Please bear in mind that when you travel in a group, taking photos is a bit difficult and I am very disappointed with mine this time.  If you Google Orvieto and go to Images there are many photos so I am going to illustrate this posting mainly with shots of details. We were very lucky that one member of the group is a semi-professional photographer and he is going to send us all a CD of his photos which will be great.

This is the countryside around Orvieto.  You have to descend into the valley and then take the funicular up to the town.  Unfortunately Orvieto is a real tourist trap, partly because it is on the main railway line between Rome and Florence and partly because of the attractions of its cathedral and churches.  It was the only really touristy place we went to and reminded me of Oxford in that the tour groups all poured in at 10.30 am and then left from lunchtime onwards.

Building of the cathedral began in 1290 on the foundations of an Etruscan temple.  It was designed to house the relics of the miracle of Bolsena which led to the feast of Corpus Christi.  We went to Bolsena earlier in the week and I will do another posting about that.  The cathedral began as a Romanesque building but became Gothic.  The nave is wonderfully sparse in decoration but the really outstanding features are two chapels: The San Brizio Chapel with frescoes by Fra Angelico, Benozzo Gozzoli and Signorelli and the Chapel of the Blessed Corporal which also has amazing frescoes and the Reliquary which was made to house the consecrated host and the linen altar cloth stained with blood from the Bosena miracle.  Of course I could not take photos of these chapels but the third great feature of the cathedral is the facade which is covered in amazing bas reliefs depicting scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament.

These remind you of how important visual art was in teaching people their faith in earlier times.  The facade also has wonderful paintings and mosaics and a copy of a sculpture of the Virgin and Child that is now in the museum next door.

After lunch we visited the museum which has a very well displayed collection of items from the cathedral.  The 'secret' bonus was that an art restorer was at work on a painting by Signorelli and we were able to discuss the work with her.  We also visited a couple of other churches but there was not much time for wandering through the streets.

The cathedral square, where some of us had lunch, was very touristy.  My eye was caught by the souvenir shops which had amazing collections of ceramics hanging on the walls.  I resisted buying anything and it was only later, when I read the official guide book I had bought in order to get photos of the cathedral's interiors, that I read that ceramics is one of the main industries of Orvieto.

I would really recommend visiting Orvieto despite the tourists although I am sure it must be much worse in the height of summer than it is in September.

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