Europe, Italy

Benvenuto a Orvieto!

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been in Italy for a week!  Between adjusting to the time difference, starting classes, and exploring this little town, the time is already  going by quickly!  I landed last Friday morning completely sleep-deprived, and by the time I reached my apartment for the month, I just sort of fell into bed for a few hours.  Fortunately though, I woke up in time for the group tour of important places in the city (school, supermarket, pharmacy…).  I was still a little tired and not sure of where I was going  to meet the group.  I knew Orvieto’s cathedral was impressive, but on such a small hill, people tend to  build up meaning that it’s not until you  get close that you really see the building that makes Orvieto a destination in Italy.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I turned a corner to see this:

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Last Sunday was Pentecost, which in Orvieto is celebrated with La Palombella festival.  This is another draw for tourists to Orvieto both from Italy and around the world.  The main part of the festival takes place in front of the cathedral.  As visible in the above  picture, there is a structure in front of the main doors.  This is a baldachin (baldacchino in Italian), which is basically an elaborate canopy of sorts that goes over an altar or throne.  The one here is temporary and was moved following the Pentecost celebrations.  For the festival, a statue of Mary and the apostles was placed in the top portion of the baldachin, and on Sunday morning, a dove in a glass cage “floated” down a zip line into the same space at which point sparklers went off around the statue to symbolize the Holy Spirit.  It was really exciting to watch.  The whole day was taken up with celebrations and booths to buy flowers and such, but the day culminated in a  parade and crossbow contest in one of the main piazzas.  Everyone in the parade was dressed in medieval costume, and there were four teams in the crossbow competition to represent some of the ancient noble families of the region, who were also represented in the parade by people in costumes.  The whole event was just a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it!

 

While here in Italy, I am taking two art history classes, and I’m really excited to get to see the works we’re learning about in the classes.  However, you can find really cool art and architecture all across Italy.  From the cathedrals to coats of arms painted on buildings, there’s a lot to see.  On Wednesday, we took a walking tour of Orvieto, and my group really got to see some of that art as we went to the Opera house, inside the cathedral, and through the Orvieto underground.  The Opera house was opened in 1866, and pictures really can’t do it justice.  From the intricate curtain that hangs over the stage to the dance of hours painted on the theater ceiling to the busts of composers in the stairwells, the whole building is simply incredible.  The cathedral also is impressive with artwork everywhere.  In the Chapel of the  Madonna di San Brizio, a 15th century addition, there are frescoes by Fra Angelico, who is studied in every Renaissance course, and Luca Signorelli, who is not as famous, but his work in the Orvieto cathedral is considered his masterpiece.  The underground of the city didn’t have quite so much artwork, but it did take us back even further in the city’s history to Etruscan times when people dug into the rock to create tombs.  Later, the underground was expanded for use as both cellars and olive oil presses.  In the 20th century, it was expanded even more to use as a bomb shelter in WWII, though in fact Orvieto was almost completely left alone thanks to a German general’s appreciation for the cathedral.

I think the weekend trip to Naples and Pompeii yields its own post, so that will be up in a  few more days.  So until next time, here are a few final pictures of this lovely little town.

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