A "city high and strange" as described by Fazio degli Uberti in his Dittamondo in the fourteenth century. Rising up in the midst of the plain of the river Paglia, in the southwestern corner of Umbria, the green heart of Italy. A city With almost 22.000 inhabitants, if you include the surrounding districts, and with less than 8.000 up on the plateau itself. A city that lives, still, on agriculture, in particular the wine and tobacco and oil, on tourism, and small artisan firms (about 650 of them) with only a few that could be called small industries, one the field of high technology, and the other for the bottling of mineral water from the Tione springs, not tar distant. The over a million visitors a year are however the mainstay of the economy with the hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops that cater to them.
Of course. Many, even abroad, will know of Orvieto classico, of Orvieto secco and abboccato, DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) which means only grapes from specific areas were used to make these wines. A light golden fragrant wine, made of a mixture of grapes: Trebbiano Toscano, Verdello, Druppeggio, Sacchetto, Malvasia Toscana. Throughout the centuries the wine of Orvieto, ranging from 11 to 12°, and with a delicate bouquet, has been appreciated by the artist who helped ambellish the city (Signorelli for instance had over a thousand liters a years as part of his contract) and by popes, as well as the Orvietani themselves. The yearly production is now about 150,000 hectoliters, sold both at home and abroad, and there are innumerable places to buy it, either by the bottle or by the case (winw cooperatives, specialized producers, enoteques or wine libraries, shops). Frequently the wine may also be sampled.
In the nineteenth century, Geroge Dennis, English ambassador who was travelling through the central park of Italy studying Etruscan antiquities, said of Orvieto that the two lions were its cathedral and its well of St. Patrizio. The concept of a well in itself means water. and in Orvieto. this ideal fortress city, water was essential for the inhabitants in case of siege. But St. Patrick's well is more than this, for it mirrors the fascination of the human race with architectural structures, Built rather like a seashell with its double spiral staircase, a tower sunk into the ground, it impressed most 19th-century travellers more even than the cathedral. About 62 meters deep, with 248 steps to Sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V in 1527 and decided it would be best to have a well built to supply his fortress with water. His architect, Antonio da San Gallo the Younger, saw to the design. Building proceeded at a goodly rate, first through the tuff and the through layers of clay, and it was terminated in 1537 under Paul III. And the name? St. Patrick in Ireland also had a deep grotto where he went to meditate, a grotto which was likened to Purgatory, and so somehow in the nineteenth century this well, which up to then had been known as the Pozzo della Rocca (Fortress), got its present name. To be noted is that Carles V never did lay siege to the city and the water from the great well never slaked the thirst of the in habitants of Orvieto.
The first settlement to stand upon this crag that could be called a city, was Velzna, one of the most important centers of the Etruscan confederation, which managed to hold out against Rome until 264 B.C., when she was forced to surrender after a two-year's siege. What is left ofVelzna? the remains of the Temple of Belvedere, near St. Patrick's well, the city of the dead - Crocefisso del Tufo - on the north side of the cliff where the tombs are laid out in city blocks, the sanctuary-necropolis of Cannicella on the south side, from which came the famous Venus of Cannicella, an archaic maeble figure of a nude woman (who seems originally to have been a male, a kouros). Many remains of Velzna are hidden underground and can be discovered in the subterranean labyrinththat runs along below the streetsof Orvieto. Archaeological investigation carried out by the Sovrintendenza alle Antichità, the Region of Umbria and the University of Perugia, continue to provide new information on these ancient inhabitants. We know, for instance, that the Etruscan inhabitants were relativelydemocratic, middle class, unlike Tarquinia where power rested with the nobility, and that they had built a powerful city up here on the rock.
Even for those who have lived in Orvieto all their lives, the procession of Corpus Christi is something to be seen anew each year, or even to take part in. The historical portion with over 400 participants, which precedes the religious procession bearing the cloth of the miracle, makes one regret the relatively drab attire of modern man. Nowhere in Italy are the costumes of finer make: hand woven silks and velvets, hand stiched shoes in fine leather, wrought-iron helmets and halberds the magnificent cloak of one of the knights with a rampant lion in beaded roundels od clear Byzantine derivation, the banners of the various arts and crafts and quarters of the city - Olmo, S. Maria della Stella, Serancia, Corsica. The solemnity with which the figures slowly leave the cathedral and move through the streets makes you truly believe you are watching knights, pages, the Capitano del Popolo, the Podestà, the Signori sette, who have moved up through the time warp of centiries to once more parade devotedly in procession.