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Orvieto

Aged and Sweet

Four nights

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Sited about half-way along the main rail line between Rome and Florence—an incredible trove of antiquities lie buried inside this grand mesa

A remarkable, non-Latin civilization flourished here, from about 800 until 300 b.c. From what little is known of the mysterious Etruscan culture, there are several social insights about the culture of that robust peoples, that seem almost unbelievable today.

 

Women, for instance, could inherit property—an attitude virtually unknown elsewhere during this period, and unheard of for centuries afterward.

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Vast swathes of gently rippling barley are pictured above, near this city chosen for these days. And grapes are nearby. Hectares of them culminate in exquisite wines. These little vineyards may be driven to or (a little more effort but way more fun) one can rent a bicycle or maybe an e-bike, and simply bring along a picnic—complete but with the intention of selecting the accompanying beverage along the way.

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And up there on the surface of this topographic table a warm little city still thrives, after dozens of centuries. The center of Orvieto here, as with most if not all Italian communities, is the church — the duomo (cathedral) in this case, built in the mid 13th century, about the same period as Siena's. With wonderful art on the exterior (note in the left panel Adam sleeping unaware as God extracts a single rib; then Eve having just been formed from that borrowed item, about to  be presented to the yet-oblivious male. Standing alongside, meanwhile, surgeon God blesses it all.

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Carefully sculpted statuary guards each major pillar along the great  nave, with great dignity. Yet for me as usual it is the uneven stone floor that brings the most poignant images of the past. Here were footsteps both proud and shy: from regal bishops on parade to humble peasant.

Inside the grand structure, in the chapel to the right of the transept, is a sweeping panoramic fresco of the end times Judgment, shown below. The Redeemed, at least, are ecstatic. The chapel opposite, entered only by request of the faithful, holds the relics of the Miracle of Bolsena.

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A stone age post office might have looked like the many carved cubbyholes, down there. Doves were bred and housed thus in tiny avian condos—not so much for the love of little feathered creatures as for the need to with-stand sieges. Eggs and meat at no cost, unending since the birds would fly from nearby openings to forage, for the day, returning to the safety of these caves before dark. Very nice.

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​Underground are caves, over a thousand of them, were burrowed into the soft tufa rock over the centuries. Apparently the owner of any above-ground structure is also the possessor of whatever tunnels and storehouses may lie beneath. These passages range in age from the Etruscan era right up to a mere few hundred years ago—secrets that want exploring, that want speculating about.

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