The Beautiful Hill Town of Civita di Bagnoregio
Getting from Meta to Orvieto took one bus, two trains, and one funicular. A great travel day without drama; always a good thing. Our apartment was very nice with most of the necessary elements. The owner’s father met us to help get us set up. He spoke almost no English but looked very dapper in his nifty sweater and well-ironed trousers. We had a rooftop terrace that looked out over the Umbrian hills. Our neighborhood was un-touristy and yet well located for walking around the ancient hill village.
Orvieto sits high upon a secure hill that was home to 11,000 Etruscans before the Romans came along and wiped them out. People would dig in the ground to get stone to build their homes. Because of this, there are over 1,100 caves below the city. We took an underground tour to learn more. The image below shows one of the homes at the edge of the old city wall.
It was great staying in Orvieto for three days. In 2003, we took a day trip to come here for a few hours. On that visit, the famous Duomo was covered in scaffolding, very disappointing … but not this time!
The intricate detail is just amazing. The bottom four marbled columns have stunning reliefs depicting Adam and Eve and ending with Judgment Day on the far right. The gold-backed mosaic pictures are almost too much to look at with direct sunlight. The image below shows a little of the detailed art of the columns.
Our first night in town we celebrated Italy’s finest facade by having dinner on the piazza, only a few meters away. We savored the cathedral much more that the meal. Here are some interior images:
Traditionally, a person could not enter Catholic cathedrals without first being baptized, which is why there is often a separate baptistery next to them. Here is an interior image for this one.
Our day trip to Civita was incredible. The featured image shows this now ‘dead town.’ Up until a few years ago, one older women was the last resident. Now it is sustained with an entry fee, hotels, bars, and restaurants.
We finished off our stay by having a snack in a restaurant that was an 1835 Olive Press room.
We felt a little sad leaving Orvieto, but after two trains we arrived in Siena. Leaving the train station, we walked for nine minutes to pick up our rental car, a Fiat Panda. Although the car was comfortable, it was dangerously underpowered and had a goofy automatic / manual transmission that left us stranded twice in busy intersections. The Italians drivers encouraged us and gave us their support by honking unreservedly. The sluggish Panda was only used when we left Siena to explore the Tuscany region; we used the urban bus line to go into the old town.
We returned to one of our favorite Italian spots: Il Campo. We kept trying to imagine how crazy it is here when the 17 Contrade (neighborhoods) race their colorful horses in the Palio around this small piazza. I fantasized about looking down from one of the balconies at the packed-in crowd, the waving, multicolored banners, and the horses dashing around the squared-off oval track. It must be incredibly noisy! We settled for sitting down with some delicious gelato and absorbing the atmosphere.
Siena also has a Duomo and baptistery. Siena had big plans for their cathedral because they were always in competition with their rival, Florence. The image below shows only 1/5 of what was intended before the Black Death put a stop to construction. Some in town felt the plague was God’s way of dealing with their un-humble ways.
Here are some more street images including two Cantrada plagues designating their quarters of town and an unexpected Cantrada parade.
From Siena we took the Panda out for two day trips. Our first stop was in Montepulciano. When we climbed up to the piazza, we were surprised to see the main area covered in dirt. We noticed some caged animals, a pen of sheep, and a donkey tied to a metal railing. Using my Google Translator, I scanned the notice on the wooden church door; there was a movie being filmed. Looking around some more, we saw trucks, equipment, actors, and taped off areas.
We walked around, entered a few churches, poked our heads into interesting shops, and enjoyed the rolling cobblestone streets.
After Montepulciano, we drove to Pienza, La Foce, and Bagro Vignoni to finish off our first outing of day trips. The next day we dedicated to San Gimignano. It was nice to explore for a while and then just relax under the fall Tuscan sun. We had our main meal of the day at an outdoor restaurant while being serenaded by an accordionist playing classical music from the nearby steps of the church. We were in no hurry. La Dolce Vita!
It has been great spending more time in the places we only experienced for a few hours years ago. We really enjoy trying to be part of a neighborhood when we travel. The slower pace allows for more immersion into the culture. Much better than constantly checking your watch, running to the next attraction, and missing the serendipitous joy of being temporary locals.
A somewhat sad ‘Ciao’ to Orvieto and Siena. Lovely Florence is next and then a change of plans. Originally, we were going to stay in Venice but decided to enjoy a new experience for a week: Padua. From this lively, university town we can make day trips to various other towns, including Venice. Staying here will definitely help the budget and provide a fun launching pad to other excursions. Plus, no rental car! Yeah!!
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We look forward to hearing from you.
Preston & Marsha
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