Touching the Sky in Orvieto
Story and photos by Tom Weber
a fun-filled couple of hours kneading dough and creating strands of
tagliatelle pasta for lunch with The
Chef now (sadly) behind us, our band of merry media
guests of Insight Vacations' (Insight) abbreviated Country
Roads of Umbria and Tuscany itinerary moves forward.
We've got a meet 'n greet with the "premier"
in Insight's premier-escorted journeys: Marco, one of the most passionate
Umbrian art historians around and our guide on an informative afternoon
stroll along the cobblestone streets of Orvieto. Roll the "R"
and repeat after me: ohr-vee-AY-toh. Perfect!
Belinda, our tour director-slash-storyteller,
makes introductions and off we go.
With our U.S. Secret Service agent-like
earplugs in place and our radio receivers on, we follow behind Marco,
listening and shooting Canons, Nikons and assorted mobile handhelds;
not Berettas, Smith & Wessons and SIG Sauer handguns as he
narrates scenes that unfolded on these very streets when Etruscans ruled
the roost in this part of the world millennia ago, followed by sandal-clad
Romans and later the Vatican, where wandering popes lodged regularly
just to stay alive while St. Thomas Aquinas lectured at the studium
Despite today's date on the calendar, everything
about Orvieto, perched atop a massive rock of volcanic tuff, looks much
the same as it did eons ago. Modern-day Orvietani have adapted
to this city that nearly touches the sky, and not vice versa.
A picture-postcard perfect, almost pedestrians-only
city cars, vans and buses park way down below and visitors ride
a series of elevators to the top of the rock Orvieto is an impressive
living, breathing example of Italian History 101. Insight's "Professor"
Marco points it all out as we make our way to the jewel of Orvieto:
La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (The Cathedral of Our Lady
of the Assumption).
Situated in a position that dominates the
city, the cathedral's facade, originally designed as a Romanesque basilica,
is a superb example of 14th century Italian Gothic architecture that
dots the landscape all across the Bel Paese's midriff.
As Marco, Insight's Umbri specialist,
explained, this massive house of worship was commissioned by Pope Urban
IV in 1290 to commemorate and provide a safe home for the Corporal of
Bolsena, a miracle that was documented to have occurred in 1263 in the
nearby town of Bolsena when a traveling priest, who had strong doubts
about the validity of transubstantiation, found that the host he used
celebrating Mass began to bleed and stain the altar cloth the moment
it was consecrated. That very same stained cloth, testament to transubstantiation,
now rests undisturbed in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.
One of the great masterpieces of the Late
Middle Ages, the cathedral's three-gable design, striped in white travertine
and greenish-black basalt similar to the schemes of the landmark
cathedrals of Florence and Siena rises up toward the heavens.
The most exciting and eye-catching part
of the bright, gold-colored face is the multitude of decorations and
intricate bas-reliefs. Symbolic statues of the evangelists Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John punctuate the facade while the bas-reliefs
depict biblical stories from the Old and New Testament: the Books of
Genesis, Redemption, Abraham, and most imposing and frightening, Revelation's
Last Judgment. Knees shaking, I move as far away from the depicted scenes
as possible, because I'm not quite ready to meet my Maker.
Telling our group that we've had enough
religious enlightenment for one day, Marco leads us down and out of
the city that nearly touches the sky and onto the awaiting executive
Who's up for pizza, beer, wine or whatever
when we get to Perugia?, asks Belinda.
Blank faces stare back at her. Nary a peep.
Then she exclaims, John Boulding, the
President and CEO of Insight, is picking up the tab!
Here's the formula for our collective response:
journalists-photographers + free pizza + free beer + free wine + free
whatever = SI!
To learn more about traveling in style
on one of Insight Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted
itineraries or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, just click
call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Andrea Bocelli takes our breath away as
he serenades over the onboard sound system while we recline our business
class legroom seats and head for Perugia, home of the chocolate kiss.
Me Home Country Roads; Orvieto
and the Etruscan Chef; Underground
in Perugia; Saintly
- Caput Mundi; Vatican