Saturday, June 19, 2010


As we planned our trip Lisa and I realized that we had an extra night between our departure from Tuscany and our arrival in Rome - and agreed that it was my responsibility to surprise her with a special destination.

Italy is known for it great red wines, but there is one white wine that we've always enjoyed, and since the town where it's made is in Umbria - right along our route to the Eternal City - I decided that it was the perfect place for a layover.

Orvieto is a town rich in history: its position high on a steep hill made it a defensible position that was valued as far back as the Etruscan era, and it continued to be a place of strategic significance through Roman times and the Middle Ages, eventually becoming the refuge of five popes during the 13th century.

Being high on a hill is only one of the benefits of Orvieto's location - the other is the kind of hill it's on, composed of a soft volcanic rock called tuff that is easy to tunnel through and excavate.

The result is that the town sits atop a complex labyrinth of caves and tunnels that have served a variety of purposes for centuries.

Lisa descending into Underground Orvieto

Our tour group inside one of Orvieto's many underground galleries

Niches carved into the walls were nesting spots for domesticated pigeons, which were a source of meat, eggs, and income for Orvieto's noble families until as recently as the 19th Century.

Many of the chambers beneath Orvieto descended through several levels beneath the homes of their former owners, and had openings through the cliffside through which the pigeons had access to the surrounding countryside.

An ancient well dug hundreds of feet below the surface - many of these were long forgotten, and only discovered generations later when the digging of new tunnels bisected them.

Of course, history wasn't my only reason for choosing Orvieto as a place to spend some down time...

Lisa and I enjoyed wandering the narrow cobbled streets of the ancient little hill-top town, and sampling the great local food and wine - more on that later!

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