Orvieto and Assisi

Not being fleet enough of foot to secure beds by the pool on Friday we decided to take advantage of our misfortune and get some new Tuscan towns under our belt. We targeted Orvieto and Assisi, roughly an hour drive between them as well as the same distance from and back to base.

As is often the case down here, they turned out nicer than expected. Both towns were originally part of Etruria, populated by Etruscans, from around 800BC through to the aftermath of the Battle of Sentium in 295BC when the Romans took over. The Etruscans liked their settlements to be perched on hilltops and surrounded by walls, the higher the better. Both of theses towns, as so many in this region, follow that code with dramatic effect. Orvieto in particular, given its strategic position controlling the road between Rome and Florence where it crosses the Chiana valley / river.

Orvieto is well known for its white wine, an unusual colour for this region. We intended to buy some but the shops were not as well organized as say Montepulciano and stocked mainly nasty looking tourist packs so we didn’t bother. It is situated on top of a very high hill with almost vertical cliff sides, with the added height of the city walls it is a place you’d think twice about attacking. In fact, the only thing worth doing if you picked a fight with them was to lay seige to the place and wait for them to run out of food and water. This is why the city boasts a large network of underground passageways carved in the rock allowing secret access out of the city and also an impressivly deep well with helical walkways for donkeys to bring the water up.

We parked in one of the main car parks outside the city and used a series of underground escalators to get up within the walls. As we also wanted to do Assisi we didn’t spend too long there but what we saw was very nice and marked as a place to return to. The Duomo took hundreds of years to finish but is all the better for it. One of the more impressive ones. We did a full circuit of the city which was very quiet thanks to the heat keeping many people away and then headed out.

Assisi is equally spectacular to approach and naturally enough dominated by the Basilica of San Francesco and other Fransican sites. We found the tomb of St Francis and generally toured the associated buildings, all very impressive and calmly managed by the Franciscans who seem to be quite a jolly bunch considering the lifestyle and obligations.

Perhaps the best part of Assisi was a traveling exhibition of plaster sculptures and paintings of Fernando Botero, a Columbian artist. Quite excellent exhibition on three floors and we spent much of our time in there.

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