MAY 23

About halfway between Firenza (Florence) and Roma (Rome) sits Orvieto (pronounced Or-vay-toe). Today it is part of the region of Umbria, but its traditional ties are still with Tuscany. Its landscape is of volcanic origin with tufa cliffs which look like outposts among the rolling patchwork hills of cultivated vineyards, olive groves, fields of sheep and grain crops sewn together by tall evergreens and low bushes.

Unlike ancient times, today to ascend this tufa cliff top we simply got off the train at its base, walked across the street and caught the funicular (a hillside tram) up to the top and then walked to our hotel.

Orvieto, situated atop a single mass of tufa has ancient origins.  In the year 264 B.C. the Romans destroyed the city. For the next six centuries the Roman Empire became increasingly unstable. Through this, Orvieto became a "garrison" for its people. Scholars and archaeologist from around the globe are drawn to Orvieto for its testimonies and artifacts.

The town is dotted with churches, but at it's centre is a Duomo which began in 1290 and took three centuries to complete (today part of the front facade is under restoration.

Between the 13th and 15th centuries Orvieto reach it's maximum splendor - politically and religiously ~ but an age old feud between two ruling families weakened the community's power and provided favourable conditions for the church to take control. From that point Orvieto was often a residence for the Pope. Pope Clemente VII fearing for his life, moved to the rock of Orvieto with his entire court during the sacking of Rome (1527). The city at that time did not have a well. Fearing a siege, the Pope had a well constructed and named it Pozzo di San Patrizio [the well of St. Patrick].

The well of St. Patrick was an marvelous masterpiece of architecture ~ 175 feet deep and 45 feet wide. Two spiral stairways allow one-way traffic flow where men and donkeys could constantly make the trip down, file onto the bridge, load with water and head back up again.

It took ten years to build.

Beneath Orvieto there is an incredible number of artificial cavities and an intricate labyrinth of tunnels, galleries, cisterns, wells, caves and cellars; a popular place to store wines for the cool and constant temperatures.
In this century, Orvieto is home to numerous celebrations including Jazz festivals, culinary arts and religious celebrations and it's spacious square in front of the Duomo is a sight for many events. Coming out of the information office that also faces onto the square we heard heavenly music and were lucky enough to witness an impromptu recital by a visiting choir.
As we travel we like to taste some of an area's specialties or customary dishes. Tonight we finished off our dinner of pasta and lamb with biscotti [a hard dry cookie] dunked (we did the dunking) in dessert wine. Yum!

 

 

MAY 24

Bused from Orvieto to Bagnoregio and then walked to Civita.

 Approaching Civita, which sits atop an ever eroding tower of crumbling rock, we crossed over a long bridge which was built in 1965 to replace the donkey path that was bombed in WWII [don't know what could have provoked such an action]. 

As we walked through the ancient arch and entered one of the town's two squares it was easy to visualize times past and imagine simple hardworking people eking out a life for themselves and their family together with their neighbours ~ a time when survival was a day-to-day chore and not some prime time two month reality show.
The camera kept busy as we wandered around this disappearing village which is now owned mostly by big-city folk who use it as a quaint-get-away while Civita's few remaining residents have watched their young people move to larger centres and their old to care homes in nearby Bagnoregio.

We stopped into Antonio's for a bite to eat and a drink. 

Following him down into his cellar we passed  grape presses and wine barrels then watched him pour wine into small serving pitchers. 

As we nibbled on brushette [local bread toasted and drizzled with olive oil] and the best tasting prosciutto [cured ham] we visited with the other four tourists that had bussed and walked to Civita with us.

Leaving Antonio's we walk only a short distance (there are no long distances in Civita) and visited the shop of another Civita resident whose family has for generations milled olive oil. We admired the many antique tools used in the process of extracting olive oil including a 1500 year old grinding stone that was once turned by donkey while Luigi's ancestors pushed back the pulp with a wooden ladle. 
Luigi's son poured us some wine from a glass jug on the counter before stirring up the embers in the fireplace to keep the dampness of the room, a cave, at bay. 
Walking a little further, while sipping on the local red wine, Maria's brown stained grin beckoned us in to see her garden and enjoy her view (for an expected euro). 
The garden was simple and a small grotto houses a collection of stuff Maria has gathered; from chest armour to a tacky plastic photo of the Madonna. Perhaps some of it collected by her husband who used to run a donkey service along the narrow path between Civita and Bagnoregio. 
The view was lovely and perched at the edge of Civita's eroding edge.  We wondered who might leave Civita first ... Maria or her garden.
The larger [but comparatively small] centre square acts like a yard for Civita's residents who visit and celebrate on the steps of the church. Twice a year the hard packed dirt square becomes a track for wild donkey races. We don't think the donkeys are wild but the animated descriptions would suggest the races certainly are.
Civita's charm is amplified at every turn - wooden doors draped with growing vines and bright blossoms and in the faces of its people.
We don't know how long Civita's new citizen's will respect the ancient charm this village holds or how long Civita will remain standing upon it's rock, weakened by wind, rain and a number of wine storage tunnels below its surface, despite efforts to ward off the inevitable with reinforcement.
What we do know is that the image of Civita and its people will forever be treasured in our memories.

 

 

MAY 25

A travel day. We departed from Orvieto and took the train to Napoli via Rome. At the Napoli Station we struck up conversations with a couple from Boise, Idaho and another couple from Atlanta, Georgia. We continued visiting on the commuter train from Napoli to Sorrento where we wished each other a good and safe trip then went our separate ways.

Pleased with our room and it's adjoining terrace. We slipped into our bathing suits and relaxed in the sun on the terrace listening to the different birds defend their territories amongst the lemon/orange trees (orange limbs grafted to lemon trees).

In the early evening we took a stroll around part of the town and watched the sunset from a park perch high above the Bay of Naples .... kind of makes you want to burst out in song doesn't it ... "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore ...... When you walk in a dream and you know your not dreaming, Signore ... scozza me, but you see, back in old Napoli, that's amore!"

 

 

 

 

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