Posts Tagged ‘Piazza della Repubblica’

In June of 2004, I arrived in Orvieto, Italy for the very first time. Completely by chance my vacation coincided with the Feast of the Corpus Domini (Corpus Christi) and its historical pageant Il Corteo Storico. It was a very happy accident, as it turned out. Those days before the main event were buzzing with excitement and anticipation. What struck me most was how the town’s entire citizenry enthusiastically participated in the preparation of what I would soon learn was the most important celebration for Orvietani specifically, and for the Roman Catholic world, most particularly.

As I walked through the winding streets the evening before the festivities, the whole city seemed to be out in full force. The Comune erected special lights in the Piazza della Repubblica for the school children who were sitting on the cobblestone ground, constructing an infiorata (mosaic made exclusively of flowers). Everyone was working happily with their families way past midnight.  Nearby, in the Piazza del Popolo, young men practiced sbandieratori (flag-throwing) alongside a falconer training his raptor for the next day’s performance. Utility workers on ladders were installing speakers hidden behind sprays of flowers tied with ribbon on the main route of the procession. The solemn mass would be broadcast throughout town (perhaps so that the elderly and house-bound were not left out). The energy was electric and I could feel thta something very special was about to happen.

La Storia di Duomo

If you’ve ever been to Orvieto, you know it’s home to one of the most spectacular Duomos (Cathedrals) in all of Italy. At first glance, I remember thinking, “How did such a small town manage to build such a magnificent Duomo?” Its beauty and grandeur rivals that of the Duomos of Siena and Florence. Well, in order to build this Duomo it took a miracle: Il Miracolo di Bolsena (The Miracle of Bolsena) to be exact.

A Eucharistic Miracle: Corporal of Bolsena

In 1263, Peter of Prague, a priest on a pilgrimage to Rome, stopped at the tomb of St. Christina in Bolsena to celebrate mass. It’s said that he doubted Christ was actually present in the consecrated host, but became convinced when, during the consecration, blood began seeping from the host and trickled onto the altar and corporal. The priest immediately brought the bloodied linen to nearby Orvieto where Pope Urban IV was residing. In August of 1264, by way of a papal bull, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Domini and under his orders the Cathedral of Orvieto was constructed to commemorate and provide a home for the miraculous relic. It’s where it remains enshrined and exhibited today. In 1964, at the 700th anniversary of the institution of the feast, Pope Paul VI arrived in Orvieto by helicopter (the first Pope in history to use this means of transportation) and celebrated mass at the alter where the holy corporal is kept.

Homage to the Past

Naomi1There are faces of people that I know very well walking in this parade, but when dressed in their historical and graceful garb, they become almost unrecognizable. So authentic is their portrayal that I’m completely entranced and transported to Orvieto‘s medieval and Renaissance past. Over 400 costumes represent all the municipal courts of the time. You see coats of arms from noble families, brightly colored flags and costumes symbolic of their social or political position and metal shields, armor, weapons, helmets all signifying Orvieto‘s military strength of the era.

Man in the Mirror

A friend tells me how he came to be part of the tradition of the Corteo Storico. It began for him when he was just a young boy in school. He was selected to be part of the procession – a great honor. Each year that he participated, he was rewarded with a more prominent position the following year. Now a grown man, he fulfills a respected role as a knight and is also one of the pageant’s main organizers.

I think that one of the qualities that draws me to Italy time and again is its reverence and adoration for the traditions and folklore that are passed down to each generation. Corteo Storico is a supreme example of this commitment to its for-bearers. It’s widely believed that an important part of the present is to honor the past and those who came before. When one is dressed in his evocative and dazzling, handcrafted costume does he see in the mirror the life of his ancestor reflected back to him? I’d like to think so.

La Futura

You can only imagine that some of these young children today, just beginning their experience as members of the Corteo, will one day pass this tradition onto their children and grandchildren.  They will build upon the collective memory of their medieval and maybe even their Etruscan roots thousands of years ago. Another friend of mine, Giorgio, returns to his hometown each summer to join with his childhood friends in the Corteo. It must be as important a ritual for Giorgio and his family as it is for Orvieto as a community. He is helping to keep the historical chain unbroken.


Friday, June 24 at 9:00 p.m.

Concert of medieval music and dance performance by Damcamus and

the choir Vox et Jubilum in the Church of San Andrea

Corteo delle Dame (Procession of the Dame)

Saturday, June 25

5:30 p.m Vespers in the Cathedral

6:00 p.m. Flag-waving by Amelia in Piazza Duomo

Corteo Storico

Sunday, June 26

10:00 a.m. Parade exits from the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo

10:30 a.m. Procession exits from the Cathedral and continues through town

Saturday and Sunday Medieval Market in the Piazza della Repubblica.

Photographs by Patrick Richmond Nicholas and Giorgio Campanari
by Toni DeBella


Read Full Post »

Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, Mecca: All mystical and sacred places where one can find peace in the solitude and beauty of their surroundings. Add to the list Anello della Rupe – a spectacular walking trail that runs along the volcanic tufa rock on which the medieval town of Orvieto is perched. It’s a place where one can be alone, but not feel alone.  Where you can have long conversations with yourself and even answer yourself out loud, since you pass very few people along the way. Only a few meters below the city center, yet a world away.

My daily walking regime is a way to get a workout, some fresh morning air in my lungs, and perspective. The Percorso is an hour-and-a-half trek (depending on if you run, walk, or crawl) that circumnavigates the town, situated halfway down the steep cliffs.

Heavenly switchbacks

There are 5 entrances (Ingressi) to get onto the Rupe, but I personally like starting at Ingresso 5: Foro Boario. Taking the elevator down to the parking lot at Campo della Fiera, begin in a counter-clockwise direction (near the  Acquedotto medievale used by Orvietani as early as the 13th Century). After walking a few meters (past a small grouping of houses) you’ll officially enter the park.

Umbrian countryside

The natural trail is lined with rustic wooden fences and its switchbacks keep your legs and bottom in good shape. Climbing and then leveling off, you’ll come to my favorite side of the rock. Note the many grottos cut into the cliff walls and look out over the panorama for a spectacular view of the Hotel Badia – a former Abbey originally built in the 6th century with its existing structure constructed in the 12th century. A classic post card view, I can stand there forever staring at the awesome beauty of the Umbrian countryside.

Continuing up the path, you’ll come to a fork in the road where you can veer down to the Santurario di Cannicella and Necropoli estrusca (Etruscan necropolis). The remains of this sanctuary and necropolis date back to the 4th  and 6th centuries B.C., respectively. Double-back up to the main trail and you’ll continue on to another fork: Ingresso 4; Palazzo Crispo Marsciano. This is the most modern gate into the park. Its Renaissance building was designed by Antonio da Sangalllo and completed by Simone Mosca. But don’t exit just yet. Keep walking (this is the longest stretch of trail) until you come to the Grotta dei tronchi fossili (Grotto of the fossil trunks) – an artificial cavity with paleo-botanical remains that preceded the formation of the cliff some 350,000 years ago!

The Funicolare from the station

Another steep climb on cobblestones takes you up to the medieval entrance to the city, Porta Soliana: Ingresso 3. From here you have a view of the ruins of the Madonna della Rosa. The small, 17th-century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The tunnel for Orvieto’s funicolare (funicular) is right under your feet. This unique rail system was inaugurated in 1888 and connects Piazza Cahen with the train station in Orvieto Scalo.

Winter leaves pressed into the ground

You’re getting a bit of a break now, as the trail goes downhill and is shaded by trees. Further down the path it gets streeper, with the last section stairs climbing up to the road. You have to cross the road to continue on the trail. Note: Italians drive fast so pay attention at the crosswalk!

Once you’re safely on the other side, continue up the hill until you get to another fork located on your left. This is Ingresso 2: Porta Vivaria – a vertical ramp leading up to ruins of what was the medieval north gate known as dello Scenditoio. The trail splits off to the right, taking walkers to the official entrance of the famous archeological treasure of Umbria: The 5th-century, B.C. Necropoli Etrusca (Estrucan tombs of Volsinii). If the tombs are open, take the tour and then climb back up the steps to continue on the trail again. There’s more beauty still ahead.

Chapel of Crocefisso del Tufo

Chiesa del Crocefisso del Tufo

Chiesa del Crocefisso del Tufo. Around the 16th century, this chapel and crucifix were carved into the volcanic rock. Sweet offerings of wildflowers are often left on its windowsills. As you get closer to Porta Maggiore, you’ll find a building on the left, the Madonna del Velo. It’s one of the few examples of 18th century ecclesiastic architecture in Orvieto, consecrated on June 5, 1751 and newly renovated.

Cross the Via della Cava at the Porta Maggiore – this gate is the oldest monumental access to the city, dating back to the Etruscan era. It points travelers to either the road to Lago di Bolsena or the A-1 (Autostradatowards Rome.

At the traffic circle, you can either cross the road and walk back through the parking lot to the elevator or escalators (a fascinating engineering feat, carved through the rock up and carrying visitors to Piazza Ranieri.)


You have two choices here: Continue on up the pretty pedonale (promenade) with its benches and streetlamps. Walk under Porta Romana and you will be on the shoulder of the road again – be careful of cars.

Walk up Via Alberici to Via Garabaldi.   Be sure and have a euro in your pocket so you can stop at the Blue Bar for a cappuccino and friendly conversation.

Even in the “dead of winter” there is so much life on the Anello della Rupe– literally and figuratively.  Sometimes I walk with friends, but mostly I look forward to going it alone.  “La Rupe” became my best friend and confidant.  She helped me gain my confidence, showed me the strength I possessed inside and listened to me without interruption in a very reflective time of my life.  It is a transforming experience – an hour that is entirely mine to day dream.  I guess you could say it is my daily planning meeting with God – or something God-like.  La Rupe will become your friend too.  Buona passeggiata, Tutti!

*PAAO (Archaeological and Environmental Park of the Orvietano)

**All along the trail are signs posted in Italian and English with facts and information about the park and its features.

by Toni DeBella

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: