Orvieto is one of the principal sights of the region of Umbria, Italy. Its situation is marvelous - perched high above tufa cliffs - showing traces of every phase of history for the past three thousand years, culminating in its magnificent cathedral. Tourists should on no account miss Orvieto if they are visiting Umbria or southern Tuscany. The tufa butte on which Orvieto is located is itself riddled with tunnels and wells dating from Etruscan times to only a couple of hundred years ago. The most spectacular of these subterranean burrowings is the Pozzo di San Patrizio, a deep well with a double spiral stair leading to the water source at its base. It dates from 1537 and is 62 m deep. If you're in need of exercise, it's possible to descend and return. Try carrying up a couple of buckets of water - it'll bring the life of earlier times vividly before you.
The cathedral of Orvieto is one of the most beautiful churches in Umbria, indeed in all of Italy. It was begun in 1285 and is Gothic in style, with three naves. Its tripartite façade was conceived by Lorenzo Maitani and is decorated in its lower portion with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, and with mosaics and statues of the Blessed Virgin, the Prophets and the Apostles in its upper part. The walls in the interior are constructed of layers of Travertine marble and of basalt. The choir was frescoed with illustrations of the life of the Blessed Virgin by Ugolino di Prete Ilario, Peter di Puccio and Anthony of Viterbo. The chapel on the right, called Our Lady of San Brizio, was painted by the Fra Angelico of Fiesole ("Christ Glorified", "Last Judgment", and "The Prophets", carried out in 1447) and by Luca Signorelli ("Fall of Antichrist", "Resurrection of the Dead", "Damned and Blessed", etc.). Michelangelo took inspiration from these paintings for his "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel. The "Burial of Jesus" is also by Signorelli, and there are several sculptures by Scalza (1572), among them the group of the Pietà, chiselled from a single block of marble. The chapel on the opposite side, called "of the Corporal", contains the large reliquary in which is preserved the corporal of the miracle of Bolsena. This receptacle was made by order of Bishop Bertrand dei Monaldeschi, by the Siennese Ugolino di Mæstro Vieri (1337). It is made of silver, adorned with enamels that represent the Passion of Jesus and the miracle. The frescoes of the walls, by Ugolino (1357-64), also represent the miracle.
Cortona is a small but fascinating city in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany, central Italy, situated on a commanding hill, and overlooking Lake Trasimeno. Its cyclopean walls reveal its Etruscan origins. It was one of the twelve cities of Etruria and in its vicinity many ruins and Etruscan tombs may be seen. Cortona sided against Rome until 310 B.C. when Fabius Rullianus defeated the Etruscans and took Perugia. Perugia, with other cities, including Cortona, then made peace with Rome. Later Cortona was destroyed by the Lombards but was soon rebuilt. In the 14 C, it was governed by the Casali and afterwards became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Many famous men were born or lived in Cortona, among them Brother Elias (Elia Coppi), the famous companion of St. Francis of Assisi, and later Vicar-General of the Franciscan Order; Cardinals Egidio Boni and Silvio Passerini; the painter Luca Signorelli; the architect and painter Pietro Berrettini (Pietro da Cortona). St. Margaret of Cortona (1248-97) was born at Laviano (Alviano) in the Diocese of Chiusi, and became the mistress of a nobleman of the vicinity. On discovering his body after he had met a violent death, she repented and, after a public penance, retired to Cortona, where she took the habit of a Tertiary of St. Francis and devoted her life to works of penance and charity. Leo X permitted her veneration at Cortona, and Urban VIII extended the privilege to the Franciscan Order. Benedict XIII canonised her in 1728. Her body rests in a beautiful sarcophagus in the church dedicated to her at Cortona.
It is not known whether Cortona was an episcopal see previous to its destruction by the Lombards. From that time until 1325 it belonged to the Diocese of Arezzo. In that year, at the request of Guglielmo Casali, John XXII raised Cortona to episcopal rank, as a reward for the fidelity of its Guelph populace, Arezzo remaining Ghibelline. The first bishop was Rainerio Ubertini. Other bishops were Luca Grazio, who was a distinguished member of the Council of Florence (1438); Matteo Concini (1560) and Gerolamo Gaddi (1562) were present at the Council of Trent. The cathedral and the other churches of Cortona possess numerous works of art, especially paintings of the school of Luca Signorelli and of Fra Angelico.
The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggioreis located 36 km south of Siena in the characteristic "badlands" landscape of the Crete Senesi. The Olivetan community traces its foundation to 1313 and Giovanni Tolomei - who took the religious name of Bernardo - along with two of his friends, from the noble families of Sienna, Patrizio Patrizi and Ambrogio Piccolomini. The Abbey is situated 273 m above sea level at Chiusura, not far from Asciano in the province of Sienna, surrounded by the thick forest that overlooks the Crete Senesi countryside below.
The correct name for the monks of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto, who are part of a number of congregations that make up the Benedictine order, is in fact Monaci Benedettini di Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto. Their particular devotion to the Virgin Mary is visible also in their habit, which is white to symbolise purity.
The approval for the building of the monastery came with the "Charta fundationis" by Guido Tarlati, bishop of Arezzo (26 March 1319), and the monastery took the name of Monte Oliveto «Maggiore» (Major) so as to distinguish it from successive foundations (Florence, San Gimignano, Naples, etc.). Construction of the monastery began in 1393 and was completed in 1526, although the buildings were further modified during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.
An imposing square tower with a drawbridge that was part of the original defences erected to protect the entire complex stands at the entrance to the Abbey. The courtyard of the abbey opens onto a broad avenue of cypresses. To the left is the botanical garden that supplied medicinal plants for the monks. A little further on is the fish pond designed in 1553 by Pelori and used by the monks to provide fish at those times of year during which the Benedictine rule forbade the consumption of meat.
The cypress avenue leads to the impressively austere, late-gothic church of the abbey, built between 1399 and 1417 by order of the Abbot Ippolito di Giacomo da Milano. The single nave interior has a cross plan. The fine carved wooden lector is by Raffaele da Brescia and the inlaid wooden choir stalls are by Fra’ Giovanni da Verona. The transept leads to the Chapel of the Sacrament, whose altar is adorned by an early 14 C wooden Crucifix. In 1772 the church was redecorated in the late-Baroque style by Giovanni Antinori.
The abbey has three 15 C cloisters, of which the most magnificent is the rectangular Chiostro Grande, constructed between 1426 and 1443. It is made up of two passages, one above the other, supported by columns. The portico is decorated with a fresco cycle by Luca Signorelli depicting the life of St Benedict, who began work on its 36 large scenes in 1497. The cycle was finished in 1508 by Sodoma. The Chiostro Centrale is composed of a portico that rests on polygonal columns that lead to the magnificent Refectory, decorated with frescoes by Fra’ Paolo Novelli.
The abbey’s large Library comprises more than 40,000 volumes, pamphlets and parchments that have been carefully restored by the monks. The Library leads to the Pharmacy, which contains an important collection of 18 C spice vases. The abbey still produces honey and distilled herbal spirits made according to various ancient recipes.
Art in Tuscany | Sodoma (originally Giovanni Antonio Bazzi)