Orvieto, a quiet town of 22,000, is in the neighboring province of Umbria. It is perched on a massive volcanic plateau almost 1000 feet above the surrounding plain. We had to take a cable car to reach the top of the plateau where the old town is located. This site has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Today, its most famous site is the Duomo (begun in 1290), one of Italy's great cathedrals. The building was inspired by the so-called "Miracle of Bolsena," when real blood from a consecrated host held by a disbelieving priest supposedly dripped onto an altarcloth. The cloth is now on display in the church which is graced by a beautiful Gothic facade.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
The little hilltop village of Pienza (pop. 2,300) was the birthplace of the great humanist scholar Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1405-68), better known as Pope Pius II. When he became pope in 1458, he decided to rename his hometown after himself and totally rebuild it in the most current Renaissance style. His family palace, the church he built, and a palace owned by the Borgia family all surround the town square. His visionary urban planning was never completed, so the town retains much of its medieval charm. Pienza is also the home of delicious pecorino cheese made from ewe's milk. Yes, we bought some.
On Saturday evening, we drove to a castle in the hills outside of Florence. Castel del Trebbio was built by the Pazzi family in 1148 and later extended in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is situated on a beautiful hilltop. The castle is best known for the "Pazzi Conspiracy," a plot to kill the Medici brothers of Florence and take over their banking empire. The assasination attempt killed only one brother. The other took his revenge by massacring scores of Pazzi followers and seizing Castel del Trebbio. Today, the family that owns the castle and that resides in its 30+ unheated rooms runs a winery and olive press. We toured the castle, enjoyed a wine tasting, and had a delicious dinner.
Our home base for the trip was a very comfortable hotel in the city of Arezzo (pop. 92,000). Our walking tour of the city included visits to the Duomo (cathedral) and a smaller Romanesque parish church (Pieve di Santa Maria). Luckily for us, the Piazza Grande and all the side streets were crowded with vendors in town for a lively antiques fair that only takes place on the first weekend of each month. The church of San Francesco contains beautiful fifteenth-century frescoes by Piero della Framcesco that depict the "Legend of the True Cross," but no cameras were allowed.
This past weekend, we took a three-day bus trip through Tuscany with the CUA Rome Program. The "grown-ups" (David Watson Vasquez, Aurora Santero, Susie and Steve) were outnumbered by our delightful young traveling companions, a group of 46 students from CUA and Loyola.
Our first stop was Siena, a city of 60,000 that rivaled Florence in wealth and grandeur during the 13th and 14th centuries. We toured the huge Dominican church, the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall), the great medieval cathedral, and the home of St Catherine of Siena. There was also plenty of time for a delicious lunch and street-by-street exploring before we returned to our hotel in Arezzo. Here are a few pictures: