High in the Sky, a Romanesque Jewel
Orvieto, one of Italy’s most dramatically situated hill towns, commands a position atop a high, flat column of tufa stone more than 1,000 feet above sea level. It can be seen from a great distance when the sunlight catches the Gothic facade of its famous cathedral.
The perfect centerpiece of this ancient town, the Duomo is as amazing outside as it is inside. Beginning in the late 13th century, artists and architects from all over Italy took more than 300 years to finish this fascinating hybrid of Romanesque, Gothic, and High Renaissance styles.
But the Duomo’s undisputed main draw is the cycle of frescoes portraying the end of the world, begun by Fra Angelico in 1447 and completed in 1499-1503 by Luca Signorelli.
These important Renaissance frescoes were probably the inspiration for Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel nearly half a century later. (An unimpressed Leonardo da Vinci, however, said the figures reminded him of sacks “stuffed full of nuts.”)
The frescoes cover almost 10,000 square feet of the walls and ceiling of the Duomo’s San Brizio chapel. At the base of the vertical city walls is La Badia, a beautifully preserved 12th-century abbey, now a first- class hotel.