Rome: the Hills

It seemed like all the tourists I talked to in Rome were doing a "three days in Rome" sort of itinerary. They were going to take in the highlights and then hit Venice and Florence and the Amalfi Coast. And I suppose, if we'd been planning an Italian vacation, maybe that's what we would have done too—how cool to see the countryside and the canals and all those other great things! But with Sam's classes and meetings in Rome itself, it just made more sense for us to stay there and not waste our precious time getting from place to place. So we spent all our eight days in the same city. And actually, I was really glad we did, because it felt like we got to see so MANY more things than just the usual! It felt like we actually got to know Rome—a little. (I know. Eight days isn't that much, obviously—but we really did feel almost at home, by the end!)

But. I read about a town in the hills near Rome, just an hour train ride away, and we figured it would be fun to ride the train anyway—so we spent one of our days visiting the medieval hill town of Orvieto. 

And it was maybe our favorite day of all! I don't know, I can't really choose. But the thing I loved so much about Orvieto was that it was PACKED with those sort of hidden places I love so much. A whole town full of them, really. Every street felt like a story waiting to happen, the beginning of an acquaintance, a glimpse into another world. My mind was going nonstop, imagining the lives of the people that make their homes along these winding, sun-warmed, impossibly darling little cobblestone streets.
I am always happy to ride a train so I can report back to the train-lovers in the family. I have always [or, since I had little boys, anyway] dreamed of riding a Maglev or a Bullet Train with them. Or the TGV. But, this was just a regular old train. Still fun though, to be at the train station and see all the comings and goings.
The countryside was beautiful. So many interesting little jumbles of towns, clinging to hillsides or tossed carelessly along green valleys.

We saw huge fields of sunflowers, which were of course impossible to appreciate fully through the train windows at high speed. But they made a lovely blur of gold and green, anyway. :)
This was a fortress-like hill town soon before Orvieto, and looking much like it. I just love how…brave and determined these places look, hanging onto the edges of the hills. They don't really look scary or fierce (like they would probably want to)—more like a resolute little five-year-old who has put on all her boots and hats and snow clothes and stepped out like an Arctic Explorer to play in the first one-inch snowstorm of the year. I mean…everything is so beautiful and serene. It's hard to imagine there was ever really any actual need for those defensive walls! :)
When you get to Orvieto from the train, you're at the bottom of a steep hill, and we (I?) was super excited to learn there was a funicular railway there! Another on my list of cool trains to ride! I wished so much we had the boys there for it.
The cars take you on a nice flat ride up the hill, thanks to their angled design.
And then once you get up to the top…this amazing view. We kept saying, "I can't believe we're here. This doesn't seem real." The vineyards. The red roofs. The rolling hills. So beautiful!
In the main square, the town has a beautiful cathedral (they call it the Duomo) made of these crazy black and white stripes! They're just made of alternating colors of stone. From some angles that made the structure look almost modern, like something from the Art Deco movement or something. But it's old, of course. It took long enough to build that it spans a few different styles, but it's SO perfectly Gothic from outside!
They even took the trouble to stripe the crypt!
But just as you're marveling at all the time and effort that striping must have taken, you walk around to the front and see this view:
which is probably the most ornate facade I've ever seen, anywhere! And I've been to lots of cathedrals, over the years. :) This one was so colorful and intricate! All the mosaics were brightly colored with gleaming gold backgrounds, and the stonework was so detailed you couldn't even get the full effect until you stepped right up next to it—at which point you couldn't appreciate the glorious context of it all! So this was definitely a place that you could marvel at for a lifetime. I guess that's why they built it this way. What a statement of devotion!
See those sort of rope-y pillars, by the guy in the red shirt? I was looking at those, in awe of the delicate lines and shapes, and then I got up closer and saw that each one was lined with tiny mosaic pieces and carvings inside each strand. Like this:
I just don't even know how to process SO MUCH EFFORT. HOW did they do all this?? I can hardly stand to think of the time it must have taken them.

I didn't think the inside was as spectacular as the outside, but it was very pretty and peaceful all the same, with a big Baroque organ and lovely little quiet chapels lining the nave. I loved the sun coming in and making these warm patches of light on the stone floor:
Besides the cathedral, there are a few other museums and churches in the town, and we wandered into most of them at one point or another, if just to escape the heat (although nothing offered much relief). 
One really interesting thing we did was take a tour of these man-made caves and tunnels all through the hillside under the town. They were made way back in Etruscan times, used for pressing and storing olive oil, and keeping pigeons, and so forth—and then they've been used and added onto continuously since them, even up to being made into bomb shelters during the Second World War. In these caves it really was cool—50 degrees or so all year round. That felt SO good on this hot, hot day!
We also stopped to get gelato about six different times. And pizza, of course; the very best pizza and Fanta in the world.
But—honestly—with all that, the best thing was just walking around, waiting to be enchanted again with every street, every stone archway, every window garden.
I loved when the narrow streets slanted off down the hill so suddenly, you could catch a glimpse of the green hills beyond.
We loved walking around to the edge of the hills along the old town walls and looking down to see castles peeking up through forest. (This one is an old monastery, actually, I think. Now it's a hotel.)
We loved looking sideways to see the roofs and towers and buildings all tumbled and jumbled on top of each other, like the cities my children build with wooden blocks.
And most of all we loved these STREETS!
I want to live here. Right here. In those windows above the arch. I wonder how many tourists have said that, over the years? :) It doesn't matter, I still feel like this is MY PLACE. I will wake up late to stripes of sun on my white coverlet, and throw open the shutters and water my flowers and then drift down into the town with my shopping basket on my arm to buy tomatoes and bundles of lavender.
Someday. Right? :)

1 comment

  1. This was what was so enchanting to me as well! I felt like all of the big tourist attractions were so incredible, but these little streets/homes and the beautiful countryside are what made me really love it (well, along with the food of course!). I was in a different city each day so we only got a sniff of each location, it seemed. I imagine staying in one place for several days was like getting to actually swim in the stream instead of just getting your toes wet.


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