High in the majestic hills of Umbria, surrounded by miles and miles of vineyards and olive groves is a dramatic jewel of Italian architecture. Il Duomo di Orvieto, often called simply Il Duomo (in English, “the cathedral”) is a fantastic 14th century wonder of Gothic, Romanesque, and High Renaissance styles. Actually begun in 1290, Il Duomo took another three centuries to complete. Its origins are somewhat in dispute. Although it is agreed that the impetus for the build was Pope Urban IV, some historians say it was to safeguard the body of St. Peter of Prague who was performing the mass during which the Miracle of the Corporal of Bolsena occurred. Others insist it was to house the Corporal of Bolsena itself; an alter cloth spattered with blood that Catholics believe is proof of the transubstantiation of the Communion wafer.
What is not in dispute is the sheer, utter beauty of this fascinating cathedral. From its magnificent frescos, to its gabled and detailed façade, to the illusory architecture utilized in the interior, Il Duomo di Orvieto is an important and exquisite trip into art and history. The façade of Il Duomo is purely Gothic in design. One sees the awesome central rose window designed and built by the 14th century sculptor Orcagna surrounded by highly detailed little niches featuring statues of the twelve apostles and twelve Old Testament prophets. Covered in gold leaf and large bas-reliefs depicting myriad scenes from the Bible, it is hard to tear your eyes away long enough to go inside. The mosaics alone are mindboggling in their splendor; painting the center of Orvieto with fantastic colors and images.
Once within, the cathedral appears to be dramatically long; however this is a specific architectural illusion created by building the structure wider in the rear and narrower in the front. It is here inside that you see what has been drawing so many pilgrims to this small town over the centuries. Tremendous frescoes cover nearly 10,000 square feet and illustrate nearly the entire history of Christianity. Among the most magnificent are the series done by Fra Angelico, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Luca Signorelli in the Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio. Here you are presented with a fantastic vision of the Book of Revelations represented by The Preaching of the Antichrist, The End of the World, The Resurrection of the Flesh, The Reprobates are Driven to Hell and Received by Demons, and The Elect in Paradise. These images are both terribly frightening in their detailed violence and gloriously beautiful in the expressive and ecstatic faces of the saved. It is this collection of frescos that provided the inspiration for Michelangelo’s work at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.
Il Duomo di Orvieto is very much representative of the town of Orvieto itself. Ancient yet timely, Orvieto dates back to the Etruscan era and it is filled with wonderful examples of fine architecture, stunning art work, and rich attention to detail. Although any trip here will certainly be highlighted by a visit to Il Duomo, the other dramatic flairs the city has to offer will surely please even the most jaded traveler. Come and experience what has stunned and impressed visitors and locals for over 400 years, the beautiful, the magnificent, the unbelievable, Il Duomo di Orvieto.
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