I love the small hill towns. When we first arrived in Siena, I knew I had to see more of these smaller, Medieval stone structures. Orvieto’s buildings are interestingly made out of tufa a volcanic stone that is soft when mined from underground, but hardens once it is exposed to the air. It is so soft when first mined that one can cut it with a knife, but hardens strong enough to last for the past hundreds of years. This was a building practice throughout the centuries up until after World War II, when the excavating discontinued. Orvieto is also home to the Duomo di Orvieto, a cathedral that inspired Giovanni Pisano’s façade design for the Duomo of Siena, and Arnolfo di Cambio’s Florence Cathedral, the Santa Maria Del Fiore. I can remember my professor from Millersville teaching Italian Renaissance saying that this is one of the ugliest façades he has ever seen (hoping to get a reaction from his students, you know, but I also know he was definitely serious)—after seeing this in person, I can agree with him. The animal sculptures appear almost hot-glued to the façade, like they don’t belong, not to mention their proportions are obscure—a lamb with a shrunken head and so forth. The frescos on the façade are colorful and beautiful in and of themselves (remastered to be sure as well), but there is so much going on already in detail that it is difficult for the eye to focus and read the frescos. Remembering his elaborate and evocative tale regarding the “hideousness” of this façade—I don’t think I would go that far in description—but I can’t help but smile.


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