Mediaeval Orvieto

Mediaeval Orvieto

Mediaeval Orvieto

Mediaeval Orvieto

Excerpt

Orvieto is a small town in central Italy, celebrated for its cathedral and its wine. It is situated almost exactly half-way between Rome and Florence. Perched on an isolated mass of volcanic rock, it dominates the bridge where the road between these two cities crosses the river Paglia. Just above this point the Paglia has been joined by the Chiana, and five miles to the east the two flow into the Tiber; the bridge is not a very long one, but it is the longest on the Val di Chiana-Arezzo route from Rome to Florence. The corresponding bridge on the Rome-Siena road lies a dozen miles west of Orvieto, below the town of Acquapendente. Orvieto is a mile from the bridge as the crow flies, and is more than six hundred feet above it. The town dominates each of its approaches, to the north the valley of the Paglia and the junction with the Chiana, to the south the road to Bolsena and Rome.

Orvieto's own impregnability sets the seal on its strategic importance. From every side it can only be reached by ascending a rocky slope that is at first steep and finally almost sheer. The site has been inhabited since early times, and excavations suggest that it was among the most important of Etruscan towns. It was a fortress which required few man-made defences, and history records no successful assault on it against a united garrison since Belisarius drove out the Goths in the sixth century.

Of the town's history in the early Middle Ages almost nothing is known, but from the twelfth century until the fourteenth it was an independent republic within the States of the Church, and thereafter it fell under the sway of a succession of tyrants, some of them local, others from neighbouring towns, others papal Vicars; it continued to form part of the Patrimony of St Peter until the unification of Italy in 1860. The chapters following are a study of Orvieto's history as a commune, or democratic city-state, from 1157, when the papacy recognized the town's self-governing . . .

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