Orvieto is the most important city in the south-western corner of the Umbrian territory, referred to as the “Orvieto area.” All the Municipalities that are part of this territory have a strong historical link with Orvieto, and to it largely owe their growth and urban development. Although traces of the first human settlements in the area can be placed around Monte Peglia, Parrano and along the Tiber river, it is with the establishment and expansion of the Etruscan civilization (10th century BC) that an important urban and social organization was set-up.
Orvieto (originally Velzna) became the Etruscan civilization’s primary center and the center of the entire “Etruscan league”. Not only was this demonstrated in the immediate area, but also in recent excavations that identify a large federal sanctuary (Fanum Voltumnae) at the foot of the Orvieto cliff. The Etruscans molded the city of Orvieto, leaving a great heritage of organization, knowledge and architecture that can be enjoyed today at archaeological sites (the Necropolis and Belvedere temple), in the underground areas, and in city museums. The development and prosperity of Etruscan Orvieto lasted until 264 BC. That year the ever more powerful army of Rome, conquered numerous territories of Umbrians and Etruscans, and succeeded in conquering Orvieto as well. The Umbrian city was destroyed and its inhabitants deported to Bolsena lake where Volsinii Novi was created.
With the Roman domination and the construction of two new large consular roads (Via Cassia and Via Traiana Nova) intense commercial activity was created in the territory. On the one hand this caused the isolation of the Orvieto area, but on the other hand facilitated the growth of other residential areas that were located on the trade routes. It was only with the end of the Roman Empire (5th century AD) that Orvieto returned to being populated. However, the city had to wait for the end of the tumultuous period of barbarian invasions to return to being a vibrant and powerful free Municipality in medieval times.
Although marked by continuous fights between local powerful families like the Filippeschi (Ghibellines) and Monaldeschi (Guelphs), it is in this era of medieval times that the city developed and was enriched with palaces, churches and monuments that today characterize the historic city center. From the Albornoz Fortress to the Palazzo del Popolo, from the Torre del Moro to the splendid Duomo.
The social and economic development of the city was also made possible thanks to the presence of numerous popes and their courts; the power of the church also facilitated the prevalence of papal Monaldeschi over the Filippeschi. The end of the long dispute between the two local families allowed the Monaldeschi to govern Orvieto for several years.
With the subsequent subdivisions of the powerful family into different branches (Monaldeschi della Vipera, della Cervara, del Cane, and L’Aquila), several descendants decided to strengthen the borders in defense of the Orvieto area by building castles, fortresses and military outposts which developed those inhabited centers that today represent the Municipalities of the Orvieto area.
Orvieto is a city with over 3000 years of history that never ceases to be discovered because its subsoil conceals another city half underground. A set of caves, wells, and tunnels that are open inside the tufa walls. Some underground places are still used as private cellars, others offer an unmissable attraction to visitors. From the depths of Saint Patrick’s Well to the complex of Pozzo della Cava, the suggestive Adriano’s Labyrinth, the underground of Santa Andrea’s Church and the original caves of the Orvieto Underground.