Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Two weeks in the Lazio region, 2016

Avoiding news of Trump's nightmare "transition team" to the extent possible


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

The plan is to luxuriate for twelve days in Viterbo, with enthusiastic sight-seeing in the region, and a few days tacked onto either side of that for getting there and back.

A daytrip to Orvieto (2)

We've just been in to see the wonderful Duomo di Orvieto . . .

. . . and now we'll step round the corner for a look at the Papal Palace and Cathedral Museum.

Uh oh. We've come in the wrong door. This part of the Papal Palace, the Palazzo Soliano, has been turned into a museum of the works of Emilio Greco (1913–1995), who created the new bronze doors on the Duomo.

Whenever matters got too awkward for them in Rome, popes had been taking refuge in various cities considered safe for the moment, but (aside from Avignon in France, 1309-1377), Viterbo and Orvieto are the only cities in which they built Papal Palaces and resided for considerable lengths of time (Perugia was the venue for five papal elections in the same period, but no papal palace). Adrian IV is the first to have hid out here in Orvieto in the mid-12th century, and Innocent III was keen to wipe out the Cathar heresy here in the early 13th. Gregory IX established a Dominican quasi-university (studium generale) of theology here in 1227, at which Thomas Aquinas was one of the teachers in the early 1260s.

There were earlier papal residences in town, but the present complex was confirmed by Urban IV in the 1260s, and five popes moved their adminstrative Curia here, and to Viterbo, by the end of Boniface VIII's tenure in 1303. The locals were so pleased by the economic and maybe spiritual benefits that they routinely elected the Pope himself to be both their Podestà and their Capitano del Popolo, which kind of misses the point.

The Papacy turned the palace over to the cathedral in 1550, and in 1896 it was turned into the cathedral museum, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, for Etruscan and cathedral-related artifacts.

Like the original of the Madonna and Child from the tympanum over the central door of the Duomo, by Pisano in 1347

And Archangel Michael doing what he does best (from 1356); there's a copy on the façade of the Duomo

And this uncharming Madonna with her son and a sneering John the Baptist (by Somebody from the Veneto, 16th century)

And this splendid Mary Magdalene by Luca Signorelli, 1504

In the museum

And a learned monkey with glasses on

The Corso Cavour again, working our way eastward towards the great Pozzo . . .

. . . and the Rocca Albornoziana at the end of town. The Spanish cardinal Gil Álvarez Carrillo de Albornoz, a famous military commander and Archbishop of Toledo, threw his lot in with the popes in Avignon in 1350 -- his myriad skills were quickly recognized, and in 1353 he was sent by Pope Innocent VI with a mercenary army to reassert papal control over territories of the Papal States that had been scenting freedom and flexing their muscles since the popes had scampered off to France in 1309.

Albornoz, with assistance from the Viscontis of Milan and the main Tuscan cities, first came down this way to deal with the then-lord of Viterbo, Giovanni di Vico, who'd been somewhat too greedy in the pope's absence, and that was quickly rectified at the Battle of Viterbo in March 1354.

Albornoz then moved on to convey the pope's military blessings throughout the Marche and Romagna regions, subduing Rimini, Forlì, Ravenna, Urbino, Ancona, etc. Normally, having brought each city back into the sacred papal obedience, he established a fortress at the upper end of the city (as here) or actually overlooking it (as at Assisi), to discourage backsliding.

Albornoz was recalled to Avignon in 1358 but sent back to Italy in 1359 to carry on god's work, cleaning up city after city, missing only Bologna, and turned down his nomination as the next pope when Innocent VI died in 1362. He established such a record of atrocities in the name of the church that warfare took a turn toward the more ungodly through the rest of the century (as when Robert, Bishop of Geneva, cardinal and later the antipope Clement VII, captured the city of Cesena in 1377 and massacred the population), and many of the papal cities destroyed their Albornoz fortresses before the end of the century. Albornoz himself had died in Viterbo in 1367.

Downtown Orvieto Scalo, on the mighty Tiber-tributary the Río Paglia

In any case, the Rocca Albornoz was built in one of Albornoz's sojourns in the region, in 1353 or 1359. It was destroyed in 1395 but rebuilt and expanded in the mid-1400s.

Now, like most old surviving fortresses, it's a city park.

A commanding location, almost impregnable from direct assault. But . . . what about a siege?

Following the horrific Sack of Rome by unpaid German and Spanish mercenary troops in May 1527, the Medici Pope Clement VII stayed holed up for six months in the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, but in December he escaped dressed as one of his servants and reached the safety of the fortress at Orvieto on the following day. And his first thought was something like "But what about water?" (Judith Hook, The Sack of Rome 1527 [1972])

There's often plenty of water in the Río Paglia, but that's useless for the besieged.

So Clement VII set the famous architect and engineer Sangallo the Younger to making this thing, the Pozzo di S. Patrizio, or St Patrick's Well (the name was borrowed from the medieval legend that St Patrick's Well or Cave off County Donegal in Ireland was so deep that it led to Purgatory).

Clement VII left his refuge in Orvieto and moved on to Viterbo, and was finally able to return to Rome in October 1528; he died in 1534 and was never able to see Sangallo's project completed in 1537.

The Well is 53m deep, down about 250 steps (seemed like 2500), and it's almost closing for the day so we've promised to go really fast.

The design is a masterpiece; it's basically a double helix, with two separate one-way stairways from separate doors at the surface. Thus donkeys could proceed down on one stairway, load up, and hike back up on the other one without interfering with one another.

We've made it. Down, that is. Now for the Up part.

Before the ticket seller locks up and goes home for the night.

And now, after a wild city bus ride through streets a few inches wider than the bus, we're descending again to the carpark and wending homeward to Viterbo.

Tomorrow, the Villa Farnese in Caprarola and the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi in Bracciano.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 25 January 2017.


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