Half-Way Between Heaven and Earth in Orvieto, Italy

By Stephen | April 3, 2013

Having a day off from cycling sounds like a good idea, but we have learned from reading other blogs that days off are usually filled with the tasks that filled our day today: laundry, repacking, finding WiFi to let our family and friends know we are still alive, updating the blog, grocery shopping, and planning the next leg of the journey.

Thankfully, Blue Bar in Orvieto, Italy has terrific free WiFi, and a very personable owner, so we made our home there after breakfast to do our work. We were already four blog posts behind, had hundreds of photos to edit, and had GPS and mapping difficulties to research. We managed to take a break for lunch, knowing we would be back to the Blue Bar later to finish up our work.

Slow Is Relative in Orvieto, Italy

Orvieto is meant to be the home of Slow. All the guide books (and Carl Honoré) make it sound like an idyllic and peaceful town.

Our experience is not quite as picturesque.

There may be electric buses (although all the buses I saw were regular ol’ petrol fueled), but there are two-stroke engine delivery trucks and scooters everywhere, and cars racing through the narrow, ancient streets. Added to these modern disturbances are the age-old ones, like people shouting to each other across the piazzas and the duomo bells ringing out every fifteen minutes to let you know the time.

In many ways it felt like any Italian hilltop town. Not that this is a bad thing.

Orvieto, Italy

All this means getting the four blocks from Blue Bar to Galleria del Pane (a fantastic bakery) is a bit like a game of frogger, with the added bonus of scooter soot, diesel fumes and cigarette smoke filling the air, and our lungs. With a few slices of vegan pizzas in hand we walked to the edge of town, looking out over the hillside we had cycled down a day earlier. Despite the lack of slow in the city center, the edges are quite serene and stunning.

Italian Knockers Everywhere You Look

One thing I can’t get enough of in Italy, and especially here in Orvieto, are the knockers. Door knockers, that is. They are quite incredible works of art with lion heads, Egyptian god heads, dragons, and brass rings adorning massive wooden doors.

I have taken far too many pictures of them already.

As Above, So Below

Looking at a tourist map of the city, we noticed the map wasn’t aligned North/South, but was on a slight angle. As we tilted our heads to look, out of nowhere an older Italian man appeared. He began to speak to us in Italian without hesitation, somehow making himself comprehensible without a word of English. He explaining to us that the city had been built along the North/South axis, with the four points of the compass radiating out from the main tower, also divided along these lines.

He continued at length to explain that Orvieto had been built halfway between heaven and Earth   on this volcanic plateau. Everything was in balance, he said. Yin yang. He talked about how it was like a tree, with branches in the air balanced by its roots underground. As above, so below.

After a long conversation, he bid us buon giorno and walked away. We smiled at each other for a second, and when we looked back, he was gone.

It was a mystical experience, as though had met a member of Opus Dei, or a wizard on the level of Gandalf the White. We looked a little differently at Orvieto after that, remembering the thought that had gone into building such a special place halfway between heaven and Earth.  

2 comments

  1. Comment by Diane

    Diane Reply April 6, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Great blog Stephen – loved the doorknockers and the old( not so old) man.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 8, 2013 at 2:22 am

      You’re right. He wasn’t very old actually, but he felt timeless so I think it coloured my writing a little…

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