Known to exist even before the Etruscans came in the 8th century BC, Orvieto is undoubtedly one of the oldest settlements in all of Umbria. The picturesque city is sited dramatically on a near-vertical cliff of red volcanic rock, surrounded by defensive walls hewn from the cliff face.
It was in this position, situated on one of Italy's major roads controlling the way between Florence and Rome, that Orvieto began to thrive as a major trading post. By the 13th century, the town was a considerable size. At about the same time, its wealth and size were boosted further when the immensely influential philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas taught at the town's Stadium.
Popes and grapes
Having always had close ties with the Papacy, it is not known exactly when Orvieto ceased its self-government and was acquired by the Papal state; though it is known that the town was under this control until the Kingdom of Italy was united in the 1860s. Today, Orvieto is very popular with tourists as it produces one of the most ancient wines of Italy, with the vines benefitting from the mild climate and the volcanic minerals in the soil.