Orvieto's Duomo is so famous worldwide that a large number of people come to the "City of the Cliff" attracted only by its great iconic monument. We like to think that once in Orvieto, you will be interested in learning about many other of its treasures. However, Orvieto's Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (to the Orvietani, but not only, simply the Duomo) is undoubtedly the town's most important and unrivalled wonder. Celebrated over the centuries by artists and writers as well as by ordinary people, the Duomo will never cease to amaze you, no matter how well informed you are, how much you have read about it or how many pictures or postcards you have enjoyed seeing. Whichever direction you are coming from, you will be amazed at its daring and slender proportions, surely a hymn to the desire for infinity and ascent to heaven – and its unique impressiveness and evocativeness, that go beyond any simplistic categorization of style. Named after the Virgin Mary of the Assumption, the Cathedral represents one of the artistic masterpieces of the late Italian Middle Ages, which gathered under one roof the feeling that pervaded the construction of the great European Cathedrals of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the architectural solutions of the mendicant orders and the figurative motifs of the French Gothic art, in order to overcome the tradition followed by Roman basilicas and create an ensemble which would be unrepeatable and totally original.
Whether you arrive from Via Postierla, and come across the simply majestic south side, enhanced by the verdant lawn and the imposing corner pillar, or from Via Maitani opposite the facade, and little by little discover the triumphant golden mosaics of the facade or from narrow and windy Via del Duomo that, according to a prospective ritual which is very common in medieval town plans, slowly reveals the majestic impact of the facade, the isolation of the Duomo within the square is evident and, as medieval urban planning researcher Alberto Satolli rightly notices "the aerial emptiness that wraps the building starting from the limited space that surrounds it is the transparent completion that enhances its architecture".
Built over the course of several centuries (from the thirteenth to the seventeenth) with additions dating back even to the more modern twentieth century, the vast ensemble of the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Assumption owes its construction to a multitude of reasons: certainly religious, as tradition has it, due to the close link between the Duomo and the 1263 Miracle of Bolsena, but also, more widely, political, social, and artistic reasons as well as those related to town planning.
We will try and tell you in a synthetic yet comprehensive way, the long and compelling adventure of the Fabbrica del Duomo di Orvieto. However, it may be worth obtaining a deeper insight, through one of the many publications from the more general to the specialist ones, that suit every pocket and every need, available from any bookshop in town. Perhaps you can start flicking through it while standing on the Cathedral forecourt that every day not only welcomes the steps of the many tourists but also experiences the affection and familiarity shown by the Orvietani.