This book is a similar to Bruges and Its Beauties in that it talks about the history of a city in hopes of making you want to visit. Unlike the Bruges book, though, this book did make me want to see Orvieto myself.
Orvieto dates back to Etruscan times, which is before the Romans in Italy, you damn kids. Over the millenia, the city has built up and into a hilltop of tufa, a volcanic stone, and overlooks valleys ripe with wine grapes. They’ve got tunnels and catacombs as generations upon generations have mined the tufa for building, and they used it for buildings and for the walls that defend Orvieto. It was a papal and other churchly retreat, so it features a number of ornate cathedrals dating back only seven hundred or eight hundred years, although they have recently (relatively) discovered the foundation of an Etruscan temple (in the olden days, Romans and later Catholics built their churches over the remains of others’ temples, so the religious buildings were layered in most places).
I like to fancy myself a history buff and study local history wherever I am, but here in the New World, prehistoric is only 600 years ago. There’s a lot less for me to worry about than people in areas where they’ve had recorded history for millennia.
So partially on the basis of this book, I bump Italy up to second on the list of countries I’d like to see. Of course, as an untraveled American, I’m not that eager to go to foreign lands where I might be singled out for maltreatment because I’m an American, and these days I count most of Europe in that category. So I won’t see Orvieto anytime soon. I’ll have to wait for the pendulum of sentiment to shift (that is, until my children and this nation’s army bail Europe in another large war and Europe is briefly grateful) or until one of Victor Davis Hanson’s tours goes that direction. Because say what you will, I do believe that if an anti-American mob chose to attack a tour group and the shit got real, VDH would know how to form the tour group up into maniples and march us to Gibraltar. Yes, I know, Xenaphon would have used a phalanx formation, but the maniple is a more effective fighting unit, and VDH knows it, too.