Key to Umbria: Orvieto

Palazzo Vescovile (1956)

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The present Palazzo Vescovile was built in 1956, at right angles to part of the Palazzi Papali to the left, on a site that has long been the centre of episcopal authority in Orvieto. 

Remains from the earlier episcopal palace on this site are incorporated in the part of the palace to the right.  For example, a bifore window that might have belonged to an early palace can be seen in its back wall, in Via Soliana.  (This was used as a model in the restoration of some of the windows of the Palazzi Papali).

Early History

The first mention of a bishop of "Urbs Vetus" appears in a stern letter (ca. 590) from Pope Gregory I to Bishop Giovanni.  The location of his palace is unknown.

The first palace on this location was probably built in the 11th century.  Bishop Riccardo built a replacement in 1178 and Bishop  Matteo consecrated its chapel, the Cappella di San Silvestro, in 1212. 

A series of popes seem to have stayed here when they visited the city.  When these visits became more frequent and prolonged in the later part of the 13th century, the complex was extended by the construction of a series of new papal palaces (the Palazzi Papali mentioned above).   Pope Urban IV, who resided in Orvieto from October 1262 until September 1264, is documented as staying in Palazzo Vescovile in 1262.  He seems to have begun the first of the adjoining the Palazzi Papali at this time.

Palazzo Vescovile is probably represented in this fresco (1357-64) by Ugolino di Prete Ilario in the Cappella del Corporale of the Duomo, in which Pope Urban IV displays the Sacro Corporale: he is depicted in a loggia that probably formed part of the palace.  The crenellated palace to the right is probably Palazzo Soliano, which was built in 1297 at the behest of Pope Boniface VIII.   The original Palazzo Vescovile was extended at this time and linked to Palazzo Soliano by a loggia.

The bishops of Orvieto probably used the whole complex (i.e. all of the papal palaces as well as Palazzo Vescovile) from the 14th century, when Orvieto ceased to be used as a papal residence. 

When Palazzo Comunale became unfit for use in ca. 1485, the Commune held its meetings here, a practice that continued until 1580.

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