Orvieto underground

While in Orvieto, we signed up for the tour underground, a fascinating insight into the lives of the inhabitants thousands of years ago. At the end of the 1970s, a landslide opened up a large hole a few hundred metres from the duomo, tempting a number of speleologists (a new word I have learnt meaning someone who studies caves) to investigate. They found an incredible underground world, dug by hand out of the tufa beneath the town, that had been forgotten. The beautiful Umbrian countryside accompanied us as we made our way to the entrance of the caves.

1.Orvieto

We found ourselves at the centre of medieval olive oil production, complete with millstones, a press, furnace and mangers for the animals working the grindstones.

2.grinding stone

3.olive press

Intriguing tunnels led in all directions, beckoning us to investigate further.

The Etruscans created cisterns for holding rainwater and very deep narrow wells in search of underground springs. There are small notches on the two longest sides called pedarole, footholds to enable someone to climb down and out again.

10.well

The tour continued, revealing more grottoes that had a variety of uses such as wine storage and pottery kilns, over twelve hundred have been discovered.

11.caves

The walls of some were covered in small cubic niches created to breed pigeons, now a classic dish of the local cuisine.

12.columbarium

16.columbarium

There are narrow tunnels at the back of the walls, just big enough for a person to pass on all fours. Unfortunately, their destinations remain unknown, the mystery secured by centuries of landslides.

Every so often, light streamed in from openings in the cliff and we were treated to another glimpse of the spectacular vista.

19.view

There seemed to be an endless labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and passageways intersecting in all directions.

25.tunnels

Thank goodness we had a guide, we may never have made it back.

26.view

Grotte di Castro

On our way to Bolsena for a lakeside lunch, we stopped to explore the town of Grotte di Castro. The Etruscans lived here quite happily, even after the Romans conquered in the 3rd century BC. That all changed when the Lombards invaded in the 8th century and the inhabitants, deprived of all their possessions, were forced to live in the many caves around the cliffs. Fast forward to 1537 when the town was bought by the Farnese family and became part of the Duchy of Castro. Hence the name, meaning Caves of Castro. We parked on the outskirts and wandered along Via Vittorio Veneto

to the main square, Piazza Cavour. The colourful buildings added some brightness to the overcast day and the war memorial stands proudly as a centrepiece.

5.Piazza Cavour6.Piazza Cavour

We caught glimpses of Lake Bolsena between the houses,

10.Lake Bolsena

some of which must have magnificent views.

11.Grotte di Castro12.Grotte di Castro13.Grotte di Castro

This is the best way to traverse the narrow, cobbled streets.

We continued on foot through the older part of town

20.Town Hall

21.Grotte di Castro

before returning to the car for the short drive to Bolsena.

22.Grotte di Castro

The vision of Grotte di Castro from the road as we left was stunning

23.Grotte di Castro24.Grotte di Castro25.Grotte di Castro26.Grotte di Castro27.Grotte di Castro

along with another enticing scene of Lake Bolsena.

28.Lake Bolsena

Liquid Light

While in Melbourne last year, we were fortunate to see the Liquid Light: 500 years of Venetian Glass exhibition at the NGV. The island of Murano in Venice has been home for hundreds of years to local artisans who have created the world famous Venetian glass. Evidence of glassmaking in Venice has been found as early as the 7th century but it wasn’t until the mid 15th century that Murano glassmaker Angelo Barovier produced a new glass formula, named cristallo, for its resemblance to rock crystal. The elaborate designs and vibrant colours have changed over the years but the exquisiteness is a constant.

1.installation

A new form of decoration called vetro a filigrana (filigree glass) emerged in the mid 16th century. Canes of white glass are embedded into the cristallo, the result is stunning.

4.wine glass & decanter 1880

Another process that was developed around this time produced an opaque white glass, known as lattimo. It became popular in the 18th century when it was used to imitate porcelain.

5.bottle & bowl

The earlier wine glasses weren’t a lot different to those we use today,

8.goblet 1880

except for the goblets with the ornately embellished stems. I would be very nervous drinking my wine from one of these.

The Venetian glass industry suffered a decline in the 17th century in the wake of a financial crisis following the Italian plague of 1629-1631. A less expensive version of Venetian-style glass emerged and undercut the market for the authentic cristallo. Things went from bad to worse with the Napoleonic Wars and the industry all but collapsed by the mid 19th century. Fortunately, in 1866, The Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company Ltd. was established and the glass making techniques of the 16th and 17th centuries were revived. It seemed that vases and jugs took on a simpler form

16.ewer 1880

although the same can’t be said for this candelabrum.

17.Candelabrum 1880

Moving into the 20th century, the same techniques were used to produce some beautiful, elegant pieces. Designed by Swedish Tyra Lundgren in 1938, this leaf dish is made with very fine vetro a fili decoration (white glass threads).

18.Venini & Co leaf dish 1950

In the 1960s, Dale Chihuly was one of the first Americans to study glassmaking in Venice and in 1969, established the Pilchuk Glass School in Washington where he worked with Toots Zynsky and Richard Marquis. Chihuly began his Macchia series in the 1980s, named for the speckled effect of colours in the shell-like forms (macchia is Italian for spot).

19.Macchia series 198220.Macchia, Dale Chihuly 1993

The vivid colours of the fine glass canes in this fascinating piece by Toots Zynsky were inspired by the plumage of exotic African birds.

21.Toots Zynsky 1990

The name of the Marquiscarpa series is a combination of Richard’s surname and that of Carlo Scarpa to pay homage to the Italian architect. The footed platters have an intriguing mosaic appearance, created using glass canes sliced into cross sections.

22.Marquiscarpa #9, 1991

In the 21st century, the Venetian glass industry has to compete with the incursion of cheaper imports. Hopefully, ongoing collaborations between Muranese workshops and outside artists will secure its future.

Orvieto

A scenic thirty minute drive from Montepozzo, the Etruscan hilltop town of Orvieto was the perfect destination for a day trip. Vertical tufa cliffs support the ancient buildings in spectacular fashion and the remains of original defensive walls are still standing.

1.Orvieto

After parking the car in Piazza Marconi, we walked a short distance to Piazza del Duomo, a huge square dominated by the magnificent Orvieto Cathedral. Not surprisingly, the construction lasted three centuries from the laying of the flagstone in November 1290.

2.Duomo di Orvieto

The design and style evolved from Romanesque to Gothic as it progressed, the side walls are a striking contrast of white travertine and grey basalt stone.

3.Duomo di Orvieto

The golden façade is stunning with intricate designs and detail and four bronze statues of the Angel, the Lion, the Eagle and the Ox symbolise the Evangelists. The three bronze doors, depicting mercies from the life of Christ, replaced the original wooden doors in 1970. Above the middle door, the sculpture of the Madonna and Child was created in 1347.

4.Duomo di Orvieto

13.Duomo di Orvieto12.Duomo di Orvieto

We didn’t go inside the cathedral, we had tickets for a tour underground instead but that’s another story. Orvieto has a strong papal history with five popes taking refuge there during the 13th century. Palazzo Soliano was built in 1297 and once a papal residence, is now home to the Museo Emilio Greco, dedicated to the artist who designed the cathedral doors and showing 100 of his works.

14.Palazzo Soliano

The small Church of San Giacomo all’Ospedale is now used as a venue for exhibitions. The building behind the church was a hospice for poor people and pilgrims established in 1187.

15.Chiesa di San Giacomo Maggiore

On the opposite side of the piazza are a row of houses where priests used to reside

16.Piazza del Duomo

and a fascinating clock tower. Built as a time clock for the cathedral construction site, it was originally a sundial in 1347 because there was no mechanical clock available. The bronze automaton on top, the earliest documented clock in Europe, was added two years later. The figure swings its body and strikes the bell with its hammer on the hour to let the workers know when it is time to knock off. The medieval word for a construction site was muriccio, hence it is now known as Maurizio Tower.

17.Maurizio Tower

We left the piazza and wandered along Via del Duomo past vibrant shops and intriguing alleys.

23.vicolo

27.vicolo31.Via del Duomo

After quenching our thirst

we ventured on. Torre del Moro stands 47 metres high exactly in the city centre. Built by the Della Terza family at the end of the 13th century, we would certainly have climbed the 250 steps for a 360° view had we known.

35.Torre del Moro

The Church of Sant’Andrea on the Piazza della Repubblica dates back to the 12th century and has a unique dodecagonal bell tower.

Adjacent to the church, the Town Hall is from the same era but has been enlarged and restored up until 1600.

38.Palazzo Comunale

We walked through the central arch onto Via Garibaldi, it seems no road is too narrow for the local buses.

On the other side of the arch

42.rear of Palazzo Comunale

we couldn’t resist lunch at Ristorante Il Cocco and the opportunity to sample one of Orvieto’s specialties, pigeon.

43.Ristorante Il Cocco

Deliciously sated, we continued along Via Garibaldi

47.Via Garibaldi

and wended our way down narrow, stone streets

48.Orvieto

to the ancient church of San Giovanni and the piazza of the same name.

49.Chiesa di San Giovanni50.Piazza San Giovanni

Just past the church, we followed the Vicolo Malcorini,

51.Vicolo Malcorini

rewarded with stunning vistas to the left

57.Orvieto58.Orvieto

and a tumble of homes to the right.

59.Medieval Quarter

The Medieval Quarter is a maze of steep, narrow streets and houses seem to defy gravity atop rocky cliffs.

61.Medieval Quarter

65.Medieval Quarter

We explored further with the feeling we had stepped back in time, having both fallen in love with Orvieto.

RAAF Museum

Just when we thought we had seen everything Werribee has to offer, we discovered the RAAF Museum just 10km down the road. Point Cook is the birthplace of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) which was renamed to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1921. It was the Air Force’s only base from 1912 to 1925, when RAAF Laverton was built 20km away. The two became amalgamated in 1989 under the one name, RAAF Williams, named after Sir Richard Williams. The first military pilot to graduate from Point Cook in November 1914, he is considered the ‘father of the RAAF’. We felt a sense of privilege as we were handed our permits to enter the facility at the security gate.

Having only seen these aircraft in movies, I was awed by the magnitude of the de Havilland Canada Caribou on display between the hangars.

3.de Havilland DHC-4 Caribou A4-152

The RAAF Museum was established in 1952 to preserve aircraft, documents and memorabilia associated with the Air Force and opened to the public in 1972.

There is so much to see, even before reaching the aircraft hangars. This little woollen airman doll was carried as a good luck mascot by Squadron Leader A.S. McCracken in his Halifax bomber during World War II. A.S. was thrown through the cockpit canopy following a crash landing in 1944 and survived unscathed. The medals belonged to Air Vice Marshal Sir George Jones who shot down seven German aircraft during World War I. He became Chief of the Air Staff during the World War II and led the RAAF until 1952 when he retired.

6.mascot & medals

The information accompanying various displays of uniforms, rations and kit made for very interesting reading, far too involved for me to summarise.

The exhibits continued throughout the hangars with the added dimension of magnificent aircraft. We started in the Training Hangar to see how RAAF training has advanced over the years. To me, some of the earlier aircraft were real works of art with the use of beautiful polished timbers and complex mazes of wires. The Maurice Farman Shorthorn was the first armed aircraft to engage in aerial combat in World War I. Known as ‘Rumpety’ to the students because of the noise it made while travelling over the ground, it was used to train pilots until 1919.

Used by the RAAF throughout the 1920s, the Avro 504K was the first training aircraft that could be flown aerobatically. It is also linked to the first death in training of a RAAF airman at Point Cook following an accident in 1921.

The Tiger Moth on display was built at the de Havilland factory in Bankstown in 1942 and entered service in November 1943. It has been restored to original military configuration including the training colours of its wartime service.

The aircraft silhouette changed dramatically after World War II with the single-seat fighter, Vampire, initially in RAAF service in 1949. The two-seat trainer version was introduced in 1951 and the first ejection performed in Australia was from a Vampire in September 1952.

20.de havilland Vampire T Mk 35

The Winjeel, designed to replace the Tiger Moth as a basic trainer, first flew in 1951.

The Winjeel was replaced in 1972 with the CT4 Airtrainer. It was nicknamed the ‘Plastic Parrot’ because of its lightweight construction and green and yellow colours.

24.CT4A Airtrainer

The Italian designed Aermacchi MB 326H on display, known as the Macchi in Australian service, was the first received by the RAAF in October 1967.

Simulators are an important part of training, the RAAF now have a simulator for each aircraft type in service. The older models might have required a certain amount of imagination.

Manufactured shortly after World War II, the ‘Pie Cart’ was used to teach students how to hand-start an aircraft engine. It was nicknamed the “Terror Machine” for its ability to inflict serious injury. The yellow and black safety stripes are a recent addition.

We ventured next into the Technology Hangar to experience the evolution of military aviation, stepping back in time once again to 1913 and the magnificent wood, wire and fabric construction of the B.E.2a.

The SE 5 is an exact replica of an aircraft that entered service in 1922. The original was damaged in 1928 when it taxied into a DH9 and again, a month later, in a forced landing. The run of bad luck ended when it was eventually destroyed by fire in June 1929.

36.SE 5a

I can only describe the Supermarine Walrus as extraordinary. It looks like the most cumbersome and least likely to stay aloft aircraft ever conceived. On the contrary, it was designed to be catapulted from warships and was used for reconnaissance and air-sea rescue until 1946.

37.Supermarine Seagull V:Walrus

Suspended from the rafters, the Iroquois helicopter is one of two involved in the mission to re-supply ammunition to ground troops at Long Tan in 1966. After retirement in 1984, the aircraft was used as a training aid at the RAAF School of Radio before being transferred to the RAAF museum in 1993 and restored to its Vietnam War configuration.

38.Bell UH-1B Iroquois

The Vampire F-30 began service in the RAAF in 1950 and five years later, was converted to a target-towing aircraft with the addition of a hook and release mechanism below the cockpit. The striking paint scheme was designed to prevent the towing aircraft being mistaken for the target.

The Boston Bomber on display arrived in Melbourne in 1942 and carried out missions from Goodenough Island until it crashed on the airstrip due to battle damage a year later. It was recovered from there in 1987, restored and transported to the RAAF Museum in 1998, the only survivor of 69 Bostons operated by the RAAF.

41.Douglas A-20C Boston Bomber

An assortment of missiles are on display, including the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile of the 1950s and the more recent ASRAAM heat seeking air-to-air variety.

We finished off with a quick peek in the Restoration Hangar, a boggling collection of aircraft in various states of repair (or disrepair, depending on your viewpoint).

44.de Havilland DH-60M Gypsy Moth45.de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito

If you want to read more about the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito restoration, take a look at Aces Flying High, Deano is a mine of information.