The Palazzi Papali (“Papal Palaces”) are located next to Orvieto’s famous Cathedral. They were built during a period when some popes used the city as a refuge. The three buildings are called Palazzo Vescovile, Palazzo Soliano and Palazzo Papale. Although originally constructed as separate buildings, they now form one complex, most of which is used as museum space.
Palazzi Papali Orvieto
The “Papal Palaces” are constructed of the local volcanic stone type called tufa (‘tuff”). The buildings were probably constructed in three periods, although it is not possible to say with certainty exactly when this was.
The first pope to commission the construction of a personal palace was probably Urban IV, who resided in the city from 1262 to 1264. Martin IV, who was crowned pope in Orvieto, was there from 1281 to 1284, and Nicholas IV from 1290 to 1292.
In the 14th century the pope moved to Avignon, and from then on the palaces were rarely used. Only a century later some popes made brief visits to Orvieto again, but by then the palaces had already fallen into considerable disrepair.
When Pope Clement VII was exiled from Rome in 1527, he went to Orvieto. Envoys of the English King Henry VIII reported that he was staying in a “dilapidated ruin.”
After earlier restorations in the 2nd half of the 16th century and in 1857 (by Virginio Vespignani), major repairs began in 1958. Windows of the better preserved Palazzo Vescovile and Palazzo Soliano were used as models for the windows of Palazzo Papale. Since this restoration, parts of the palaces have been used as museum space.
Urban IV was in Orvieto from 1262 to 1264. After first staying in the Episcopal Palace, he began the construction of the first Palazzo Papale. The original open loggia on the first floor is gone and the floor of the building is now one meter below the Piazza del Duomo. Walk past the Duomo on the right. The door on the left leads to the magnificent Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the door right in front of you to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. The Archaeological Museum is spread across the first floor of all three buildings.