Lying on a tufa rock platform at 325m above sea level, Orvieto tells a long and suggestive story, it was inhabited in the bronze and iron ages and later became an important Etruscan settlement, in that period it was called Velzna, or according to others Volsinii Veteres. In the neighbourhood there is believed to have stood a famous Etruscan sanctuary: the Fanum Voltumnae, destination for the inhabitants of Etruria which every they visited for the practise of religious rites, games and political manifestations.the presence at Orvieto of the fabulous Fanum would seem to be confirmed by the discovery of more and more important digs in the archaeological area of Campo della Fiera. Evidence of the flourishing Etruscan period is given by the necropolis of The Crocifisso del Tufo, the Temple of Fortune, the many digs and the precious objects found and preserved in some of the museums in the city: the Faina museum and the National Archaeological museum.
The splendid Etruscan period, which is believed to date between VI and IV centuries B.C. was followed by a period of decadence and exile. In fact, in 264 A.D. the Romans annihilated the city and forced its inhabitants to flee to Bolsena , then called Volsinii Novi: in the then splendid Etruscan city all was abandoned and only ruins stood, Orvieto was for forgotten for centuries.
After the invasion by the Barbarians, when it was conquered by the Goths and Longbards, the city returned to occupying a strategic position as it was situated on the border of Byzantine Italy.
It was during the Medieval period that the city adopted its actual layout, a typical medieval conformation which still today characterises the historical centre. In 1175 Pope Adrian IV recognized the city’s autonomy and the city became a borough. Palaces, towers and churches were built and in 1290, the first foundation stone of the spectacular Cathedral was laid. Between the XIII and XIV centuries, with its 30.000 inhabitants the population was more numerous than that in Rome, often at war with Siena, Viterbo, Todi and Perugia, Orvieto reached its utmost superiority when it conquered Orbetello and Talamone on the Mediterranean Sea. The power of the Borough was, however, undermined by internal conflicts between the guelphs , the Monaldeschi family and the ghibellines the Filippeschi family. These continuous conflicts weakened the political and military power of the city, so, when in 1364, cardinal Egidio Albernoz decided to make the city his own he was met with little resistance.
Successively Orvieto was ruled by several aristocratic families, and returned under papal rule in 1450, becoming one of the most important provinces, favourite destination of popes and cardinals.
In the XVII-XVIII centuries the city had no particular relevance, after being elevated to Apostolic delegation in 1831, Orvieto, in 1860, became part of the kingdom of Italy.