Duomo di Orvieto

Top choice cathedral in Orvieto

Image by Guy Vanderelst Getty Images

Nothing can prepare you for the visual feast that is Orvieto's soul-stirring Gothic cathedral. Dating to 1290, it sports a black-and-white banded exterior fronted by what is perhaps the most astonishing facade to grace any Italian church: a mesmerising display of rainbow frescoes, jewel-like mosaics, bas-reliefs and delicate braids of flowers and vines.

The building took 30 years to plan and three centuries to complete. It was started by Fra Bevignate and later additions were made by Sienese master Lorenzo Maitani, Andrea Pisano (of Florence Cathedral fame) and his son Nino Pisano, Andrea Orcagna and Michele Sanmicheli.

Of the art on show inside, it's Luca Signorelli's magnificent Giudizio Universale that draws the crowds. The artist began work on the vast fresco in 1499 and over the course of the next four years covered every inch of the Cappella di San Brizio with a swirling, and at times grotesque, depiction of the Last Judgment. Michelangelo is said to have taken inspiration from the work. Indeed, to some, Michelangelo's masterpiece runs a close second to Signorelli's creation.

On the other side of the transept, the Cappella del Corporale houses a 13th-century altar cloth stained with blood that miraculously poured from the communion bread of a priest who doubted the transubstantiation.