Orvieto Underground

We were pleased in Orvieto to have time to explore the old well — the “Pozzo di Saint Patrizio” (St. Patrick’s Well).  It was designed and built by Antonio de Sangallo the Younger in 1527 during the sack of Rome, as a refuge for Pope Clement VII.  2015-03-31 07.17.41_500

It’s an amazing piece of architectural brilliance.  Believe it or not, the central well is surrounded by two spiral ramps that form a double helix that allowed mules to carry water up and down each side.  It’s 174.4 feet deep.  Imagine tunneling down through the rock in the 16th century!

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We worked our way down the 248 steps and had a blast taking photos of each other, as there are 70 windows total.

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The lighting is eerie but beautiful.

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I took this interesting photo near the top after I’d made my way clear down and back up the other side.

2015-03-31 08.12.38_500We also took a tour of the underground cave system of Orvieto.  There are thousands of caves dug down into the volcanic tuff that the city sits on; in fact, they told us that every single house has their own cave system, dating back to Etruscan days.

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Here are some of the ancient olive oil presses.

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They also kept special alcoves for pigeons down there.

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2015-03-31 11.03.46_500They told us that since the Etruscan city was nearly impregnable and self-sufficient, it took over two years for the Romans, under Julius Caesar,  to besiege it.  Once it was taken by the Romans it was never used as a city, because such a high fortress was not needed by the Roman empire.  I think the next time it was seriously settled was not until the 10th century, but it became a refuge for five popes during the 13th century.  These caves were also used as a hospital refuge, as well as for citizens, during bombing runs during the second World War.

We were able to look out across the land at various places on our tour.  Here is a great view of the monastery (lower right) and the Abbey known as “La Badia” (middle).

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I ate at “La Badia” in the 70’s when Paul and I were were on a Humanities tour of Italy during college, and we stayed at the monastery for two weeks — I’ll tell more about that later.  For now, we’ll say farewell to lovely Orvieto — we had some spectacular sunset views of the city before we left again by train.

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