Together with other underground routes that shouldn’t be missed, the "Orvieto Underground" visit includes an extremely evocative and interesting guided tour that, through a labyrinth of open caves dug out of the tuffaceous rock by the inhabitants over the course of 2500 years of uninterrupted excavations, will put you in touch with the most mysterious depths of the cliff: a real underground city made of a large number of caves that cross and overlap underneath the urban fabric, where Orvieto’s inhabitants have carried out a multitude of daily activities since the city’s origins back in Etruscan times. These are valuable pages of history and archaeology, providing information that only recently has been studied in an organic and scientific way; the area was brought back to public use in the 1990s, with the identification under numbers 536 and 6 of two important underground complexes amongst the approximately 1200 underground caves.
Do not hesitate to embark on this extraordinary journey back in time: The route itself is an easy walk and all you need are comfortable shoes. Tickets can be purchased in Piazza Duomo, near the Tourism Office. Specialized guides will accompany you to the route access, inside the nearby "Parco delle Grotte", a large green area provided with picnic facilities that, amongst breath-taking scenarios, gently slopes down along Orvieto’s cliff. Once you complete your tour you can stop and have your picnic here, if you like. Before you venture to the dark depths of the earth, take a moment to observe the gentle and sinuous skyline of the surrounding hills, the varied sequence of cultivations of the hill terraces and the fascinating silhouette of the ancient Badia dei Santi Severio e Martirio (the Abbey of Saints Severus and Martyrius) surrounded by cypresses and olive trees.
Walking across the large criss-cross of tunnels of cave 536, you will admire the remains of a large and well preserved olive press and some grindstones, one of which dating back to 1697, even though its structure could be dating back to as early as the second half of the fourteenth century, a chamber located facing the press, that could be one of the tubs where the olive residues were left before processing and a number of surrounding areas as well as structures that served the mill such as other tubs, cellars, stables, a fireplace and a water channel. In the articulated array of sections of this large cave, extending for over 850 square metres, you will notice a mysterious and irregular sequence of chambers connected to each other. This is a large pozzolana quarry, offering an interesting example of how excavations were carried out: that is, in a completely disorganized way, without even worrying about stability, following not a pre-ordered spatial plan, but the veins of material. According to the documents in the archives the opening or re-opening of the quarry date back to 1882. Amongst the findings that were brought to light, there are three vertical channels with notches for footboards dating, much further back, to Etruscan times.
Venture down the fascinating and interesting cave No. 6, that, through an array of ravines, small flights of stairs and narrow tunnels, will lead you to amazing examples of colombari located on different levels. The rectangular openings so close to each other along a line in the dug out tufa, that fascinated archaeologists for a long time with regard to the nature of their origin, have at last revealed themselves to be an extremely rational system of cells used to breed pigeons and give them nesting places, used since Etruscan times; this function is also confirmed by the presence of tubs supplying water and by openings located on the side near the edge of the cliff, that were needed in order for the birds to be in touch with the outside world. By reading some ceramic fragments found in the vicinity, experts have come to the conclusion that the tubs were also needed for the activity of two kilns where clay vases were baked in two different periods during the eighteenth century.
Once you have spent approximately an hour visiting the underground and come out to daylight, the Duomo will seem even more bold and shining.