Pozzo della Cava
The quarry well
A visit to underground Orvieto cannot exclude the exploration of the suggestive path of the Pozzo della Cava that, in the heart of the Medieval district, will carry you down into the cliff through an array of caves rich in archaeological findings. You will go through all the ages that made the history of Orvieto and, by visiting some of the caves, you will learn the extent to which the life of Orvieto's inhabitants included feverish activities carried out in the underground city. From Etruscan times to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the modern Slow-City, this unusual walk will allow you to discover interesting evidence spanning over centuries and centuries of daily life.
Along the tunnels of this structure, going from one evocative spot to another, you will come across a follone for wool processing in the Middle Ages; an Etruscan tunnel for channelling water; an Etruscan tank in opus signinum; two Medieval pits, one flask-shaped the other vertical, the two varieties that are known so far; a typical Medieval cellar completely dug out of the tufa rock for the production and storage of Orvieto's famous wine; a tufa rock pillar, part of the foundations of a Medieval tower; a kiln used as a ceramic workshop in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with remains of the baking oven dug out of the tufa rock from Orvieto's cliff; kiln waste, majolica fragments, sixteenth century lusterware to confirm the continuous activities of ceramists in Orvieto and, particularly interesting, some work tools; the remains of the lower chamber of a muffola-shaped kiln, that was used to produce lusterware, valuable Renaissance ceramic items famous for their iridescent colours and beautiful reflections, that allow us to place Orvieto with Gubbio, Gualdo Tadino and Deruta as far as this particular production is concerned; a large quarry that gave the tufa rock used to build the great wall that supports the road above it (Via Malabranca) in the nineteenth century. Of course, you will also admire the actual Pozzo della Cava, identified outside by a small modern stone tip located underneath the entrance arch to the underground complex where the original well head used to be.
Pope Clement VII had the well restored in 1527, when he commissioned Saint Patrick's Well to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger on the opposite side of the town; works were carried out at the Municipality’s expense and were completed in 1530, while Saint Patrick’s Well was completed in 1537. Dug out of Orvieto’s lithoid tufa cliff, the Pozzo della Cava is 36-metres deep and has an average diameter of 3 metres and 40 centimetres. You will immediately notice a rectangular section (60x80 cm) cut vertically along the circular structure, provided with notches for footboards: it is a channel dating back to Etruscan times that probably served as a track for excavating the seventeenth century well; a tunnel that was probably a further source of water supply starts at a depth of 30 metres inside the main channel. As confirmed by a wallstone in the building that surmounts the well, the municipal authorities ordered the closing of the well in 1646 "for just reasons" that are still not well identified. Long forgotten, the well was rediscovered in 1984 by the Sciarra family, that owned this little gem, when the family house and trattoria underwent some restoration. Later works restored the structure to its original completeness in 1996 and the arch and the ancient access to the Via della Cava well were restored in 2004.
This complex is not only a small underground museum: you will also find a bookshop and a traditional cafeteria dug out of Orvieto’s warm rock, particularly pleasant in Summer when it is possible to stay out in the courtyard surrounded by flowers, greenery and inaccessible tufa walls. A spectacular themed Nativity with man-size statues is also organized along the underground route during the Christmas seasons.