At the heart of the Medieval quarter of Orvieto there is a fascinating underground labyrinth of passages, with caves and archaeological finds, all brought to light relatively recently after centuries of neglect.
Thousands of pigeon roosts were cut in any place with access to the outside world. In some parts today, you can see wine stored here.
The most important structure in this network is certainly the Pozzo della Cava, a vast well, 36 metres deep, hewn out of the tufa rock by order of Pope Clement VII in 1527 to ensure that Orvieto had a constant supply of water in the event of a siege. The Pozzo della Cava was dug between 1528 and 1530 by enlarging a previously existing Etruscan well whose traces are still visible today. In 1646 the well was closed up during the Castro war. With the exception of some mentions in documents that told of bodies being thrown down the well, nothing more was ever heard about it until its rediscovery in 1984. In 1996 the well was emptied of all the debris that had accumulated inside over the centuries and the water supply was once more unblocked.
In 1999 the Orvieto-born researcher Lucio Riccetti found a signed letter by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger proving that the well commissioned by Pope Clement VII was in fact the Pozzo della Cava. The tufa rock extracted during the digging of the cave was partly used to build Palazzo Pucci, which Sangallo was supervising at the time.
In the caves next to the well there are the remains of two ceramic kilns. One is Medieval and includes rooms where the potters worked as well as a number of discarded pots and some interesting tools. The other is a classic Renaissance ‘muffola’ shaped kiln that was used in the 16th century for the so-called ‘third fire’, to obtain the precious lustre of Renaissance ceramic, famous for its golden and ruby-red iridescence. The two kilns were discovered in 1985 and shed a new light on the production of majolica in Orvieto during the 15th and 16th century. This period had in fact previously been considered the dark ages of majolica production in the city.
Some remains of Etruscan tombs have also been unearthed. In one of these, the place where the body was laid to rest is clearly visible. It was adapted during the Middle Ages to house a fulling machine to work and soften wool.Another extremely interesting Etruscan element of the excavations is the cistern, dug out of the rock to house rainwater channelled down from the rooftops above. Its particular form of whitewash is known as cocciopesto and is typical of the last stages of the Etruscan occupation of the city. This cistern also underwent modifications during the Middle Ages when it was incorporated into a passageway leading to a second underground floor used as a cellar to produce and store the much-appreciated Orvieto wine. The two flat surfaces that flank the steps downwards were used to roll the barrels down to the rooms below.Work is still continuing to empty, clean and render safe a series of other caves that will certainly make the visit even richer and more complete. (from here)
I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of a spooky underground ancient world and I highly recommend if you're in the area, go on down and take a look around. You won't be disappointed.