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Tuesday 2 June 2020
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The Pozzo della Cava and Its Caves

il Pozzo della Cava
Ad Orvieto, nel cuore del quartiere medievale, si trova un suggestivo percorso sotterraneo fatto di grotte ricche di ritrovamenti archeologici recentemente riportati alla luce dopo secoli di silenzio.

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. 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 di San Patrizio, on the opposite side of the city, was dug some years later for the same reason.

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.

la Sala dei Butti
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 and not the Pozzo di San Patrizio, as had been believed until then. The tufa rock extracted during the digging of the Pozzo della Cava was partly used to build Palazzo Pucci, which Sangallo was supervising at the time.

In the caves next to the well, included in the itinerary, 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.

la Cantina del Pozzo della Cava
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. These are scheduled to open in 2003, along with a new entrance from Via della Cava – as it once was during the Renaissance. Improvements are also planned for the museum section of the itinerary.

Pozzo della Cava
Via della Cava 28 Orvieto

Tel 0763.342.373 Fax 0763.341.029
Single ticket: € 1.50 - Free for children under 10
Open non-stop from 9am to 8pm
Closed Mondays
e-mail: info@pozzodellacava.it
sito internet: www.pozzodellacava.it

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