Umbria, Italy

Visited Fall 2003 and 2007


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Orvieto is a wonderful but still minor town in Umbria.  However, it has a major league cathedral, built with the idea that the Popes would eventually make Orvieto their second home.  (In general, this was not to be as the Papacy moved to France shortly after cathedral construction started.  However, Clement VII, fleeing a Rome sacked by the emporer, did stay here in the 16th century. Clement was a Medici Pope, but Florence was of no help.)

Orvieto's Duomo is perhaps the third great cathedral of central Italy after those of the much more important Tuscan towns of Pisa, Florence, and Siena.  Check out our extensive pages by clicking on these links for the Duomo facade and interior.

S Andrew and Bartholemew

San Francisco

San Martino

Underground Orvieto

St Patrick’s Well

Its natural position and fortified walls would make Orvieto nearly impregnable -- but a long siege could force surrender through hunger or thirst.  Orvietans had a ready food source as we shall see in a minute.  But what about water?  They decided that Orvieto may be their place of refuge. But a long siege here could force the inhabitants to surrender if they ran out of water.  In the 16th century, Rome was becoming steadily unsafe for the popes. Consequently the Medici Pope Clement VII decided that he needed a secure water supply in case he needed to ride out a long siege of the Emperor's troops in Orvieto. Consequently, he had Renaissance architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger build this wonderful structure called St. Patrick's Well or Pozzo di San Patrizio between 1527-1537.

(click below to see these pictures enlarged)
Exterior of St Patrick's Well Diagram from sign outside St. Patrick's Well inside of St. Patrick's Well
From the park level, this looks like a simple round building -- but it unfolds as you walk downward into a double helix stairs leading to a well 248 steps below. Diagram of the double helix stairs From below the natural light column radiating among the 72 windows reminds one of  the abstract flair of the "off the air" band broadcasted by TV stations when they were off the air.

Here's a view looking upward; natural light lit the stairs even 200 feet below at water level.  A typical view of the stairs: each side has steps wide enough for a mule loaded with water. Separate stairs (the double helix) eliminate the need for the climbing mules to pass the descending mules.  
Here's another shot -- almost an abstract of a vertical light-at-the-end of the tunnel or an old-fashioned TV test pattern from the 1950s when stations were not on the air 24/7. We first encountered a double helix stairs was in the Loire Valley at the Château de Chambord, built about the same time. Some debate whether Leonardo da Vinci designed the Chambord stairs, but early Renaissance historians attributed the inspiration for architect Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as being the Church of Santa Nicola in Pisa.

At bottom, we reach the water which now serves as a backdrop for photographs of tourists. The Etruscans had been digging water wells through the volcanic tufa for millennia before Pope Clement VII ordered this construction.

See more pictures of this architectural marvel on our overflow picture page by clicking here

Gallery tour

Secular Buildings

The Albornoz Fortress

Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo

Cathedral Plaza

Torre del Morro


Nearby Sites

Etruscan Ruins

La Badia

12 sided tower at La Badia near OrvietoLooking downhill from Orvieto, one sees the La Badia (which means the Abbey).  In this case, it was the abbey of Santi Severo e Martirio and dates from the 12th century. (An abbey has been here since the 6th century and a church even before then.) These monks were followers of the French Saint Norbert. Several cardinals lived here in its heyday, although we didn't run into any of them when we stayed there in 2003 (It's now an upscale hotel).
At right is the second 12-sided tower of Orvieto. This one served as the bell tower for the church (which has vanished).  The monks refectory (dining room) seems to now serve the purpose of the chapel including an aged Gothic fresco of the Crucifixion above what would now be the presbytery.  See it and more pictures from our overflow page by clicking here.

Lake Cabara

Lake Cabara

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Created on April 15, 2008

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