Last week I took you up a water tower, this week, it’s time to lead you down a well….

No, you didn’t read the title of this post wrong and no, I haven’t been TUI (typing under the influence); St. Patrick’s Well is indeed in Italy, not Ireland. Actually, since they speak Italian, the people in Orvieto call the well by its official name: Pozzo di San Patrizio. Besides being a terrific way for tourists to escape the heat of an Umbiran day, St. Patrick’s Well is an engineering marvel and has its place in history.

Pozzo di San Patrizio, st patricks well, orvieto, italy
Looking into the abyss of Pozzo di San Patrizio

The Story of Saint Patrick’s Pozzo

In the 1500s the Holy Roman Empire lost control of some of its troops (but really, who can bother to keep track?). The troops went rogue and quite successfully attacked Rome itself. Rome, as you may know, was then the home of the pope as it still is today. When your city gets sacked by an angry mob, you either stay and fight or you flee. Since Catholics tend to want to protect Il Papa, they helped him escape to Orvieto (lucky, lucky guy, let me tell you).

Orvieto, just a bit north of Rome, sits on top of a big rock outcrop and is one of the hill towns you’ll read about in guide books. Problem is, if you’re up on a hill and that hill is surrounded by an angry mob that wants you dead, how are you going to get down the hill to fetch a pail of water? You aren’t, and then you die of thirst rather than being torn limb to limb. Either way, you’re dead.

The pope was a smart guy and thought of this possibility. Not wanting to die of thirst (or fall down and break his crown like that klutz Jack), he commissioned a well. The well took ten years to build and in that time Orvieto was never attacked. Still, the town did end up with a pretty cool well.

Engineering for Donkeys

So what’s the big deal about a stupid hole in the ground? St. Patrick’s Well isn’t just any hole in the ground. This isn’t a well where you simply dangle a bucket and haul it up. The water is way down there. So far down, folks didn’t want to walk all that way with heavy buckets so they went down with donkeys who would do the heavy lifting.

To get down to the water you need a passageway. To get back up without knocking into someone else’s donkey and spilling all your water, you need a smartly designed passageway.

Smart design was indeed the name of the well-building game. The passageway was built in a double helix so bucket-laden donkeys and humans could go down arm of the helix, then back up the other arm of the helix. This made getting water from the deep well quite efficient as well as helping folks avoid that awkward dance when you meet someone going the opposite way and can’t figure out which way to step aside.

More St. Patrick’s Well Facts

  • It’s 53 meters (174 feet) deep
  • The diameter is 13 meters (43 feet)
  • There’s 70 windows so you can wave hello to people in the other helix (although pretty much the only illumination is from above)
  • It’s 248 steps down and 248 back up
orvieto, st patricks well, italy, pozzo di s. patricio
The view from the bottom of Saint Patrick’s Well, just a tad creepy.

A Well by any other name

But why does a well in Italy bear the name of Ireland’s patron saint? Turns out, it wasn’t called Saint Patrick’s Well until the 19th century when the local clergy thought it was similar to the cave that Saint Patrick used to pray in. Sometimes you have to wonder how much wine the clergy were gulping down when they set about to naming things.

Touring the Well

If you want to trek down and up the well, it costs around 5 euro. The steps aren’t too steep – they were built for donkeys to manage after all – but they do slope a bit making the first few steps feel a little weird until you get used to them. There are small lights at the base of the steps so you won’t need to bring a flashlight. Do wear flat-soled shoes so you don’t tumble down and break your crown or any other body parts.

Orvieto is easily accessed by a 45-minute (or so) train ride from Rome followed by a fun ride up the funicular to get to the old part of town. To find the well, stop in at the Information desk at the top of the funicular or just follow the signs to “Pozzo di S. Patrizio.”

st. patricks well, orvieto, italy, Pozzo di S. Patrizio
Steps meant for mules, not high heels!


My new online shop Tammie’s Bookstore and Gallery is opening very soon. The shop will have read-to-frame prints of my artwork as well as single greeting cards and greeting card four-packs that come wrapped up and ready to give as gifts. I’ll also have a few of my books on my store’s virtual shelves.

As a promo for the shop’s opening, starting the 23rd, I’ll be hosting Seven Days of Giveaways during which I’ll be giving away some great stuff. The winners of these goodies will be selected from my mailing list or from my Facebook and Twitter followers, so if you haven’t joined the list, Liked, or Followed me, now’s a good time to do so!

You can find all the links, details, and forms you need on my Contact Page.

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