After last week’s side trip to the Oregon Zoo, it’s time to get back on track with The Vacation. After our arrival in Orvieto and finally getting some much needed sleep (and cheap wine) it was time to explore up, down, and all around this hilltop town.
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The “up” portion of our explorations was to Moro’s Tower, or Torre del Moro if you want to toss around a little Italian lingo. This 47-meter (155-foot) tall bell/clock tower is hard to miss and is a good place to head if you get lost since it serves at the center point for Orvieto’s north, south, east, and west divisions.
I’m usually a big chicken when it comes to climbing towers. Something about spiraling, handrail-free stairways and ancient, worn steps freaks me out (mainly because I know what a klutz I am and always imagine myself tumbling down the ancient, worn steps like some sort of cartoon character). But, while the Torre del Moro’s steps may go round and round, they are fully modern and include handrails for klutzes to cling to.
From the top of the tower there’s a great view of the entire town and the bells (the bigger one dates from the early 14th century). And yes, you want to cover your ears when they ding dong the hour.
Orvieto sits on top of a hill made of a volcanic rock called tufa. Since this is a soft material it’s easy to dig through…and dig the old Orvietans certainly did. The town has loads of underground tourist attractions including an underground tour through old wine cellars and grain mills (we did this tour when we visited in 2010, but not this time).
One of the more popular “down” attractions is St. Patrick’s Well, or Pozzo di San Patrizio. The well was built around 1530 because the pope, who was hiding out in Orvieto after the Holy Roman Emperor sacked Rome, was afraid the emperor might come after him. He wanted to make sure they had a reliable water source and so they dug a well. The attack never came, but the well is still a pretty cool (literally and figuratively) bit of engineering.
Dug to a depth of 53 meters (174 feet), the water at the bottom of the well was brought up the 248 stairs (yes, I counted) by donkeys. Well, you don’t want your up donkeys bumping into your down donkeys, so the architect (Antonio da Sangallo the Younger) built the stairs as a double helix…one helix for up donkeys and one helix for down donkeys. Very clever!
And Down Again
As if one trip down into the depths of Orvieto wasn’t enough, we headed to the opposite end of town for another Pozzo. This time, the Pozzo della Cava. We didn’t visit this in 2010 and so I really wanted to see it this time. I’m glad I did because it was one of the most interesting sites in Orvieto.
In the late 1990s, a family-run wine bar decided to do a little remodeling. Turns out, their establishment was sitting on top of a gold mine of Etruscan ruins. I honestly thought this was just going to be another deep well, but it turned out to be much more. When you enter, there’s a little display of some artifacts they’ve found…and I do mean “little,” to the point you’re thinking, “This is going to be over quick.”
From there you start your explorations of Etruscan caves. Some were used primarily as a pottery factory – complete with kiln, some were tombs, and some were for storing wine and grain in Medieval times. Everything is explained well and the way the walkways are arranged allow for terrific views. And it just seems to go on and on (in a good way, it’s all very interesting).
As if all this wasn’t enough, there was still the well itself. The well is 36 meters deep and along its length you can see grooves where the Etruscans could climb down (guess they didn’t have up-down donkeys). I won’t go into all the info they had on the well, but it was remodeled when the pope fled Rome and used until the 1600s…it had to be shut down because the water was tainted from people dumping bodies into it!
At the end of the exploration, we emerged into the daylight once more. Then the owner (a very cute little old man), takes me by the hand urging me to come with him. Of course, I’m wondering what I did wrong, but then he shows me a portion of the wine bar’s floor that has been cut away (don’t worry, there’s plexiglas over it) to reveal part of the ruins. And then he thought it would be fun if we jumped on the plexiglas together….eek!
And All Around
Another thing we didn’t have time for during our 2010 visit to Orvieto was a walk around the town. And I don’t mean roaming the city streets; I literally mean walking AROUND the town. As mentioned before, Orvieto sits on top of a tufa plug that is more or less oval shaped. At the base of the plug, there is a walking trail that’s about 3 miles around. Our guide book described this as “relatively flat,” which I suppose it was if you’re relating it to the Matterhorn. Still, we had pizza to burn off so around we went.
The trail is accessed at several points in town, but all involve a steep descent that seems to go on forever. Once down, the trail can be a little tricky to follow in some places, but most locals are helpful and will steer you in the right direction.
Along the route, there are great views of the cliffside, glimpses of Etruscans ruins, and plenty of mosquitoes (hey, it can’t all be great, right?).
Wednesday, unless things go horribly awry, I’ll have a new piece of artwork to show off and some updates to share. Hope to see you then!! Have a great weekend everyone.
Any thoughts on Orvieto? I’d love to hear from you!!