Via della Cava, 28, 05018 Orvieto.
The city has no streets for cars, park in front and walk in. Enter through Porta Maggiore and follow Via della Cava straight ahead for 130 m, on the left.
FEB to 22-DEC Mon-Sun, Hol 10-20.
23-DEC to 07-JAN daily 10-20, Nativity in the Well.
Adults EUR 4, Children (5-18) EUR 2.50, Children (0-4) free.
Groups (10+): Adults EUR 2.50.
The Well and the Caves: Groups (10+): Adults EUR 6, Students EUR 4.50.
Pozzo della Cava + Madonna della Cava Church: Groups (10+): Adults EUR 7, Students EUR 5.50.
Pozzo della Cava + Contemporary Ceramic Workshop: Groups (10+): Adults EUR 7, Students EUR 5.50.
|Rock Mine Cellar
|Incandescent Electric Light System
|self guided, D=45 min.
|Pozzo della Cava, Via della Cava, 28, 05018 Orvieto, Tel: +39-0763-342-373. E-mail:
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|Pope Clement VII took refuge in Orvieto and ordered the construction of two public cisterns and a well in the Cava district.
The archaeological complex of Pozzo della Cava (Quarry Well) is a labyrinth of several artificial structures of different age and purpose. The tour starts at the Pozzo della Cava (Quarry Well), after which the site was named. The circular shaft has a depth of 36 m and fresh spring water at the bottom. The upper part of the shaft is circular with a diameter of 3.4 m, the lower part is rectangular, and 60 by 80 cm wide. Pope Clement VII was kept as a prisoner in Castel Sant'Angelo for six months fled during the Sack of Rome. He bribed some Imperial officers, escaped disguised as a peddler and took shelter in Orvieto. Here he ordered the construction of two public cisterns and a well in the Cava district in case of future sieges of the city. For this purpose, an Etruscan structure re-adapted to be able to draw the water from the spring from. The works were carried out at the expense of the Municipality. The wells were completed in 1530, at that time the pope was long gone and back in Rome.
The Pozzo della Cava was a public well for more than a century. In 1646, the municipal authorities ordered its closure to the public due to the War of Castro. All the openings of Via della Cava were walled up to prevent enemy troops from dispersing into the city. The place at the now defunct well soon became a place of bad reputation, described as «luogo opportuno per coprire delitti» (opportune place to cover up crimes). Illegal things were disposed by throwing them into the well. The most spectacular and most well-known crime was the murder of five French officers in 1820. They attempted to rape the women of the street, were killed by the locals, and thrown into the well.
The city Orvieto was built on a hill which consists of the so-called Orvieto ignimbrite. This is a volcanic tuff, a very porous and rather soft material. The huge rock rests on a bed of impermeable clay, which is water-resistant, and so it creates an aquifer. The wells are dug deep into the tuff to reach this aquifer. The soft tuff was used for the construction of buildings, the porous material has isolating properties. It is also rather easy to quarry, because of its softness. But it seems its use was restricted to the accidental use when the wells were built. The architect Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane used it because it was easily available. And the well inspired him to create a well inside the papal fortress, which was also Pozzo della Rocca, but is today known as Pozzo di San Patrizio.
In December 1984, Tersilio Sciarra rediscovered the well during renovation works. The bottom was blocked by debris, only the upper 24 m were open. In 1996 the well was dug out, and in 2004 the original access on Via della Cava was restored. Today the well is in the middle of the entrance of this underground site.
This is probably the best developed part of all Orvieto caves. This series of chambers is privately owned and was developed as a tourist sight by the owners. It is a sort of family business. The trips are self-guided, which gives enough time to explore and even take pictures. There are also guided tours, of this site and also combo tours with the Madonna della Cava Church or with a contemporary ceramic workshop.
One part of the site is calle Le fornaci (furnaces). It was used from the 13th to the 16th century for the manufacturing of ceramics. The oven of the ceramic workshop was dug directly into the tuff, and the sears of burning ceramics have whitened the rock. Originally there was a wall of tuff blocks and refractory bricks in front to close the oven, but it was partially destroyed and rebuilt every time the oven was used. The chimney led to a higher room where fresh clay objects were placed to dry in the waste heat from the oven. In the Middle Ages, the ceramics were first dried, and then burned twice, the second burning was often used to add colour or waterproof glaze. There are the foundations of a Renaissance oven which was used for a third burning step. It was built with bricks after the description in the book I tre libri dell’Arte del Vasajo (The three books of the Potter's Art) by Cipriano Piccolpasso. The products of the “terzo fuoco” (third firing), were the so-called 'reverberating' or 'lustrous' objects. Precious Renaissance ceramics, which are famous for their iridescent colours and beautiful reflections, and were compared to those of gold and precious stones. Some lustro fragments and numerous original workshop utensils are on display.
The range of cellar rooms that are part of this tour is very diverse. There are butti, which were small medieval chambers which were connected to the house above through a duct. It was used as a dumping ground for bones and solid inorganic waste, and each house was required to have one of these pits. This rule was made by Pope Boniface VIII, when he resided in Orvieto in 1299. He wanted to stop the habit of throwing waste from the cliff, both to avoid infections and to prevent enemies from entering the city by walking on the piles of rubbish. Other ropms are cellai, scantinati and sottocantine, the typical three levels of warehouses. The cellaio is a warehouse on the ground floor, with walls of tuff, used for pressing the grapes and the first fermentation, to slaughter animals, for cured meats and cereals, or used as stable or workshop. The next level below was the scantinati, the basement, a warehouse for oil and fruit and vegetable, and used for the second fermentation. The sottocantine, the subcellars, were used for maturation and aging of the wine, as they offered the four fundamental characteristics to produce the famous Orvieto wine: high humidity, constant temperature, darkness and silence. The cellars were separated by thick layers of rock to make them stable, and connected by staircases which were dug into the rock. They were quite special, with a ramp on both sides and stairs in the middle, and were called scendibotte (barrel slider). The cellars were not only nice storerooms, they were also the source of the rocks used for the building. For this purpose, the upper cellar had no ceiling at the beginning, so rocks could be quarried from below. The vault above the basement was only added once all the load-bearing walls had been completed. There were two techniques for this, either the vault was built with slightly trapezoidal blocks of tuff, or it was "concreted", so to speak. This technique was called a toppa ("patching"), and first a stack of wood was piled up and the hollow form of the vault was moulded on top with branches and boards. Irregular chunks of tuff were then laid on top and poured with burnt lime and pozzolana.
There are several other parts, like the Ertuscan graves, the cistern, the water tunnels, anti-aircraft shelter from World War II, and much more. They say that the tour lasts 45 minutes, but we are sceptical. Even if you are not interested in the details, the many different rooms and their different purposes over the course of time cover such a broad spectrum that it would certainly take over an hour.