The long trip down San Patrizio’s well, Orvieto

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoI love the Umbrian town of Orvieto, perched up so dramatically on a hilltop. I’ve already written about the views over the town from the Moro Tower and the town’s Etruscan Museum, with its stunning views over the cathedral, but there’s plenty more to see when you’re in town.

If you’re coming in by train and take the funicular up to the town, before you walk the short distance to the center, take time to visit the 16th century well, San Patrizio.

The well was constructed by Antonio Sangallo il Giovane. It is 53 meters long and 13 meters wide, with two impressive spiral staircases – the masterpiece of this project – and 70 windows illuminating the well.

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoAs you’ll notice quite quickly in Orvieto, this walled town was in a strategic position on the road to Rome. It had clear views over the countryside and strong walls, but in a siege, water is crucial. San Patrizio’s well allowed for quite a bit of stockpiling, and it is a technical and aesthetic feat of architecture – as one expects in Italy. : )

The idea for building such a well came in 1527, after the Sack of Rome, during which time Pope Clement VII took refuge for some time in Orvieto. Supposedly it was Pope Clement himself who feared another attack and wanted to make Orvieto completely sufficient and able to withstand future attacks. An ample water supply was key for this strategy, and so the building of the San Patrizio well began.

San Patrizio's well, OrvietoPope Clement never got to admire this spectacular well, which was finished in 1537,  three years after his death.

Originally the well was called the Pozzo della rocca (the Well of the Rocks), but it was later changed to the Pozzo di San Patrizio, after the well-known Saint Patrick’s Cavern in Ireland, otherwise known as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.

The well has a continuous water source, the underground spring of San Zeno.

It’s a long walk down – and up – but well worth a  visit when you’re next in Orvieto.


  1. evelyneholingue on May 16, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    You bring back so many memories, Kimberly with this post. Before we got married my then boyfriend and I took a trip across Italy. We left Paris with his car and drove for three weeks. Orvieto remains our best memory. We drank their delicious wine while a religous procession was ending. We felt in a bubble away from everything, as if time had stopped. It was already late and we only spent one night but we always believed that we would go back. Three years later we moved to the US. Maybe, we think often, this is for the best. Orvieto remains the same through our common experience. I still taste the wine and feel the lovely breeze like a caress on our skins.
    But if I ever go back, I will visit the well for sure.

    • kimberlysullivan on May 18, 2017 at 8:33 am

      Beautiful story, Evelyne! And yes, as you know well as Frenchwoman, these incredible medieval towns have a special magic to them and lodge themselves in one’s memory. A very nice memory for you and your husband, although I hope the two of you will opt to come back!

  2. KimGM on May 22, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I spent part of a summer in Orvieto and kept hearing about this well. I never managed to go visit it. I think I need to make up for this. Maybe it’s time for another trip to Orvieto!

    • kimberlysullivan on May 23, 2017 at 8:07 am

      Ooh – it’s definitely time for a repeat visit, Kim! A good place to write, for sure. Meet you there.

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