I 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.
As 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.
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.