Il Pozzo di San Patrizio

March 17, 2016 / Places
Orvieto, Umbria

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Following the sack of Rome in 1527 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Pope Clement VII left plague-ridden Rome and took refuge in Orvieto. Worried, however, of the city’s lack of water in the event of a siege, he ordered that a well be dug from atop Orvieto’s already very high tufo bluff.


Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, papal architect and engineer who supervised the construction of St.Peter’s Basilica among others, was charged with the project. In order to prevent passage issues for the horse drawn carts that would bring water up from the bottom of the 175 foot deep well, Sangallo devised an intelligent system. It consisted of two separate entrances leading to two distinct one-way ramps. One ramp was to descend, and it ended at a small bridge at the bottom of the well, at water level.


Crossing this small bridge, the carts would then access an identical spiral ramp that led back up to the surface. Essentially the two matching ramps were coiled in parallel, at 180 degrees to one another, a double helix very much like the structure of a DNA molecule. Soluzione molto elegante.


Worth a visit next time you are in Orvieto, especially if travelling with kids. Given its supposedly just as equally frightful depth, the Pozzo di San Patrizio is named after St.Patrick’s Purgatory, a cave on Station Island in Ireland that legend holds was shown to Ireland’s Patron Saint by Christ in a dream as the entrance to Purgatory.


(In order of appearance, the above images are courtesy of Zorro2212, CC BY-SA 3.0; Bob Tubbs, Public domain; Antichitera, CC BY-SA 3.0; Scheiber, CC BY-SA 3.0; Fantasy, CC BY-SA 3.0)

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by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

6 Responses to “Il Pozzo di San Patrizio”

  1. Roseann

    The inside looks a little Game of Thrones Season 6 Hall of Faces.

  2. Orvieto had already been the site of 3 Popes being under seige at Orvieto for
    s period of 3 years. (during the period of time oif the wars between the church and the Dukes late 1100’s into 1200. The Etruscans had dug wells down to the 280 ft or more as early as 1000 BC. These were man sized shafts but were
    sufficient to withstand sieges. St Patricks ” pozzo was just an increase in
    volume. (300 years after the time when the Popes had to be under seige).

  3. Joan Fenendael

    On my first visit to Orvieto, I think it was 2002, I walked down, all the way down, and all the way back up. Got my exercise for the day. Orvieto is my favorite place to visit in Italy.

  4. I’ve always heard so much about this well but never actually visited it or seen photos. Thanks for the info.

  5. Tutty Giordano

    It was a wonderful experience to venture into the well. It was worth climbing those steps. If you ever have the chance, visit and climb all those steps………Enjoy the adventure


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