This is the next instalment in my Dad’s ‘Snapshots from a Tourist in Italy’
The Orvieto Underground, sometimes called Orvieto Caves (as on tripadvisor) is just that – a series of over more than 1000 underground caves and caverns, rich in history of this hill town.
The Underground and its discovery, archaeology and structure are well documented in sources such as Orvieto Underground.
Only two caves are included in the guided tour experience, which costs €5.50 and takes 45-60 minutes. This is partly because many of the caves discovered remain accessible only from the private property under which they sit. For the present owners, the caves are ideal wine cellars!
The first cave we visited displays the true characteristics of an underground cave, where the temperature remains stable at around 15oC all year. This type of cave was used for habitation, processing and storage of food, oil and wine. We saw a mill which would have been used to make flour from grain, as well as ovens and a well. This is experience which sticks in the mind because of the human endeavour involved. The wells had been dug to reach the water table, which could be up to 85 metres below the surface. These rectangular excavations were all 120cm by 80 cm, and the footholds used by the Etruscans to dig the well are clearly visible. The 80cm dimension could not be any larger because the Etruscans were short by today’s standards, at only 1.30 metres.
The second cave visited is open to the weather, because it was the home of the pigeons. These were bred for food, and their owners could trade pigeons for wine, flour and oil from the other caves.
An amazing network of passages enabled the Etruscans to move from cave to cave, a feature which enabled them to withstand the Roman invasion for two years.
The tour provided an interesting insight into the construction of the Underground. However, those suffering claustrophobia or not wanting to climb up and down fifty five steps should avoid the tours!