Orvieto – one of Europe’s most dramatic cities
There are many Italian cities than can lay claim to being among the country’s finest, but few are as jaw-droppingly beautiful as Orvieto. Perched high on the top of an extinct volcano, the medieval spires and walls look out across a verdant green valley, peppered with cypress trees.
Located in southwestern Umbria, Orvieto dates back to the Etruscan era, and with its easily defendable position, survived many a battle. Divided into four key districts, the city is full of castles and interesting monuments, packed tightly among its narrow, winding streets.
Over the centuries, many popes took refuge in the city, one of the most famous being Pope Clement VII, who ran from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Concerned about what a siege at Orvieto might mean for maintaining supplies, he commissioned a well to be dug in the rock. The Well of St Patrick, as it became known, goes some 62 meters deep and featured a spectacular double helix staircase, enabling donkeys to travel up and down inside to fetch water. The well was just one of hundreds of secret tunnels and passageways dug into the rock over the years, making a fascinating series of catacombs that thousands of tourists enjoy exploring every year.