The city of Orvieto contains many secrets; hidden under the city. Dug deep into the tufa, a volcanic rock, secret tunnels run underneath the city. We ventured down into the caves, very thankful to get out of the heat. Through the underground route, we experienced panoramic openings, tunnels, stairs, unexpected passageways, overlapping rooms, and pigeon houses. Through our tour, we were able to experience the only two public caves. Our guide explained there are over 1,200 private caves located under each house in Orvieto, which are now used as wine cellars and for storage.
Every cave and tunnel was man made by
the residents of Orvieto in the late Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, more than 20,000 people lived in this small city, hence the need to build caves and tunnels for space and in some cases, olive oil production. We explored an underground room where every step of the olive oil process was carried out. The olives were harvested by hand above ground from October to November. After harvested, every step of the olive oil process was completed in the “underground city”. The stems, twigs, and leaves were removed from the olives and then washed. The olives were then ground into a pulp by a "machine" made of large stones (see picture to the right). The olive pulp was then mixed and separated by oil and water and later processed.
The Etruscans had to dig wells in these underground tunnels to access water. They inched their way down the tunnel using their hands and feet and hand to dig to the water table. Our tour guide explained that each family made his or her own well, which took about 2 months to complete. Each well was about 80 m deep and was their only source of water during a siege. We walked into a room with many 5in x 5in squares cut into the rock wall and were very confused to what they were. Our tour guide explained they were pigeon houses, an Etruscan delicacy. They would feed and shelter the pigeons so the animals would come back each day, and then several would be eaten for dinner. During World War II, these underground passageways were used as bomb shelters. Although the city of Orvieto was never bombed, nearby valleys were affected. From above, the city of Orvieto looks like a regular Tuscan city, but Orvieto’s underground city holds many secrets of the past.