One of the most famous tourist attractions in the city of Orvieto is certainly the Pozzo di San Patrizio (St Patrick’s Well). This masterpiece of hydraulic engineering, although part of the intricate underground system of the entire city, is unique and a marvel not to be missed.
The work was commissioned in 1527 by Pope Clement VII, who had taken refuge in Orvieto following the ruinous ‘sack of Rome’. In order to ensure a water supply to the Fortezza Albornoz in the event of a siege, the pontiff commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Younger with the ambitious project, enabling the latter to showcase all his skills as a Renaissance artist.
The well has a depth of 53 metres and a diameter of 13 and is positioned inside the Fortress in the spot where it would have been strategically easier to reach the aquifer. The exceptional nature of the project lies in Sangallo’s creation of two monumental helicoidal staircases (on the model of the spiral staircase in Villa Belvedere in the Vatican) that never meet, each of which is made up of 248 steps, designed to ensure the movement of the beasts of burden used for transporting water, without these colliding in both directions of travel. Today the intriguing climb can be enjoyed by tourists wanting to experience something truly remarkable. The corridors on the stairways are lit by seventy-two windows that give the whole structure a surreal atmosphere. The well was initially known as Pozzo della Rocca but it was renamed after s. Patrizio (St Patrick) at the behest of the monks of the nearby convent of the Servi, who associated the well in Orvieto with the famous well of the Irish saint, in which it was reputedly possible to descend to Purgatory.