Orvieto underground

While in Orvieto, we signed up for the tour underground, a fascinating insight into the lives of the inhabitants thousands of years ago. At the end of the 1970s, a landslide opened up a large hole a few hundred metres from the duomo, tempting a number of speleologists (a new word I have learnt meaning someone who studies caves) to investigate. They found an incredible underground world, dug by hand out of the tufa beneath the town, that had been forgotten. The beautiful Umbrian countryside accompanied us as we made our way to the entrance of the caves.

1.Orvieto

We found ourselves at the centre of medieval olive oil production, complete with millstones, a press, furnace and mangers for the animals working the grindstones.

2.grinding stone

3.olive press

Intriguing tunnels led in all directions, beckoning us to investigate further.

The Etruscans created cisterns for holding rainwater and very deep narrow wells in search of underground springs. There are small notches on the two longest sides called pedarole, footholds to enable someone to climb down and out again.

10.well

The tour continued, revealing more grottoes that had a variety of uses such as wine storage and pottery kilns, over twelve hundred have been discovered.

11.caves

The walls of some were covered in small cubic niches created to breed pigeons, now a classic dish of the local cuisine.

12.columbarium

16.columbarium

There are narrow tunnels at the back of the walls, just big enough for a person to pass on all fours. Unfortunately, their destinations remain unknown, the mystery secured by centuries of landslides.

Every so often, light streamed in from openings in the cliff and we were treated to another glimpse of the spectacular vista.

19.view

There seemed to be an endless labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and passageways intersecting in all directions.

25.tunnels

Thank goodness we had a guide, we may never have made it back.

26.view

Spello

After consulting the map to plan another day trip from Il Castagno, we ventured across the border into Umbria. The warm day was overcast as we reached Spello, an ancient walled town that became a Roman colony, Hispellum, in the 1st century BC.

1.Portonaccio

The town walls and arched entrance gates are remarkably intact, we began our walk at Porta Consolare.

2.Porta Consolare

We were instantly enchanted by this place, with its beautiful architecture

and narrow, stone streets.

12.street

13.street

Magnificent arches led down intriguing alleyways.

We ambled our way to the top of the town, admiring the homes with more than a little envy.

Some windows had better views than others,

and, of course, those fabulous Italian doors were countless.

The most impressive doorway was that of the Baglioni Chapel, part of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

44.Baglioni Chapel

The chapel is adorned with well preserved frescoes, painted by Pinturicchio in 1500AD, none of which I photographed.

45.Baglioni Chapel

There was so much to admire in this wonderful, ancient town.

Porta dell’ Arce, a double limestone arc, was the original northern entrance to the Roman city.

We made our way back to the lower end of town, not forgetting to investigate the shops

59.Spello

and admire the spectacular scenery along the way.

66.view