Legend of St. Patrick's Purgatory

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Pozzo di San Patrizio – Orvieto

Orvieto - Pozzo San Patrizio - view
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When the Emperor Charles V attacked Rome in 1527 Pope Clement VII escaped in Orvieto.

Scared by the possibility of a siege he ordered the construction of the spectacular Pozzo di San Patrizio (Well of St. Patrick).

The well was named after the legend of St. Patrick’s Purgatory. The myth says that during the fifth century Christ showed St. Patrick a cave located in Station Island, Ireland. From this cave it was possible to enter the Purgatory. During the medieval time the site became very important for pilgrims. The name indicated something incredibly deep.

The famous architect and engineer Antonio da Sangallo the Younger of Florence designed the incredible well. It was constructed between 1527 and 1537.

The double helix ramps that surround the central well shaft were built for one-way traffic to avoid that the mules used to bring the water jars could be obstructed in their way back to the surface.

Things to see

The well is almost 175 ft deep; it is illuminated by 72 large windows.

The exterior is a large and low cylindrical structure ornate with Farnesian lilies; the lilies were chose because the well was completed under Pope Paul III a member of the Farnese family.

There are two doors diametrically opposite, one to enter the well and the other one to leave it.

It is a tradition once you reach the bottom of the St. Patrick’s well to throw a coin into the water so that one day you will be back in Orvieto.