ORVIETO UNDERGROUND Umbria Italy Review– Dovecote Central -- steps from Orvieto's magnificent cathedral you gain entrance to the caves below the city
On a bright sunny day that especially lets the colored glass mosaics adorning Orvieto’s grand cathedral show off their glory, the dark shadowy world of the city’s sub-city is difficult to imagine. The “oh my!” shock of entering the underground labyrinth doesn’t wear off for the entire 45-minute tour, and lingers beyond your re-emergence into the bright above world. It’s the contrast with the bright colored frescoes in the cathedral that seems to add most to the underground tour and feeling like you are in a different world.
You learn and see how this network of 1200 caves has evolved through the centuries. Originally they afforded Etruscans protection from their barbarian horde enemies, as others in war after war. Going underground was a way to escape from Allied bombers during WWII. Today, they are the perfect storage condition wine cellars for private homes and restaurants in this tourist-crowded city.
These were not cave homes as in Matera, because the humid conditions make them less hospitable for domestic life. There were underground workshops, such as the olive oil mill you get to see. Wells were plentiful, even in Etruscan times, and one of the wonders of the tour is getting to peek into one or another that seems bottomless.
Many may similarly find that the most fascinating part of this tour are the ubiquitous dovecotes in what at times feels like every nook, cranny and corner . These were the homing pigeon houses created by monks who cultivated the birds for food and also to cull their guano as field fertilizer. Your tour guide informs you that you can get traditional pigeon dishes in many of Orvieto’s restaurants serving traditional local cuisine.