The medieval finds
the vestiges of the past between “butti”, basements and “sottocantina”
The rubbish pits
The caves of the Pozzo della Cava are home to some medieval “butti”. The first one was shaped like flasks: narrow at the top and wide at the bottom and acted as medieval waste pits. Every dwelling was required to have one of these, and they were used to discard solid waste such as bones as well as inorganic material. So, these rubbish pits have become valuable sources of artefacts for historians and archaeologists. The second one has vertical walls. The pipe connecting the pit to the habitation, through which waste was thrown, can be clearly seen along with holes which held small beams on which the floor was built, and which prevented people falling into the pit. Also an underground room was used as a large rubbish pit for the ceramic workshop. The majolica objects, the ceramic fragments and the original tools shown in the caves were found in it.
“Cellai”, basements and “sottocantina”
In Orvieto, each medieval house had three basement levels: the ground-floor cellar “cellaio”, which was constructed entirely of blocks of tuff rock. This area was used for crushing grapes and the initial must fermentation (after the grapes have been picked and crushed the grape skin and grape juice pulp is referred to as ‘must’), or they were used for slaughtering livestock, or as larders for cereals or hanging salamis; in some cases, they were used as shops and stables. The floor below this, the “scantinato”, was used to store oil, conserve fruit and vegetables as well as being the place where the second must fermentation took place (following the first fermentation, must was delivered to the cellar using a trap-door in the floor above). The storage of the wine took place in the lower-cellar “sottocantina”. Usually the stairways had a typical “scendibotte” or cellar drop which consisted of a pair of lateral skids that enabled the barrels to slide down into the lower-cellar. The ageing of the wine took place here, as it is here, two floors below the ground floor, that the four fundamental conditions needed for conserving the famous Orvieto wines are found: silence, darkness, humidity and a constant temperature throughout the year.
The tower’s pillar
The large pillar in the centre of the seventh hall is all that remains of an imposing medieval tower. According to the historical treaties “Cronica Potestatum”, the tower belonged to the sons of Simone dei Filppeschi, a Ghibelline who was the right-hand man to the celebrated captain of the people of Neri Della Greca. The treaty also states that the entire structure was demolished in 1313 when the Ghibellines of Orvieto was defeated by the Guelphs. The feuds between the Monaldeschi (Guelphs) and Filippeschi (Ghibellines) were infamous throughout the whole of medieval Italy, to such an extent that even Dante Alighieri mentions the two Orvietan families in his 6th canto of Purgatory.
- In 1299, Pope Bonifacio VIII, who was resident in Orvieto at the time, decreed that every dwelling should have a rubbish pit in either their cellar or courtyard. He wanted to stop the inhabitants from throwing their waste over the side of the cliffs Orvieto was founded on. His motives were to reduce the risk of disease and also reduce the ability of invaders to climb up the mounds of rubbish that had accumulated there.
- At the time of the construction of a medieval house in Orvieto, they started with the excavation of the “basement”, on the first underground floor, using the tuff extracted to build the floors above; they then proceeded with the construction of the “sottocantina”, even further down. Only after the construction of the load-bearing walls was completed was the construction of the vault above the basement proceeded, using ashlars in lithoid tuff or using the so-called “toppa” (patch) technique, i.e. placing irregular tuff blocks on a pile of timber, and then make a casting of mortar based on lime and pozzolana. In the “toppa” vault of the basement “D” of the Pozzo della Cava, the imprints of the twigs used to give the ceiling the typical barrel shape are still clearly visible.