Visiting the Piazza del Campo of Siena, Italy
While there is much to see and do in Siena, its famous Piazza del Campo is without a doubt the heart and soul of this beautiful Tuscan community. As one of the most visited of all Tuscan towns, Siena is a magnet, drawing tourists from all over the world. It is certainly worthy of all the attention. With its stunning Duomo and its famous Piazza del Campo, otherwise known as the Il Campo, visitors can walk the same paths and alleys as the Etruscans did centuries ago.
The Piazza del Campo is the large public space that dominates the historic center of Siena. Its clam shell design, red brick paving, and rather large area make it one of Italy’s most unique and beautiful medieval squares.
The piazza is divided into nine pie shaped wedges, which all radiate out from the lowest point of the square in front of the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall). Surrounded by impressive public buildings, cafes’, and residences, the Piazza del Campo is the natural gathering spot for visitors and locals alike.
Etruscans: Early civilization of ancient Italy in the areas of Tuscany and Umbria. Originated around 700 BC and disappeared in the late 4th century when it was assimilated into the Roman Republic.
The Piazza del Campo was built over the site of an ancient marketplace and was paved with its red brick in 1349. There has always been some debate that this location was the site of a former Roman Forum but there is little evidence to support this theory. The nine wedges to the square are symbolic of the Noveschi, or Committee of Nine, who governed Siena at the time and each wedge is separated by a line of travertine. From above one gets a clear image of the design of the Piazza del Campo and its clearly sloping wedges.
Committee of Nine: Ruling committee of nine members who governed Siena for about 70 years in the late 13th to mid-14th century.
Surrounding the Piazza del Campo are a number of noteworthy buildings. Certainly the most striking is the Palazzo Pubblico, the town hall of Siena, which is a beautiful red brick palace. Today this stunning Gothic building houses the Civic Museum of Siena, which occupies the first floor of the palace. Built in the late 13th century, the façade of the building has a gentle curve to it to match the shape of the Piazza del Campo. The interior of the palace houses a number of interesting frescos, which adorn the walls of nearly every room in the palace.
Standing guard to the palace is the Torre del Mangia, the bell tower, which rises some 290 feet above the Piazza del Campo. Completed in 1348, the bell tower is the third tallest tower from medieval Italy. The clock on the lower portion of the tower was added in 1360 and the tower contains three bells. The largest of these bells is known as the Sunto, or the big bronze bell, and was added in 1666. An interesting tidbit on the tower is that it was built to the exact same height as the Duomo of Siena. This was meant to symbolize the equality of power between the church and state.
Opposite from the Palazzo Pubblico in the piazza is the Fonte Gaia or Fountain of Joy, which was the first fountain of the Piazza del Campo. Completed in 1343 and then rebuilt in 1419, the fountain required extensive plumbing and an underground system of pipes, which brought water from 25 kilometers away. It took eight long years to complete the bottini aqueduct system, which supplied water to the center of Siena.
The fountain is an interesting piece of artwork with its wolf statues surrounding the pool and the wall panels showing various scenes from Genesis. It is fascinating to watch as the pigeons have learned to drink from the water that sprouts from the mouths of the wolf statues.
If you happen to find yourself visiting Siena in early July or mid August, then you are in for a treat. Twice each year, on July 2 and August 15, the community holds the Palio di Siena, which is a horse race around the Piazza del Campo. The race consists of ten horses and riders who represent the different wards of the city and they all dress in the colors of their ward as they race three times around the piazza.
The July 2nd race is called the Palio di Provenzano, which honors the Madonna of Provenzano. The August 16 event is called the Palio dell’Assunta and honors the Assumption of Mary. Both events are preceded with a gala pageant and draw spectators and tourists from all over the world. The event traces its origins back to the 14th century when public games and contests were first held in the city center, but it wasn’t until 1656 that the first Palio took place. For a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience, plan your visit to Siena around the Palio di Siena.
Palio: A rectangular hand-painted banner or piece of silk prepared by an artist that is presented to the winner of a race or contest.
As with most piazzas across Italy the Il Campo is no different in that it makes for a great spot to unwind and people watch. We were fortunate to have visited Siena on two occasions and on both visits we found ourselves simply sitting on the red brick pavement with a slice of local pizza and a beverage while visitors from all over the world crisscrossed the square in every direction.
They say that all roads in Siena lead to the Piazza del Campo, which is not true, but in fact there are actually eleven streets that radiate out from the square to all parts of Siena so you will have no trouble locating the piazza. While here if you prefer to dine a little more elegantly than simply sitting on the pavement there are a number of trattoria’s and restaurants on the perimeter of the square where one can sit and grab a bite to eat.
I hope you enjoyed this visit to Siena's historic Piazza del Campo. It's the perfect spot to unwind for a moment while you take in the beautiful architecture of the ancient buildings that surround the campo. Siena is certainly a must stop on any trip to Tuscany. Enjoy your visit and ciao for now.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio