Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is the main square of Siena, the most representative place of the city, a real icon. It is here that every year, on July 2nd and August 16th, the contrade (city districts) compete for the conquest of the Palio di Siena. I would like to say that this is one of the most beautiful squares in all of Tuscany, but it would be an understatement since we are talking about one of the most beautiful and famous squares in the world. It is a truly unique square starting from its very particular shell shape divided into 9 segments, one for each of the members of the Government of the Nine that led Siena between 1287 and 1355. However, the shell shape is not the only peculiarity of the square which following the natural course of the land, results inclined with the Palazzo Pubblico at the lowest point. Originally the square did not have the current characteristic pavement, bricks interspersed with rows of travertine in the center and stone slabs on the outside, but it was covered with grass and this is the reason why the square is called the “Campo” (the “Field”).
Only place in the whole city not to be part of any district, the square was born with the aim of hosting the markets and acquired its current forms between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Over time, however, the Campo became the chosen place for city meetings, and with the advent of the Government of the Nine it was decided to build here the new seat of the city government, the Palazzo Pubblico. With the famous Torre del Mangia, the Palazzo Pubblico is certainly the main building of the square but it is certainly not the only one that deserves attention. Each building as well as every single element present in Piazza del Campo is noteworthy and helps to create a unique setting.
What to see in Piazza del Campo
The Palazzo Pubblico of Siena is certainly the most important of the buildings that can be admired in Piazza del Campo. Universally recognized as one of the greatest masterpieces of civil Gothic architecture, the palace was built between 1297 and 1310, at the time of the Government of the Nine.
By observing the facade of the building it is easy to identify the periods of construction. In fact, the lower part has a stone masonry while the upper part is made of bricks; also as regards the openings, a variation can be appreciated since on the ground floor there is a series of Sienese arches while on the first and second floors two series of three-light windows have been used. The top part is instead characterized by Guelph battlements and a large marble disc with the monogram of Christ.
Inside, the Palazzo Pubblico is organized around a central courtyard where the ticket office and the entrance to the museum are located. The Museo Civico is located on the first floor of the building and houses some of the greatest masterpieces of Sienese art. The museum itinerary includes a visit to some of the most beautiful rooms of the building where you can admire a series of frescoes of extraordinary value. The Sala dei Priori or Sala della Balìa is the first of these and is decorated with Sixteen Virtues, work of Martino di Bartolomeo, and a cycle on the Life of Pope Alexander III made by Spinello Aretino and Parri Spinelli. It continues with the Sala dei Cardinali, where there is a fresco attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti, to reach, through a valuable marble portal, the Sala del Concistorio with the frescoes dedicated to the public virtues and their practice in antiquity by Beccafumi. The visit continues through the Vestibolo and the Anticappella frescoed by Taddeo di Bartolo who also painted the Chapel with scenes from the Life of the Virgin, Saints, Evangelists, Prophets and Virtues.
At this point, we have already seen a lot but the best is yet to come as the next rooms are the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sala dei Nove. Also called the Sala del Consiglio, the Sala del Mappamondo owes its name to a revolving globe that has unfortunately been lost. On its walls you can admire two large frescoes by Simone Martini, the Majesty and Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the siege of Montemassi, the Victory of the Sienese in the battle of Val di Chiana by Lippo di Vanni and the Victory of the Sienese over the Florentines at Poggio Imperiale in Poggibonsi by Giovanni di Cristofano and Francesco d’Andrea.
The Sala dei Nove, or Sala della Pace, is famous thanks to the majestic work Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory and effects of Good and Bad Government. The cycle consists of two allegories, that of the Good Government and that of the Bad Government which are followed by representations of the effects of these two governments on both the city and the countryside.
Torre del Mangia
Built between 1338 and 1348, the Torre del Mangia stands out over the square and the city with its 88 meters high (102 if we also count the lightning rod). The panorama that can be admired from the top of the tower is priceless, but it requires a lot of effort because there are more than 400 steps to climb! Like the palace, the tower is also made of brick and stone but in this case the stone is found only in the upper part at the height of the crowning and the belfry. The tower also has a beautiful clock that was installed in 1360 and which still marks the passage of time today even if the original mechanism has been replaced over time.
The curious name “Mangia” (which means “eat”) derives from the nickname of Giovanni di Balduccio who was in charge of striking the hours; it seems that the good Giovanni was a great spendthrift and for this reason he was renamed “Mangia” or “Mangiaguadagni” (earnings eater).
For all information on tickets and visiting hours of the Civic Museum and Torre del Mangia, I refer you to the official website.
Cappella di Piazza
The Cappella di Piazza is at the foot of the Torre del Mangia. This is a valuable marble tabernacle built in 1352 to thank the Madonna for the narrow escape from the black plague which struck the city in 1348. The sculptures on the pillars are by Mariano d’Angelo Romanelli and Bartolomeo di Tommé while above the altar there was a fresco by Sodoma, Madonna with the Son and God the Father, whose remains are now preserved in the Civic Museum.
On the opposite side of the square we find the splendid Fonte Gaia, a large rectangular basin full of sculptures and decorations. Inaugurated in 1346, the fountain required considerable engineering work which allowed it to be fed with water from the underground cisterns (the so called “bottini”). According to tradition, the name “Gaia” derives from the happiness of the Sienese who saw the water flowing from the fountain for the first time. The sculptures of the source were made between 1409 and 1419 by Jacopo della Quercia who sculpted two statues (Rea Silvia and Acca Larenzia) and some bas-reliefs (Creation of Adam on the left, Madonna and Child, Virtues and Angels in the center and the Expulsion of the progenitors on the right); the current ones are nineteenth-century copies, while the originals, unfortunately very damaged, are in the Museum of Santa Maria della Scala.