Piazza del Campo Travel GuideIntroduction
The Piazza del Campo is the historic center of Siena and its main public space. It is considered by many as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares and is known for its beautiful architecture which has served as the backdrop for many a beautiful photograph or painting.
The piazza itself is shaped like a shell and is paved in red brick. From here, eleven streets radiate into the rest of the city, which is why many consider it to be the heart of Siena. Other than its postcard-perfect looks, however, the Piazza is also the venue for one of the city’s main attractions, the Palio di Siena horse races which are held twice a year.
It wasn’t always the lovely piazza that we know it as, though. In fact, the area where it is now located was formerly a medieval marketplace. As with most marketplaces, people from nearby communities and towns would gather and mingle here to trade and exchange news, particularly those from nearby Camollia, Castellare, and San Martino. Over time, these three communities would join together to form the city of Siena, which was then governed by the Council of Nine, or “Consiglio dei Nove.” It was the Council who was responsible for much of the development of the area, adding facilities and infrastructures to their new city.
Nowadays, the Piazza remains Siena’s social and civic center, and it isn’t uncommon to find people having picnics and relaxing on the pavement. It is also one of the city’s tourist hotspot as many of Siena’s main attractions can be found just at the perimeter of the Piazza, alongside coffee bars and restaurants.
What to See
Torre del Mangia (Mangia Tower) One of the most recognizable landmarks in Siena, the Torre del Mangia stands at a dizzying 102 meters tall. It was built between 1325 and 1348 by the brothers Francesco and Muccio di Rinaldo, and was most likely finished in white travertine by Agostino di Giovanni. Inside the tower can be found a bell that weighs around 6700 kilos, called “Sunto.” It was installed in 1666.
The tower’s name literally translates to “Tower of Eating,” and according to local legend, this name takes after the tower’s first owner, the sculptor Giovanni di Balduccio whose nickname was “il mangiaguadagni” mostly because he tended to squander his money on food because he loved eating so much.
Palazzo Comunale (Palazzo Pubblico)
Located at the bottom of the piazza, and at the base of the Torre del Mangia is the 13th century structure known as the Palazzo Comunale. It was built to be the piazza’s centerpiece and is regarded by many as “one of the most graceful Gothic buildings” in Italy. It also serves as home to the Museo Civico.
Fonte Gaia (Gaia Fountain)
According to local historians, it took eight years of backbreaking labor before water was finally routed to the Piazza del Campo in 1342. There was much celebration over this achievement, and to commemorate the event, the “Joyful Fountain” was constructed.
The original fountain was replaced in 1419 by one created by the Renaissance sculptor Jacopo della Quercia, and this version is regarded as an important work of art from that era that was representative of both the Gothic and the Renaissance styles. His fountain sculpture was also considered ahead of his time as it included nude female figures in a public space that did not represent either Eve or a repentant saint.
Unfortunately, this fountain was also removed in the 1800s and replaced by a copy made by Tito Sarrocchi which excluded the female nudes found in della Quercia’s version as the Council at the time found it to be too indecent to be put on display in a piazza. Don’t worry, however, as della Quercia’s work, though severely weathered, is kept safe at the nearby Santa Maria della Scala museum where it can continue to be viewed by the public.
Other Points of Interest
- Cappella di Piazza
- Palazzo Chigi-Zondadari
- Palazzo Sansedoni
- Loggia della Mercanzia
- Casa De Metz
- Costarella dei Barbieri
- Palazzo d’Elci
Tips and Advice
- It is possible to climb to the top of the Torre del Mangio. However, be aware that it will be a steep trek to the top as the tower has about 500 steps or so. Wear comfortable shoes if you plan to climb the tower. It will be all worth it, however, as at the top can be seen a breathtaking panorama of the city.
- For safety reasons, only 30 people are allowed to be in the tower at any one time, so if you don’t want to wait too long for your turn to climb the tower, it may be a good idea to visit during the low season.
- Admission to the Palazzo Comunale’s ground level central courtyard is free.