Piazza del Campo and surroundings

Piazza del Campo and surroundings

Piazza del Campo and surroundings

Perhaps the most evocative medieval urban environment in Italy

Piazza del Campo

Between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the city of Siena felt the need to organise a public space of representation for civil power, establishing an organic relationship between the seat of the judiciary and the citizenry. The very particular spatial configuration of the square, which adapts without altering it to the slope of the ground, creating a hemicycle shape in the shape of a shell-valve, was determined at the end of the 12th century by the construction of a wall separating the area of today’s Campo from the adjacent area of today’s Piazza del Mercato, probably to stem soil erosion. Close to the wall appears the Palazzo Pubblico: the fulcrum of the various visual directions. The Palazzo Pubblico was the first to be built and was then gradually surrounded by private residences belonging to the most important families in Siena. Symbol of the whole city of Siena, Piazza del Campo is the home of the Palio delle Contrade.

Fonte Gaia

There is news of the presence of a fountain in Piazza del Campo from the middle of the 14th century, a period in which the construction of underground canals, still existing today, called “bottini”, was completed. They carried water from the surrounding countryside all the way into the city, creating a real network of brick-clad tunnels underground in Siena, a work of considerable artistic and engineering value. In 1409 the Municipality commissioned the renovation of the pre-existing fountain to the great Sienese sculptor Jacopo della Quercia, who finished the work in 1419. Due to the serious deterioration of the original marbles, in the nineteenth century it was decided to replace them with a copy made by Tito Sarrocchi; the remains of the original reliefs are currently kept inside the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.

Palazzo Chigi Saracini

Located in Via di Città, Palazzo Chigi Saracini is one of the oldest patrician residences in Siena. Its original nucleus took shape in the twelfth century, when the Ghibelline Marescotti family started the construction of a fortified castle, gradually incorporating surrounding buildings; between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the building also served as the seat of the Council of Regents of the Republic of Siena, before it finally moved to the Palazzo Pubblico, then under construction. The exterior of the Palace, completed during the fourteenth century but subject to additions and renovations during the Renaissance and especially at the end of the eighteenth century, is in the typical Sienese Gothic style, covered in stone up to the first floor, opened by three-mullioned windows and finished on one side by a stone-cut tower.

Palazzo Piccolomini or delle Papesse

Palazzo Piccolomini or delle Papesse, together with the other Palazzo Piccolomini in Via dei Banchi di Sotto, is one of the rare examples of Renaissance architecture in a city like Siena, characterised by a mainly Gothic urban fabric.

Loggia della Mercanzia

The Loggia della Mercanzia stands at the so-called Croce del Travaglio, the place where the three main streets of the city meet, from which the development of the urban area originated: Via di Città, Banchi di Sopra and Banchi di Sotto. The loggia stands out not only for its structure but also for its sculptural ornamentation, among the most remarkable of the fifteenth-century Sienese. The loggia and the palace of the same name of which it is part, which has a prospectus overlooking the centre of the Campo, have been home to the Circolo degli Uniti since the eighteenth century, popularly known as the “Casino dei Nobili”, a sort of association formed by members of the Sienese nobility, which still today ensures members and their guests a privileged position to watch the Palio race.

Palazzo Piccolomini

Located in Via dei Banchi di Sotto, Palazzo Piccolomini is the most remarkable Renaissance building in Siena. The project is attributed to the Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli known as Rossellino.

Logge del Papa

The Pope’s Lodges are located at the beginning of Via dei Banchi di Sotto, near the church of San Martino; they were erected by Pope Pius II Piccolomini in 1462 as a tribute to his large family. The Pope’s Loggias, together with the large size of the adjacent Palazzo Piccolomini, constitute the most remarkable episode of the Sienese Renaissance, perfectly inserted in the urban fabric according to the highest examples of architectural rationality of the Tuscan 15th century.

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The Cathedral of Siena

The Cathedral of Siena

The Cathedral of Siena

The Cathedral of Siena dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta

The Cathedral

A wonderful expression of Romanesque-Gothic art, the Cathedral of the Assumption raises its luminous and extremely rich envelope on a platform with steps. Traditionally, the consecration of the basilica dates back to 1179, but construction work continued throughout the 13th century, during which the positioning of the facade was decided and the dome and bell tower were completed.

The Cathedral has a nave and two aisles, in the shape of a Latin cross, with a hexagonal dome covered with lead slabs, and covered on the outside with a black and white marble face with black and white bands, with clear reference to the balzana, the Sienese coat of arms, symbol of the city and civil power. The wealth of works of art, belonging to the most different periods and styles, make the Sienese Cathedral a real museum, where it is possible to admire many masterpieces inserted in the context for which they were conceived.

The ambitious project to build a new Cathedral much larger and more imposing than the pre-existing one was born in 1322. The first stone was laid in 1339, the year the work real started. Following the original project, the current Cathedral would become the transept of an immense temple, whose central nave would wind along the area of the current Jacopo della Quercia square. The construction of the new Cathedral continued until 1348, the year of the great plague, when it was abruptly interrupted, and was suspended in 1357, following the sudden fall in population, collapses affecting some of the supporting structures and the serious economic difficulties that inevitably arose in the face of such a grandiose project, not commensurate with the city’s actual possibilities. Having demolished the unsafe structures, the remains of the right aisle, opened by five colossal arches, of part of the left side and of the monumental facade, called Facciatone, opened by a very high two-storey window; along the left side opens one of the most beautiful doors of the Sienese Gothic style, adorned with a rich decoration, which leads to the marble staircase that descends to the baptistery square. The “Duomo Nuovo”, also perhaps because of its incompleteness, is one of the most evocative artistic feats of the city.

Santa Maria della Scala Hospital

The existence of a complex destined to host and assist pilgrims, poor and orphans, later to become a real hospital, is documented with certainty since 1090, but almost certainly the foundation is older, attributed by a medieval legend to a cobbler named Sorore, who died in 898.

The Scala Hospital, which owes its name to its position in front of the stairs leading to the Cathedral square, has had, thanks to the support of the government and the conspicuous bequests of the great Sienese families, an enormous importance in the history and economy of the city, as also demonstrated by the vast extension of the building.

Until a few years ago still operating as a health facility, in recent years it has undergone a progressive restoration and adaptation, becoming one of the cultural centres of Siena, home to the Archaeological Museum, temporary exhibitions and monumental spaces.

The long facade overlooking the Cathedral square is made up of various buildings that have undergone continuous modifications over the centuries; the oldest part is the central part, consisting of the side of the Annunziata church, with a marble facing on the lower floor and large Renaissance windows on the upper one. Next to the church, on the right, there is a Gothic style building called “Palazzo del Rettore” and, on the left, a complex called “Casa delle Balie”, in whose central band in the twentieth century a row of mullioned windows was opened in style, both probably built at the end of the fourteenth century.

Many Sienese artists participate in the interior decoration of the church and the rooms of the Scala Hospital, making the structure one of the key points, together with the Palazzo Pubblico and the Cathedral, to understand the evolution of the city’s figurative culture.

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The myth of Siena

The myth of Siena

The myth of Siena

The creation of the myth of Siena and the Palio

The common image we have of Siena is that of a precious Gothic casket, coherent and organic, characterized by the typical brick facades, ogival arches and paintings with a gold background. The creation of this romantic image of the city is the result of the nineteenth-century culture that arrived in Italy from Germany and England, accompanied by the revaluation of medieval architecture and art, which developed much earlier and more widely in Siena than other parts of Italy, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century.

The development of this purist current and the concrete need to convert pre-existing buildings to new functions, have meant that in this city architectural structures, especially those of the 14th century, were much more modified than in other historical Italian cities. This development in architecture and painting runs parallel to that of a craftsman in the highest quality style, which contributes to producing a true Gothis Revival culture. This idea of restoration and design in style was very early in Siena and was also present long before the nineteenth century, as demonstrated for example by the raising of the two side wings of the Palazzo Pubblico in 1680, but it was precisely during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the phenomenon was accentuated, transforming the urban landscape forever and giving it its present appearance. Think for example of the creation from scratch of Piazza Salimbeni and the replacement of the Fonte Gaia. These great works, alongside the authentic testimonies of history, have given the city a mythical, almost dreamlike face, which is nevertheless alive and present with all its charm, not only in form, but also in the spirit of the city and its inhabitants.

The Sienese population in fact incessantly cultivates its traditions and is characterized by a very strong sense of belonging to the city; it is divided into seventeen Contrade (Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca, Torre, Valdimontone), divided territorially and equipped within them with administrative bodies and religious seats. Throughout the year, the Contrade organize events and manifestations, which culminate in the famous Palio race, which takes place twice a year, on July 2 (Palio dell’Assunta) and August 2 (Palio di Provenzano), the only period costume festival still lived and felt authentically. Of medieval origins but institutionalized in its present form between the 17th and 18th centuries, the Palio, with its complex ceremonial, historical procession, victory celebrations, triumphal parades and the unbridled horse race along the splendid perimeter of the Campo, is the culmination of the life of the Contrade, which organize it throughout the year, and represents better than any other symbol the extraordinary peculiarity that Siena and its inhabitants still preserve.

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Piazza del Campo and surroundings

The constitution of the city

The constitution of the city

Between myth and truth

The best known myth about the origins of Siena dates back to Roman times when, according to legend, the young Senio, son of Remo, together with his brother Ascanio, settled here and founded a castle to escape the persecution of his uncle Romolo, who had already killed their father. The two brothers brought with them the effigy of the Capitoline she-wolf, which would become one of the symbols of the city.

Actually the historical origin of Siena remains shrouded in darkness; perhaps in ancient times a place of Etruscan presence and then of a Roman military colony, named Sena Julia, there is no certain information about the events of the settlement both in late antiquity and in the early Middle Ages.

It was in the Lombard age that the city began to take shape, coinciding with the opening of the Via Francigena, which became, with the decline of the ancient Roman road networks, the safest and most used connection between the transalpine world and Rome. Siena is therefore, around the tenth century, at the center of international communications, and after this began to be brought together within a circle of walls the small villages that were formed first on the hill of Castelvecchio (the current Terzo di città) and then along the Francigena, of which the most important were today’s Camollia and San Martino. This original tripartition of the city will be preserved over time, creating its characteristic urban conformation in the shape of an inverted “Y”, around which the three districts, still called Terzi today.

The territorial and economic growth of Siena, bishopric since the Longobard era, continued throughout the 12th century, during which the city was endowed with municipal consular arrangements and began its policy of territorial expansion, which led it to tighten its loops and subjugate various castles dominated by small rural aristocracies and to enter into conflict, for the territories to the north, with the City of Florence, which would become its historical enemy for the following centuries. The city on the threshold of the 12th century probably appears as a set of tower-houses isolated from each other, enclosed within a mighty wall, as shown by an ancient seal preserved in the Sienese state archives. However, the great economic, political and urbanistic season began in the following century, when the ascending parable of the city’s development reached its peak and produced the greatest artistic and architectural manifestations, giving the city some of its distinctive features.

The trade in grains from the Maremma, the production of woolen cloth and mainly the currency exchange activity were then the main sources of wealth in the city.

The progressive differentiation of groups and social status resulting from this economic development, however, leads to the emergence of increasingly bitter internal struggles. This conflict lasted throughout the whole century of 1277 with the proclamation of the statutes of the people which basically sanctioned the ousting of the members of the ancient families from the positions of power and the affirmation of an oligarchy of a financial and popular nature. In the general conflict between Church and Empire, Siena decidedly took up the Ghibelline cause, bringing a historic victory against the Guelph enemy Florence at Montaperti. In 1260, however, the fate of this conflict soon turned out to be mixed, given the heavy defeat of the Ghibelline ranks just nine years later in the battle of Colle Val d’Elsa. The Ghibelline defeat of Colle also provoked more and more heated internal struggles that led to significant political upheavals until the fall of the magistracy of the 24 and the rise to power in 1287 of the Governo dei Nove, the result of an agreement between the main Guelph families and destined to remain in office until 1355.

Under the Novecento regime Siena reached the level of maximum splendor both economically and culturally, and the cultured city was radically transformed. The Black Plague in 1348 that decimated the population, and new struggles between the factions that over time became systems of solidarity and temporary agreements between families and no longer expressions of different social statuses, marked the beginning of the decline of the city. This decadence took shape throughout the following century, despite the emergence in this period of high personalities, such as Catherine Benincasa, the saint who succeeded in bringing back the papal seat in Avignon to Rome, and Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who became Pope in 1457 under the name Pio II, who succeeded in obtaining the city’s archiepiscopal dignity. The constant political instability also led to the conquest of lordly power by Pandolfo Petrucci, known as il Magnifico, who ruled the city from 1487 to 1525, but whom his family was unable to maintain; the slow decline of the Sienese Republic found its epilogue in 1555, the year in which the city, after a long siege, had to surrender to Florentine supremacy, while a group of diehard Republicans took refuge in the Fortress of Montalcino, where they even minted coins. The passage under Medici rule resulted in the creation of a new Sienese State, which maintained its administrative systems and borders, except for the ports on the Argentario which came under Spanish rule, but which definitively lost its independence, maintaining this structure until the time of the Lorraine reforms in the 18th century.

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