Piazza del Campo in Siena
Anyone who’s on a trip to Siena is sure to have the Piazza del Campo as their first stop. This piazza is not only the city’s main public space. It is also the historic center of Siena and regarded one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe, owing to the beautiful architecture surrounding it. Get to learn more about this sprawling area in this travel guide.
Considered the heart of Siena’s historic core, the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo is where 11 streets of the city meet.
This location proved to be very instrumental in the formation of Siena today. After all, it was once the site of a marketplace where townsfolk from the old towns of Camollia, Castellare, and San Martino would meet to trade. These three communities would eventually unite to form the City of Siena. They were led by the Consiglio dei Nove (“Council of Nine”), who created the plans for the development of the area.
Today, the Piazza still remains the heart of Siena. Not only is it a popular gathering spot for both locals and travelers, due to the many attractions, coffee bars, and restaurants within easy reach of the area. It is also the site of the Palio di Siena, the city’s traditional horse race, which draws crowds twice a year. Hence, it is no surprise that the Piazza and its surrounding areas are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
What to See
While the Piazza del Campo itself is just a sprawling space, it is the perfect jump-off point for visiting the heritage buildings in and around it. Here are some of the attractions that you can see in the area.
Torre del Mangia
This is undoubtedly the most iconic landmark in the Piazza, and by extension, the entire city of Siena. Towering over the city at 102 meters tall, the Torre del Mangia is a bell tower built between 1325 and 1348 by the brothers Francesco and Muccio di Rinaldo. That height was not arbitrary—the tower is as tall as the Siena Cathedral to symbolize the equal power of church and state.
The tower is primarily built out of red brick topped with a white-gray upper loggia. This section doubles as a viewing deck from where you can see the rest of the city. However, to reach the top, you will have to climb 500 steps up the tower—so yes, it’s only advised for the physically fit.
Despite its slender shape, the name “Torre del Mangia” literally means “Tower of Eating.” According to local legend, this name refers to the nickname of its first bellringer, Giovanni di Duccio, who was called “Mangiaguadagni” for his gluttony and spendthrift ways.
Palazzo Comunale (Palazzo Pubblico)
At the base of the Torre del Mangia is the Palazzo Comunale, which still serves as the town hall of Siena. This 13th-century structure, regarded as one of the most graceful Gothic buildings in Italy, has several portions open to the public. This includes its ground-floor courtyards, the outdoor Capella di Piazza, and the Museo Civico housed inside.
While the courtyards and the Capella are interesting attractions in themselves, the Museo Civico is a must-visit. Some iconic works housed here include the Maestà by Simone Martini, a fresco depicting the Virgin Mary on her throne, surrounded by angels and saints. Another is the frescoes of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti—notable for depicting seculars subjects instead of religious icons.
Back in the medieval ages, clean water and plumbing were pretty much luxuries. That’s why, when water was finally routed to the area of the Piazza del Campo in 1342, there were celebrations. And to commemorate this event, the Fonte Gaia—the “Fountain of the World” or the “Joyful Fountain”—was unveiled.
However, what’s currently in the Piazza is not the original fountain. The 1342 work was replaced in 1419 by a version sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia. This edition was a landmark work, for not only it incorporated Gothic and Renaissance styles; it also included nude female figures in a public space, something groundbreaking at the time.
Yet this version was also replaced in 1800s; the nudes were found to be indecent by the governing Council at the time. So a copy of the work was made by sculptor Tito Sarrocchi—the version in the piazza today. Not to worry, however; the della Quercia version is on display at the Santa Maria della Scala Museum, a few blocks away.
Palazzo Sansedoni, Palazzo d’Elci, and Palazzo Chigi-Zondadari
Located around the Piazza, these three Palazzos complement the grandeur of the Palazzo Comunale. First is the Palazzo Sansedoni, built in the mid-13th century and built in the Gothic style. The Palazzo d’Elci was also built in the same era and style, yet with a distinct character of its own. Meanwhile, the Palazzo Chig-Zondadari came much later in the 18th century, showing off the graceful, composed evolution of the style.
While ordinary travelers are barred from accessing the upper floors of these grand buildings, they can check out the many establishments located on the ground levels.
Tips and Advice
- For safety concerns, only 30 people at a time are allowed to enter the Torre del Mangia. So if you don’t want to line up, schedule your visit during the low tourist season.
- Wear comfortable shoes. This is especially important if you’re planning to climb the Torre or if you’re going to go around the Piazza, which has an area of around 90 by 135 meters.