Siena is undoubtedly one of the best cities to live in Italy, and if you’re visiting Tuscany, there’s one place you simply cannot miss: Piazza del Campo. It has a rich history, particularly known for the thrilling horse race known as the “Palio di Siena,” which takes place twice a year. So, if you want to learn more about this iconic square and its fascinating history, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive in!
This 12th-century square in Siena is the heart of the city, featuring a stunning fountain called “Fonte Gaia.” The rectangular marble basin is decorated with statues and is a 19th-century replica of the original work by Jacopo della Quercia, a renowned sculptor who worked on it between 1409 and 1419.
If you’re planning a trip to Siena, Tuscany, the must-visit place is Piazza del Campo. This iconic square is renowned for a multitude of reasons, including the exhilarating Palio di Siena, the stunning Fonte Gaia, the grand Palazzo Pubblico, and the majestic Torre del Mangia. We will talk about them later.
The area where Piazza del Campo stands today was once just an open field (campo) outside the city walls, which enclosed the cathedral. You can still see remnants of those original walls that curved around the current square above the pharmacy – black and white stones on the third story to the right as you face City Hall.
In the 1200s, when the Siena republic was established, the city began to expand. The small medieval town around the cathedral grew into a larger, more humanistic city centered around the towering City Hall, and the focus of power shifted from the bishop to the secular city council.
As the city continued to grow, Il Campo became its marketplace and the historic meeting place of Siena’s various competing contrade, or neighborhood districts. The square and its buildings are made of the same color as the soil on which they were built – a hue known to artists from all over the world as “Terre di Siena” (burnt sienna). We remind to you that in our section dedicated to Siena, you can find every news and guide about the city.
5 Best Things to See in Piazza del Campo
The Palio di Siena
As mentioned earlier, Piazza del Campo is a 12th-century square that is famous for the Palio di Siena, a horse racing event held on July 2nd and August 16th every year. Siena is divided into 17 Contradas, each of which competes in the Palio on a rotational basis. This medieval event holds great significance for the locals, who are each part of one of the Contrada. Each Contrada has its own headquarters where people meet before the event and throughout the year. If you want to learn more about the Palio di Siena, be sure to read our dedicated article.
Torre del Mangia and Palazzo Pubblico
Upon arrival at Piazza del Campo, your attention will immediately be drawn to the impressive Torre del Mangia. With a height of 102m (330ft), it is the second-highest tower in Italy. Constructed between 1338 and 1348 by Muccio and Francesco di Rinaldo, visitors have the opportunity to climb its 505 steps to the top and take in breathtaking views of southeast Tuscany.
Adjacent to the tower is the Palazzo Pubblico, which serves as the town hall of Siena and is also open to the public as part of the Museo Civico. Built between 1297 and 1310 during the “Governo dei Nove” (Government of the Nine), it was expanded in 1680. The interior of the building features works by prominent Sienese and Italian artists, such as Simone Martini’s “Maestà” (Virgin in Majesty, 1315) and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s “Allegory of Good and Bad Government” (1338).
The building’s facade displays symbols that represent the city. The sun emblem is linked to St. Bernardino of Siena, who preached devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. Born in Siena, he spread peace throughout Italy, and his sermons usually ended with exchanging a “kiss of peace.” The stylized sun logo he designed became the patron saint of advertising.
The she-wolf gargoyles on each side of the sun emblem symbolize the city’s political independence from the papacy. The city adopted the pagan she-wolf as its symbol because it nursed Romulus and Remus, and Remus’ twin sons founded Siena. The black-and-white shields above the windows represent the horses that brought Remus’ sons to Siena, and the iron rings on the ground floor are for tying horses. The fixtures above the rings once held flags, which they still do on occasion.
Fonte Gaia: the fountain
Besides the Palio, Piazza del Campo is also famous for its distinctive features, and the Fonte Gaia is undoubtedly one of the most striking elements of the square. Located at the entrance, the fountain is a 19th-century replica of Jacopo della Quercia’s original work, which dates back to between 1409 and 1419. The original fountain was removed to preserve it from the effects of weathering. The Fonte Gaia’s reliefs depict Adam and Eve, as well as other mythological and historical figures.
This fountain remembers the locals of Siena that life is good in the city. Pigeons can be seen patiently waiting for their turn to drink from the fountain’s spouts, which are shaped like wolves’ snouts. The relief panel on the left side of the fountain depicts God helping Adam to his feet, which is said to have influenced Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
The original fountain is now exhibited at the Santa Maria della Scala museum. In the past, Siena and Florence were fierce competitors, and a statue of Venus used to stand on Il Campo. After a plague outbreak, the people of Siena allegedly cut the statue into pieces and buried it along the walls of Florence, blaming it for the disease.
The “Museo Civico” (Civic Museum) is located on the second floor of the Palazzo Pubblico and can be accessed from the Podestà courtyard. The exhibition route starts with the Quadreria and continues with the “Sala del Risorgimento” (Room of the Risorgimento). This room has a cycle of frescoes on its walls that depict episodes from the life of Victor Emmanuel II, the first sovereign of unified Italy.
The tour then passes through two adjoining halls, one with wall paintings by Spinello Aretino and Martino di Bartolomeo, and the other with valuable carved coffers. Next is the “Sala del Concistoro” (Hall of the Consistory), which has a painted vault by Domenico Beccafumi that showcases civic virtues taken from Greek and Roman history.
The Chapel, made in the early 15th century and decorated by the painter Taddeo di Bartolo, leads to the adjoining Sala del Mappamondo. This room gets its name from the lost parchment disk on which Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted in 1344 the possessions of the Sienese state and the then-known world. The Maestà, painted by Simone Martini between 1315 and 1321, can be found on the short wall on the left.
The adjacent room, the “Sala della Pace” (Hall of Peace) or “Sala del Buon Governo” (of Good Government), has an extensive cycle of frescoes painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between 1338 and 1339. The frescoes depict the Allegory of the government of the “Nine,” lords of Siena from 1287 to 1355, and its effects on the city and the countryside. The visit ends with the “Sala dei Pilastri” (Hall of the Pillars), where various works of Sienese painting and sculpture from the 14th and 15th centuries are preserved.
Additionally, there is a monumental loggia from the 14th century that provides a wide view of the valley behind the palace, which is also part of the museum tour.
You can find more information by visiting the official website of the comune of Siena