The Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia
Known also as Palazzo Comunale, Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico is considered one of the finest examples of gothic secular architecture. Formerly the residence of the city’s Signoria, or Podestà, the building is now the seat of the town council. Of all the buildings that look onto Piazza del Campo, the Palazzo Pubblico is the most imposing and stands as the natural centre of the square’s architectural perspective.
Up until 1270, when Siena was ruled by a council of 24 members known as the Governo dei Ventiquattro, the town’s government had been housed in a Church building next to the church of San Pellegrino. The decision to erect a building to house the government was taken in the second half of the 13th century. Initially the plan was to convert some rooms that had been used by the Siena customs office, but under the successive Governo dei Nove – the Government of the Nine – designs were drawn up for a new and much larger building. This was so that there would be space enough to house all nine of the city’s governing council, who on taking office were confined permanently within the building and only allowed to leave it on feast days.
The large council chamber, known as the Salone del Gran Consiglio, along with two side-wings, were completed in the first half of the 14th century. The median body of the facade rises up for a further three floors, while the two-floor wings – whose second floor was not completed until 1680 – have maintained the original style and act as a harmonious balance to the imposing palazzi nearby. The stone lower section of the building opens up with a loggia of typically Senese arches, lowered and surmounted by an ogival window. Above, the building is in brick, with trifore windows.
The large copper disc bearing the monogram of Christ was placed here in 1425 in memory of the fact that St Bernardino of Siena preached in this very square.
Currently the Palazzo Pubblico houses the offices of the town administration. The first floor houses the Museo Civico, which is open to the public and contains a number of unique art treasures.
To the left of the Palazzo Pubblico rises the imposing Torre del Mangia, which to this day remains an arrestingly beautiful combination of height and elegant slightness of design. The curious name of the tower derives from its first bell ringer, Giovanni di Duccio, who was nicknamed Mangiaguadagni and who was commissioned to ring the hours in 1347.
The tower’s foundation stone was laid in 1325, brought here with a solemn procession. The actual construction of the tower took place between 1338 and 1348, to designs by the Perugia-born architects Muccio and Francesco Di Rinaldo. Entirely in brick, the tower is surmounted by a stone bell chamber at its summit, possibly designed by Lippo Memmi. The top of the tower, which is 88 metres high and can be reached by mounting exactly 400 steps, commands magnificent views over the city and the surrounding countryside.