Piazza del Campo
Built over an area that was once an open field, hence its name ‘campo’, Piazza del Campo is one of the world’s finest examples of secular architecture and is the precise meeting point of the three hills on which Siena is built. The earliest documented mention of the area dates back to 1169, when the field is listed as having been acquired by the community of Siena as an area to be used for fairs, markets and public celebrations during the rule of the Governo dei Ventiquattro (1236-1270). But the history of the piazza begins in earnest with the construction of the Palazzo Comunale (or Palazzo Pubblico) at the time when the city was ruled by the Governo dei Nove (1287-1355). One of the most stable governments in Italy at the time, the Governo dei Nove began considering a ‘neutral’ seat for the government of Siena and designs were drawn up to create a suitable layout around the new government buildings.
The semi-circular area occupied by Piazza del Campo covers a difficult and irregular terrain, making this masterpiece of harmony and elegance all the more remarkable an achievement. The buildings that surround the square have all been built according to specifications laid down as early as 1297, which stipulated certain strict limitations of height and adornment. The church of Saint Peter and Paul, which faced onto the square, was in fact demolished because it did not comply with these rules.
The paving of the square was begun in 1327 and completed in 1349 and is in unique ‘knife’-shaped bricks. The shell-like division of the brick paving into nine sections outlined in white stone dates from the time of the Governo dei Nove in the 14th century and represents the city’s nine governors, bringing the eye of the viewer naturally towards the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia.
Just like in the Middle Ages, Piazza del Campo is the centre of Siena. All the town’s main streets lead into the square, which stands on the boundary between the Terzo di Città and the Terzo di San Martino quarters. Through the centuries this square has witnessed all of the city’s major historical events and has been the backdrop to a host of public events and games, from the Giochi dell’Elmora to the Pugna or the Bufale race. Today it is perhaps best known for the Palio, held each year on July 2nd and August 16th – a precipitous horse race that is preceded by a colourful pageant. The city’s 17 contrade, or competing factions in the race, each border on the square, which is utterly transformed during the Palio into a seething, passionately cheering crowd.
At other times of year, the Piazza del Campo comes alive during the Carnival celebrations in February and the arts festival organised by the town council in the final week of August.