Piazza del Campo is the main square and the proud heart of Siena. Its Gothic architecture and Medieval soul has changed little over the centuries.
“Il Campo”, which means “the field” is the ideal spot to observe passing Sienese life, and take in its beautifully preserved Medieval atmosphere. Along with the Cathedral, Piazza del Campo is one of the highlights of Siena. Twice a year, the square is the scene of the world’s most famous, if not most ancient horse race: Il Palio.
The square is a huge shell-shaped ‘basin’, and the focal point of the town. From here eleven narrow dark passages (varchi) radiate outward towards the city walls and divide Siena into its many contrade or districts.
What to see in Piazza del Campo:
Palazzo Pubblico – The most majestic building in the square with a distinctive tower. It hosts the Museo Civico with its splendid Medieval frescoes, including the famous cycle “Good and Bad Government” by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Climbing the tower Torre del Mangia takes some effort, but it’ll reward you with magnificent views over the city and surrounding countryside.
Fonte Gaia – Just in front lies the other main feature of the square: the beloved Fonte Gaia (“fountain of joy”), that has been making the city joyful since 1342 when the first public fountain appeared on this spot. It was later (1409) enriched with marble sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia.
The Madonna and Child are flanked by two angels, the Theological and Cardinal Virtues. The sides are decorated with reliefs depicting the creation of Adam and the flight from Eden. These works are a perfect example of the transition between Gothic and Renaissance sculpture. Although they’ve been replaced by 19th century copies, the originals can be found at the Museo Santa Maria della Scala. The she-wolf is the symbol of Siena: legend has it that Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus, who fled Rome after the murder of their father.
A perfect place to soak up the atmosphere:
Sitting at one of the cafes in Piazza del Campo is in itself a special experience. You can easily spend a couple of hours just admiring the details of the splendid buildings that surround the square with the lovely windows, balconies and crenellated rooftops.
It’s a lively space, often full of students and tourists enjoying the sun. Though you could argue this takes something away from the elegant atmosphere of the square, it takes nothing away from the charm.
Dawn is a beautiful time to see the square. But if you spend the night in Siena, make sure to walk through Piazza del Campo after dark, when the illumination reveals a quietly magical atmosphere.
For the perfect day in Siena, check our Siena in a day itinerary.
History written in the stones:
Thanks to strict laws, the square has changed little over the centuries, and its past can literally be read in its stones. The pavement of terracotta bricks is divided in 9 sections by pale travertine bands, to symbolise the Noveschi (Council of the Nine) who laid out the Campo and governed Siena at the height of its splendour in the first half of the 14th century.
Its focal point, both architecturally and geographically, is the Palazzo Pubblico, which together with Palazzo Vecchio in Florence is one of the most elegant civic buildings in Tuscany. Built in 1287 it gave the government a permanent seat at a time when the city was growing in wealth and importance.
The Palio is a horse race held twice a year in Piazza del Campo. On this occasion the square is transformed into a race track and Siena is filled with Medieval colours and competitive atmosphere. It’s possible to go and watch the event, but be prepared for crowds and a long wait.