Hidden Place: the Bottini of Siena

A masterpiece of medieval hydraulic engineering in Siena: the Bottini

The Bottini of Siena
The Bottini of Siena

Perhaps not everyone knows that Siena is formed by two equally beautiful cities, one above and one under ground as the Emperor Charles V said when he visited our town.

That ‘over’ one is the jewel that all of us know and admire with its magnificent square, the Campo, a shaped shell, divided into nine segments in memory of the Government of the Nine in which Siena reached a peak cultural and political, famous worldwide for the Palio and surrounded by important historical buildings that give the feeling of being almost in the room of an exclusive private home … but at open sky. Very romantic especially when it is illuminated by the moon.

The city ‘underground’ is formed by the ‘Bottini’, a gallery, an underground waterwork dug just below ground, the works of which lasted for many years, which at the beginning was used to supply the public water sources and fountains and later also the private wells and tanks distributed throughout the city through the collection of rainwater infiltration and veins in the surrounding hills. The water was very important not only for personal needs but also to tame the fires which in that period were very frequent and for irrigation of private gardens and orchards.

The Bottini were held by two municipal employees who subsequently, when the water became for private use under payment, should sign the consumption and report the amount payable to Gabella. Very interesting is to see the system through which was’ calculated ‘the amount of water consumed.

Today you can visit the Bottini of Fonte Gaia and Fonte Nuova of Vallerozzi contacting the association La Diana which takes care of its maintenance.

The Bottini of Siena
The Bottini of Siena

Visiting the Bottini remind that you have to get all lined up behind your guide because the width is enough just for one person. Don’t forget to wear proper clothing as boots (sometimes the water level can be a little ‘high’) and a sweater because there is a lot of humidity underground. Bring with you also a flashlight with a replacement battery because there is no type of artificial lighting and a bottle of water because the journey takes minimum one hour. Of course you must not be claustrophobic because there are no windows or emergency exits.

While you walk along the Bottini you are not able to notice the different levels reached in some parts of the trail but your guide will tell you every time under which ‘streeet’, ‘historic building’ or ‘shop’ you are.

The Bottini of Siena
The Bottini of Siena

To complete the visit of Bottini we suggest you a tour of the water sources, fontains, wells and tanks located in the city ‘above’ and which are samples of architecture masterpieces. In fact during the Medieval Age the ‘decorum’ concept was very strong and it was reflected also in these elements considered nowadays just urban design.

The Bottini of Siena
The Bottini of Siena

The Water Sources:

— Fontebranda: the most complex source composed of three levels: in the first level ran the drinking water, in the second level the water for animals and in the third level the one used to wash clothes.
— Fontenuova of Vallerozzi: here there is a path of the Bottini
— Fonte del Casato: very suggestive for the steep staircase in front that certainly made a little bit heard for the local people the transportation of the water inside their houses
— Fonte Gaia: in the Campo : another route open to the Bottini
— Fonte di Ovile: outside the medieval walls
— Fonte di Pescaia: even this outside the walls

The Bottini of Siena
The Bottini of Siena

The Fountains:

— Fountain of Pispini
— Fountain of Ranocchie
— Fontino of San Francesco
— Fontana located in via delle Vergini (at the bottom of the alley called Vicolo della Viola)
— Fountain of Fortezza Medicea

The ‘Fontanine’: each contrada has its own small fountain where every year there is the the baptism of new borns as membership.

The Wells: some of them are in the courtyards of private buildings and therefore do not have a proper name. If you find the main entrance gate open you can enter to look at them.

— Banchi di Sotto, 69: currently there is a front gate
— Banchi di Sotto, 81: once entered you have to pass another door in front of you
— Via San Martino, 51
— Vicolo delle Carrozze
— Via Montanini, 92
— Via delle Terme, 17
— Piazzetta Luigi Bonelli, 1
— Pozzo at Santa Maria della Scala
— Pozzo at Palazzo Chigi Saracini
— Pozzo at Palazzo Patrizi located in Via di Città
— Pozzo at Palazzo Placidi in Pantaneto, 7
— Pozzo at Piazza Jacopo della Quercia
— Pozzo of San Marco
— Pozzo at the Saint Catherine’s Sanctuary
— Pozzo at Palazzo delle Papesse (Museum of Contemporary Art)

The Tanks:

— Via Calzoleria
— Vicolo degli Orefici
— Vicolo dei Percennesi
— Via dei Lombardi

If you are not able to visit the Bottini don’t worry. You can get an idea going to the cinema this Fall to see the movie Quantum of Solace – 007.

Last months Siena has turned into a kind of open sky movie set of 007. Some frames had to be set in the Bottini by ‘script’. It was not possible but the Town Hall of Siena gave the Production the possibility to make a visit of the Bottini so that they would be able to reproduce them in their studios. We are sure that Hollywood will not disappoint your and our expectations and that you will have a realistic perception of what the Bottini are.

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