Welcome to Il Campo – one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas. It simply will not do to call it a square because it is shaped like a sea-shell. Il Campo is the heart of Siena. It is here that people meet for a cappuccino or simply for a stroll, arm in arm, in pure Italian fashion. And it is here that every summer horses and riders risk their lives for the coveted Palio.
It was on a crisp October morning that I emerged, blinking, from the relative shade of Siena’s narrow, winding streets into the bright, sun-filled Piazza del Campo. Apart from its unusual shape, it is the tall bell tower that dominates the whole scene that makes this piazza stand out.
Il Torre del Mangia is the second tallest medieval tower in Italy and, at 102 metres, it is an awe-inspiring sight. It does what it was built to do – convey an aura of wealth and supremacy while striking fear in the hearts of Siena’s enemies.
It was a long, strenuous climb to the top of the bell-tower, definitely not an undertaking for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic – the higher we climbed, the narrower the tower got and the more the walls seemed to hem us in. But when we finally emerged, breathless, in the shadow of the bells, the view more than compensated for any inconvenience we had suffered. From here, Siena fanned out beneath us, a warren of streets and rooftops basking in the autumn sun.
The duomo of Santa Maria Assunta rose haughtily like an exotic tropical flower amongst a field of modest daisies, while below us, Il Campo was reduced to the size of a child’s handkerchief.
In the distance, the vineyards and olive groves for which Tuscany is so famous stretched as far as we could see. It felt so peaceful, so serene. Surely nothing had ever marred the tranquility of this beautiful place.
But then I glanced at the sombre bells and I knew that they must have rung countless times to rouse the citizens of Siena and to rally them against attack. These ancient places have a troubled and chequered past. A past that this brooding tower knows very well. But those days belong to the realm of shadows and nothing troubles the mighty bells anymore except for the gentle breezes blowing in from the Tuscan hills.
Photographed in Piazza del Campo, Siena
(Edited with Picnik)