A water underground in Siena

Even if the most of you will have already spent their summer holiday, it’s not true a couple-of-days trip, or even the classic out-of-town excursion, has necessarily to wait until next year…

In fact, this is an itinerary which could be considered somewhat classic, somewhat sui generis… Since this travel will guide us through one of the most beautiful city in the world and most visited in Italy, Siena, it could be considered classic, but I’m sure that even if you’ve already been there, you’ve not seen it from this point of view, that’s why I’ve said sui generis… So trust me, a visit to Siena is always worth your while.

Siena, and in general all Tuscany, has other, hidden aspects to be discovered that tourist guides do not usually mention among their itineraries and that only a few Tuscans actually know. Even cities try to hide away from all those people who only look for taking postcard pictures to be showed for saying ‘I have been there too’, but have no interest in those dark and mysterious corners that may even hide some secrets…

I say that because you should know that all Italy, but mainly Tuscany is composed of several layers (I refer to the subsoil, to the ground of our Country and region) of folkscultures, traditions and histories, and the more the subsoil is digged-up, the more it brings us back extraordinary discovers. When someone doesn’t decide to re-cover everything, for replacing things where they were and have been found (that can happen for several reasons: lack of funds assigned to archaeological excavations, discoveries which maybe shouldn’t been found), ‘past’ brings us back pieces of history and extraodinary engineering works which testify our precursors’ wide artistic, technological and architectural knowledge.

Have you ever heard about the bottini of Siena? They’re neither hidden treasures, nor the sewer system of the city: they are tunnels (in fact, the wordbottini was usually referred to those tunnels and it comes from the barrel vaults used as ceiling) which cross Siena under-way along 25 kilometres. An underground, parallel city flows under the well-known town and opens its doors to everyone interested in bringing to light another piece of history.

Since Siena was born far away from rivers and natural waterways, the realization of an underground water system became necessary; it should have drawn on near ground waters and then taken water to town through a rock tunnel system. The excavation of this complex underground tunnels began in the XII-XIII centuries and still testifies the deep engineering, architectural and technological skills of that period.

The great importance that engineers and architects placed on achieving the aqueduct realization and its following maintenace and management testifies once again the great value of water among the local culture (even if water is clearly a priceless good). Together with the aqueducts, the so-called fonti (whose meaning is similar to fountain) were also built: they actually were water supply basins supposed to satisfy food, hygienic, domestic and working water needs. They were firstly built on the most strategic places of the city (that is where water naturally gushed out) and were composed of three accumulation tanks for three different employment of water. At first instance, those fountains were magnificent works of art (to be mainly attributed to the Renaissance period), but as time passed by, they began real fortifications and outposts of the town.

Nowadays, the old aqueduct (which has not been substantially modified since the XV century) has been replaced by a modern one, supposed to supply water for all needs of the city; the fountains anyhow, which are still working, draw water from the old bottini (tunnles). And it’s a well-known fact that in Siena local traditions and symbols have great importance: each contrada (the local name standing for quarter) has its own fonte with its symbol and is an integral part of the quarter social life.

You may book guided tours (far in advance I suggest) to the underground tunnels and the so-called water places of Siena by contacting the Associazione La Diana.

And if while visiting the underground of Siena you begin to see red caps or funny humunculi (little men), as well as the tunnel workers used to do, don’t panic, maybe it’s simply due to the good Chianti you’ve drunk just before the visit…or maybe not…

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