on June 10, 2008
The heart of Siena, in every possible sense, is Piazza del Campo, the city's main 'square'. I say 'square' because the space is no where as near as regular as the word implies. Il Campo technically means 'field', and is now a terracotta-bricked fan-shaped expanse, sloping down as if to lead the eye to the magnificent Palazzo Pubblico. Not that it needs much leading! A superb red brick 13th-century edifice with crenellations and pointed gothic windows that still looks as spruce today as it must have in its heyday.Shaped like a scallop-shell, the floor is made of herringboned red bricks that soak up the sun. Even in March the brick underneath was warm enough to recline upon - which pretty much seems to be a favourite pastime in Siena. To all sides people chatted, read or sketched in this heavenly setting. Just watch out for cigarette butts underneath you! An assortment of cafes and restaurants curve around the upper rim of the Campo, with tables and chairs overlooking the Piazza and Palazzo. Cheaper though is to head down one of the side streets (Chiasso Largo perhaps) to pick up a sandwich, a panini, or a slice of pizza and then recline out in the sun to consume it. Indeed, just taking a few steps away from the piazza down one of these streets you seem an age away, getting lost in the tangle of narrow streets to its rear - they slope down behind the Palazzo, and climb up steps out of the Campo before it. The Campo also holds the Fonte Gaia, or 'Fountain of Joy'. This was a remarkable feat of engineering when first constructed in 1342 (Siena sits of course atop a hill), though the present sculptured white basin is a late 19th-century piece.Finally the Campo is the scene of the Palio horse race that takes place twice every summer, where riders from the city's different contrade race their horses around the circumference of the Piazza, preceded by much medieval merriment and festivity. The two winning contrade are allowed to fly their banners for the next year - and as a result the blue and white checked flags of the Fish faction billowed in the breeze leading down the Via G. Dupre to the Palazzo's side. The Palio is due to be featured in November's Bond movie, 'Quantum of Solace' - and I for one cannot wait!
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