Private visit in a treasure hidden from the Middle Age, the Bottini of Siena.
Discover the Bottini with the famous historian Bargagli Petrucci.
THE SECRET OF SIENA
To know a city is to know all its secrets. It doesn’t matter how many times we visit a place, it is not until we put our roots there, until we understand the attitude and the traditions, that we will be a part of that exclusive group of people that can totally own a place’s history and customs.
As italians, actually coming from Tuscany and having visited Siena so many times, we could definitely pass off as experts of Siena and its surroundings. Siena during the Palio’s excitement, the “contrade” (a “contrada” is a district in the heart of Siena, each one has his own rules, team, flag, songs, etc. The “osterie” where you can have fun with friends, the “Circolo degli Uniti”, the most ancient private club in the world. And probably a plate of “pici cacio e pepe” (to-die-for pasta from Siena with cheese and pepper).
Therefore we fell in the most terrible despair when we found out about this secret. The Bottini of Siena, 25 km of underground tunnels dug during the Middle Ages in order to bring water to the city’s houses. A secret hidden also to many locals, that never had the chance to visit this wonder.
The waiting list to visit the Bottini of Siena indeed is very long but the wait will be rewarded. It’s not just about the mystery of the place, but also about the great genius of men, that managed to dig these tunnels under the heart of the city in less than 50 years.
LET’S GO UNDERGROUND
So we start to discover the tunnel that goes from “Piazza del Campo” to “Fonte Giusta”. With the precious help of the famous historian Benedetto Bargagli Petrucci. Nephew of Fabio Bargagli Petrucci that was mayor of Siena for two years and then “podestà” from 1926 to 1936 and wrote “Le fonti di Siena e i suoi acquedotti”: an important study of Siena’s springs.
We meet in “Piazza del Campo”, next to “Fonte Gaia”. And we observe him as he approaches the tables of a restaurant on the square, thinking he has to collect a bag. Instead he pushes a table and opens a trapdoor: like a gate to a mysterious world. We descend at the entrance of this tunnel, approximately 8-9 mt below, and we listen carefully to the history of this magical place told by Bargagli with infinite passion.
LA DIANA ORGANIZATION
Often the difference between discovering a place and truly understanding it lies in who you go with. We had the luck to visit this place with the person that studied it for all his life. Indeed it is only thanks to Bargagli and the organization “La Diana” that we can today see these tunnels perfectly preserved. His passion infects us and we start the tour of this “Bottino”. While he explains how the water arrived, how it was decanted, how they used to work. The workers used to dig in the sand with a tool called “male in peggio”, in italian it’s kind of funny to name a tool this way. He talks about Siena’s spring, in particular about the one he loves most, “la Fonte delle Monache” (literally “the Nun’s Spring”), completely underground.
Without even noticing, we finish the tour under another “contrada” of the city where we go back up. We definitely feel more local than the locals now. Satisfied by this thought, we head towards an “osteria” for a good glass of wine.
INFORMATIONS ABOUT BOTTINI OF SIENA
To visit the ‘Bottini’ is an enchanting, but not easy to organize, experience. The visits, organized from the cultural association ‘La Diana’ are usually held every Saturday morning. Owing to the small number of people for every group (8/10), waiting lists are quite long. So if you are planning to visit the ‘Bottini’ you might call few months in advance. To check availability you can call the reservation office every morning from monday to friday (number 0577-292614/5). The price of the ticket is 9,46 euro and it must be payed in advance. It’s strictly recommended the use of a torch and hiking shoes.
Text by Ludovica Amodeo Grabau
Pictures by Federico Sigali