In recent times, in Italy of all places, we have discussed the possibility of privatising water: in June 2011, a large public turnout showed that the issue is still capable of arousing the feelings of the majority of Italians, who voted to defend the idea of ​​public water as a common good. It is interesting, therefore, at a time when the water is starting to become a luxury commodity, to understand how the issue of water sources and their management and accessibility was viewed in the Middle Ages. The urban development of this city did not occur near a direct source of water (a river, a lake, etc.) and the Sienese have proven their ability to make up for this natural deficiency through a complex underground water system. The route presented here is based on the stories and artistic descriptions of the city’s main water sources, with the primary intention of highlighting the creative finesse of the inhabitants of Siena and human ingenuity in general.

Fonte Gaia
Located in Piazza del Campo, where the entire city of Siena seems to converge, this monumental fountain is the highest expression of the ideals to which the Republic aspired.

Fonte Gaia was inaugurated in 1346 by the city magistracy: the idea of ​​a water source as a collective good was gaining ground (e.g. Fontana Maggiore in Perugia, at the end of the thirteenth century, was the first example of a monumental public water source), and the name of the monument seems to reflect the jubilation with which the crowd welcomed the opening of a new fountain in the main square, the scene of the State’s political and economic life.

The original fountain was much simpler than the one we know today: a redevelopment project was commissioned in 1409 to Jacopo della Quercia, who created the present-day monumental fountain through skilful use of marble and sculptures in the round.

Fonte Pispini
This beautiful fountain, composed of two circular basins of increasing diameter and a larger hexagonal pool at the base, was built at the expense of the inhabitants of the district in around 1534.

The recent events of the fountain are quite interesting: during World War II, it was moved to nearby Piazza di Santo Spirito, opposite the homonymous church, to allow the transit of military vehicles between Porta Pispini and the Santa Chiara barracks. The fountain was not restored to its current location until 2001.

Fonte San Francesco
There are few sources regarding this fountain, although it has not undergone any major changes in its centuries of history; scholars tend to date it to the late 12th century due to the fact that the Guild of Wool Weavers and Silk Weavers was based in the district. Barbicone, the commoner who led the revolt of 1371, was a native of this area. This popular uprising was one of the first proletarian movements of Italian history (seven years before the revolt of the Ciompi in the city of Florence).
Fonte d'Ovile
Built in the late-thirteenth century, this water source was intended for the use of the numerous farms around Porta Ovile.

The building is impressive due to its majestic structural power: it preserves three large ogival arches (two in front and one at the side) decorated with cornices. It is thought that the Fonte d’Ovile began to lose its importance in the fourteenth century, due to the construction of the Fonte Nuova inside the city walls (which was modelled architecturally on the old fountain).

Fonte Nuova d'Ovile
The monumental Fonte Nuova d’Ovile was operating as early as 1298, although incomplete: this valuable information is provided by a plaque on its right-hand column. The Fonte Nuova stands on a rectangular base and is clad entirely in masonry, with a few stone ornaments.

The building is impressive due to its majestic structural power: it retains three large ogival arches (two in front and one at the side) decorated with cornices that form beautiful ribbed vaults in the interior. In its original completeness, the upper section of the fountain included the custodian’s house, connected to the Pian d’Ovile road (still visible today).

Fonte Serena (or del Casato)
In its architectural simplicity, this is one of the characteristic fountains of Siena. Located below the Casato di Sotto road and accessed by means of a ramp, it is composed of a simple pool divided into two sections and covered by a small vault set into the side of the road and supported by a simple semi-circular arch.

From the documents, it can be seen that the fountain was built in 1359 at the request of the inhabitants of the district, following numerous refusals by the municipality due to the difficulty of building in such a steep and developed area, close to the original urban centre.

Fonte San Maurizio
Also known as Fonte di Samoreci or Fonte del Ponte di Romana, it is located close to Siena’s original city walls. Due to its central location, the fountain was constantly subject to restructuring and improvements, with the addition, in 1474, of the steps and a three-pool system intended to serve as a fountain, a trough and a wash house respectively. The fountain now only retains its upper basin, between two tall masonry buttresses, and three ornamental coats of arms added in the late Medici era.
Fonte di Pescaia
Already mentioned in the Biccherna records (1226), this is one of the oldest and most important water sources in the city of Siena, both because of its location (outside the city walls, on the road leading to the Maremma estates) and its integrity, which allows us to study the various changes that have affected the architecture and use of the water system. In Pescaia the medieval basins coexist with the battlements and fortifications from after 1270, dominated by the constructions from the Lorena era, known as “Gli Sfrattati” (“The Evicted”): after the Second World War, inhabitants of Siena who had lost their homes during the bombing of the station took refuge here. Since January 2010, the structure has housed the premises of the Museum of Water, where you can find out more about the history of the water sources of Siena presented in this short itinerary.
Fontebranda
Located in the valley that divides San Domenico from the Cathedral, the area in which the monumental fountain of Fontebranda stands was the location of the Guild of wool makers in the Middle Ages, whose craftsmen required large quantities of water for their work. It is not by chance that this is one of the oldest fountains of which we have evidence: some documents speak of a well as early as 1081, even if the structure – in its present-day form – dates back to 1246 and is the work of Giovanni di Stefano. Its importance is emphasised not only by the large coat of arms of the Sienese Republic in the centre of the façade and the leonine heads at the top, but also by the fact that Dante mentions it in his 30th Canto, a clear indication of the fame of the source outside the city walls already at the turn of the thirteenth century.


But if I here could see the tristful soul
Of Guido, or Alessandro, or their brother,
For Branda’s Fount I would not give the sight.

[Dante, Inferno, XXX, vv. 76-78]

Credits: Story

Exhibition made by Youth Committee of the Italian Commission for UNESCO - Tuscany. Text edited by Francesco Pacini; web version edited by Paolo Menchetti and Francesco Pacini

Youth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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