Sometimes behind the most unassuming door, we find an unexpected world. This is what we find in Palazzo Vestri, in Siena.
In the territory of the Contrada della Torre, we find a palace without stairs. Instead, there’s a helicoidal ramp with no steps that goes up from the inner courtyard to the top floor of the building. The massive and imposing building actually conveys a sense of lightness and movement thanks to the helical shape of its design.
The entire building dates back to the 18th century, and also constitutes an important fragment of the Risorgimento history of the city of Siena. Garibaldina Baldovina Vestri, a ‘brave companion’ with an adventurous life shrouded in mystery, once lived here.
Baldovina was born on 24 February 1840 and spent her youth in the family home, Palazzo Vestri, where another Mazzinian, Crispino Cavallini, also lived. Her father Giovanni was a hothead and after wounding a policeman, he was imprisoned in Volterra. Here he learnt to work alabaster, an art that he later taught to his tenant, none other than Cesare Maccari, and other renowned artists who attend his workshop.
Baldovina, passionate about her Contrada della Torre, grew up in this political and cultural fervour surrounded by her family’s patriotic, Mazzinian and Garibaldian ideals. Her brother Archimede was an architect and was responsible for the project of the loggia in Piazza Indipendenza. In 1867, at the age of 16, she met Garibaldi when the general passed through Siena with his daughter Teresita to attend the Palio, which was organised in his honour on 15 August instead of the 16th as usual. Baldovina followed him to the Roman countryside and the battle of Mentana in the role of a sutler, but really she performed many other tasks including nursing, stablewoman, reloading rifles and dragging wounded and dead comrades away.
Impressed by her courage, Garibaldi gave her the red shirt that Baldovina never took off thereafter. She returned to Siena in the 1880s and dedicated herself to caring for the suffering and the poor, for whom she also collected donations by scavenging around the city. She was active in committees to assist orphans and war widows and became one of the first women to join the newly founded Public Assistance, to which she was admitted on 1 February 1895 with card no. 6. After being on the front line during World War I, she died in 1931 and the municipal administration took charge of her funeral and the whole of Siena attended. According to her wishes, she was buried with her red shirt in the so-called ‘Quadrilatero dei Garibaldini’ (dedicated to those who fought with garibaldi) in the Laterino cemetery.
Where: Via di Salicotto
When: Private Palace, try ringing asking to see the staircase…