Orto de’ Pecci gardens and Porta Giustizia valley are located in Siena’s old town, just a few metres from Piazza del Campo, and hide a green corner of pure countryside.
Behind Palazzo Comunale and Piazza del Mercato, lies one of the best-preserved green areas within the walls of Siena: the valley of Porta Giustizia.
Since the Middle Ages, the flat terrain and the abundance of water have made it an ideal land for the cultivation of vegetables, as the very name indicates. It’s a beautiful place to spend a relaxing afternoon, but even the Sienese often don’t know the fascinating history of the valley. It was created by request of the city’s administration between the late 1200s and early 1300s when urban immigration was booming and hopes were alive that the city would continue to enlarge and expand as it had been doing for the past couple of centuries.
Those from the countryside who wanted to become citizens of Siena had to practice a trade and, above all, had to build a house and this valley becomes a space designated for this.
Unfortunately, as for so many other events in Sienese history, the Plague of 1348 arrived to disrupt plans. One-third of the Sienese died, leaving many houses vacant in the centre of the city. Nobody lived in the valley of Porta Giustizia anymore, so the municipality ordered all the buildings to be torn down and the area to be transformed into vegetable gardens, or as we read in the deeds of the time, ‘ad campos’ (fields). The Orto de’ Pecci took shape and assumed its current name.
Over the centuries it would later pass into the hands of the Psychiatric Hospital, which sent inpatients there to grow fruits and vegetables for the facility and to care for the asylum’s farm animals.
But there is also another story linked to this beautiful urban park, that of the Porta Giustizia gate, from where you access the orchard. During the 14th century, the condemned to death passed through here to be led to the gallows of the Coroncina, just a few kilometres from the city walls. Perhaps from this fact the legend of the vampire that haunted the valley emerged in the 19th century. It was certainly not well-lit, so citizens avoided it as much as possible at night.
It was believed to be the spirit of a man condemned to death, but there were those who went further, identifying him as Nicholas of Tuldo, who went down in history for being beheaded in the merciful presence of St. Catherine of Siena. The vampire of Porta Giustizia was seen by many people and once he was even surrounded by a group of inhabitants in the area bordering the ancient city walls. Some swore they saw him turn into a bat, others that he would suck the blood of more than one person, bringing them to death…
Today, aside from these dark legends, the Orto dei Pecci is a place of nature and peace. In addition to a restaurant, there is a reconstruction of a medieval kitchen garden where mandrake, wormwood and other herbs grew to flavour the foods of Cecco Angiolieri, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini, and to be used as dyes by Messer Benincasa, father of St. Catherine; medicinal herbs were also grew here and used to cure common ailments. There are also farm animals here, including peacocks! And a beautiful installation of contemporary artwork. All you have to do is walk along Via di Porta Giustizia to reach the gardens!
When: always visible wonder
Info and contact details: ortodepecci.it