The ancient underground aqueducts

20 luglio - bottini

The ancient aqueduct is a labyrinth of canals dug under the city of Siena.

The term ‘buctinus’ probably refers to the round vault and first appears in a document from 1226. This gave rise to the name Bottini, by which the underground aqueducts are still called today.
Walking through the streets of Siena, it’s not uncommon to come across large and small fountains. But not everyone knows that the water of these fountains and the various wells scattered around the city comes from a labyrinth of tunnels dug into the city’s subsoil over 25 km long, typically 1.80 metres high and just under 1 metre wide.

Due to its hilly position and lack of major waterways, Siena has always had to resort to alternative methods to source its water. The soft, tuffaceous rock on which it stands made it possible to excavate an ingenious system of tunnels, which you can walk through today, allowing rainwater from the ‘gorello’ – a small channel at the base of the walkway – to flow down to the historic springs.

The entire ancient water supply system, with its main branches and derivations, represents a fundamental element of the city’s history and culture.

Legend has it that the ‘guerchi’, the workers involved in the construction of the aqueduct system, often fled because they were frightened by the appearance of underground creatures they called ‘omiccioli’ and ‘fuggisoli’. The former were elf-like, while the latter took on the form of sudden flashes of light. Most probably the strange visions of the workers were due to the fear of those dark and unexplored places and to the effects of alcohol, since they were partly compensated in wine.

For hundreds of years, the ‘bottini’ and its fountains were the only water supply system. Then, water from the Vivo springs arrived to the city in the first two decades of the 20th century, bringing water to the homes of the Sienese from Monte Amiata through a new aqueduct and distribution system.

There are two main branches of ancient aqueduct system.The oldest is known as Bottino maestro di Fontebranda, which lies at a considerable depth and carries water from Fontebecci to the Fontebranda Fountain. Meanwhile, the Bottino maestro di Fonte Gaia,was built around 1300 and it feeds the fountain Fonte Gaia in Piazza del Campo and other minor fountains with the overflow.

As well as being important works of civil engineering, the underground aqueducts were also strategically important. In 1554, the army of Emperor Charles V attempted to take Siena via these canals and almost succeeded. In June 1944, the partisans planned to liberate German-occupied Siena by this route, but gave up.


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