“A bronze sound drops from the tower: the parade continues amid drums beating to the glory of the Contrade… and the wonder that invades the shell of the Campo…”
This is what Eugenio Montale wrote in 1939, enraptured by the sombre and cadenced chimes of Sunto which announces important events with its bronze voice. For 352 years it has watched over Siena and its surroundings from above and seems to envelop her in a protective embrace.
It was 29 September 1666 when Sunto, the great bell was installed at the top of Torre del Magia tower, where we can still admire it today. However, this is not the first bell that had rung in Piazza del Campo. In 1344, when work on the construction of the tower had not yet been completed, the so-called ‘bell of the people’ from the city of Grosseto was installed here, then cast in 1349 to make an even larger one called the ‘campanone’, meaning ‘big bell’. As Agnolo di Tura recalls: ‘The large bell of the municipality of Siena was made at this time. Made by master Ricciardo di Tingo, it weighs 17,777 pounds’.
For almost three centuries, the bell sounded every hour on the hour, but not without suffering the ravages of time. In 1634, it was replaced by a new bell made by Antonio Cerani da Novara, but due to its unpleasant sound, the Sienese immediately renamed it ‘Campanaccio’, a derogatory version of ‘bell’. So, the Sienese government known as Balia decided to have a new one cast by the Fano masters Girolamo Santoni and Giovan Battista Salvini, who made it in the cloister of San Francesco. After a first unsuccessful attempt, the bronze casting was carried out on 17 September 1665.
The bell was blessed on 14 November by Archbishop Ascanio Piccolomini with the name of Maria Assunta, which lead to the Sienese citizens to nickname it ‘Sunto’.
Finally, on 18 November of the same year, it was transported to Piazza del Campo with the help of an inclined plank, sprinkled with tallow and pulled by winches. It took 53 men and two winches to raise the Bell up the Tower on 25 November and that evening, Sunto already reached the height of the tower clock. The following day, the Campanone was placed in the belfry, where it remained until 23 September 1666 when the Governor of Siena and Prince Mattias de’ Medici ordered to move it to the top of the Tower for stability.
At 2.34 metres high, with a diameter of 1.98 metres, weighing 6,764 kilos and costing 8,551 lire, 9 soldi e 4 toscane, the big bell was finally hoisted on the metal trellis to the top of the Tower built by Ranieri Neri following Pietro Giambelli’s design.
In 1831, Sunto was severely damaged, and its use was forbidden until it was repaired or melted down. However, the estimates for the repair turned out to be too expensive, so it was decided to limit the repairs. The two technicians Luigi Rossi and Vincenzo Gani assigned to do this, filed down the ‘wound’ in the bronze, but this was not enough to cover the large cut that is still visible on the lower edge of the bell. This defect gives the big bell an indecipherable sound and a particularly hoarse timbre (in the local dialect ‘pentoloso’), that becomes muffled when rung by hand using the clapper inside; since this only happens during the Palio celebrations, the Sienese associate this particular chime with the impending festival.
Fun fact: perhaps not everyone knows that Sunto sings on some special occasions. In addition to the two Palio of July and August, its chimes are also heard at the inauguration of the academic year, at the opening and closing time of polling stations during elections, and on the anniversary of the Liberation of Siena on 3 July. At 6 am on 3 July 1944, the French troops entered through Porta San Marco gate and, at the same time, the last German troops left through Porta Camollia gate. The French troops were welcomed by the flags of the contrade, immortalised by the chimes of Sunto.
Where: at the top of Torre del Mangia tower, in Piazza del Campo
When: while visiting Torre del Mangia
From 1 November to 28 February: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm / 1:45 pm – 4:00 pm (ticket office closes and last admission 3:15 pm)
Christmas – closed
New Year’s Eve: 12:00 am – 4:00 pm (ticket office closes and last admission 3:15 pm)
From 1 March to 31 October: 10:00 am – 1:45 pm / 2:30 pm – 7:00 pm (ticket office closes and last admission 6:15 pm)
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