Like an embrace, for centuries the walls of Siena have encircled and protected the city…
A testament to the city’s medieval history and almost completely preserved, Siena’s walls may not be one of the city’s best-known features, but they are certainly worth a visit for the unique and engaging perspective they offer visitors.
As is the case with other ‘walled’ cities, Siena is also considered as having various circles of walls, labelled with the attribute of first ring, second ring, etc., up to seven or eight (according to some).
The city walls we see today visible many miles from the city, weren’t built in one go but are the result of a long process of modification and enlargement that began well before the early Middle Ages and ended by the mid-16th century.
There is no record of walls in ancient Saena Julia, the Etruscan town that later became Roman from which Siena is said to have risen. The first city walls date back to the early Middle Ages and encompassed the oldest area of Siena, that of Castelvecchio and the Cathedral. They ran behind the present Santa Maria della Scala complex, along Via Franciosa and Via dei Pellegrini, before reaching Piazza del Campo (not yet a square at the time), where the gate of Porta Salaria could be found, today’s Porta Costarella.
The walls continued along Via del Casato di Sotto to Porta Oria gate, which no longer exists. Then, carried on along Via del Capitano, into Via Tommaso Pendola and Via del Fosso di Sant’Ansano, where the ‘two gates’ of Vallepiatta opened. Finally, following the slope still there today, it skirted the rear of the buildings along Via del Capitano to a final gate, called Verchione.
This route can easily be traced by walking around the city.
Unlike other Italian cities, perhaps because of the impervious nature of the terrain, new city walls weren’t built encompassing the previous ones. Rather the existing walls were extended, sometimes on one side, then on the other, to include new areas and were connected with the existing layout. Sometimes an existing track was overtaken, dismantling it. In the first half of the 12th century, the first significant expansion took place, encompassing the entire Market area (i.e., today’s Piazza del Campo and Piazza del Mercato) and much of the Terzo di Camollia area, where Via Francigena passed.
The following gates were added: Porta Salaria on Via di Fontebranda, Porta di San Prospero on what is now Viale Rinaldo Franci, Porta di Pescaia on Via di Fontegiusta, the aforementioned Camollia, Porta di San Vigilio now behind Palazzo Salimbeni, Porta dei Provenzani near the ‘Basilica’ of Provenzano, and the old Porta Romana, which was located near the Church of Santo Spirito.
From 1180, a subsequent expansion still covered the eastern part of Terzo di Camollia area and the southern part of Terzo di Città area. Successive expansions continued until 1348 when the terrible Black Death drastically decreased the population, so no more expansions were necessary. It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that the walled perimeter of the city was expanded slightly to encompass the Basilica of St. Francis, which had remained outside until then.
Since then, Siena’s city walls have remained 11,600 fathoms, which in modern units of measurement should be about 7 kilometres.
From their establishment to the fall of the Sienese Republic, the city walls had a defensive and military function. By the late 1500s, the conflict with rival Florence had subsided and Siena had come under Medici rule (and protection), so the walls took on administrative functions instead, used mainly for customs to control goods entering and leaving the city.
Info and contact details: Associazione ‘Le Mura di Siena’ (The Walls of Siena association)
Tel: +39 0577 534547