Siena Underground

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TSiena offers many tourist attractions on a very small territory that one can cover walking from north to south in not even an hour. Piazza del Campo square, where the Palio of Siena is run twice a year, the Palazzo Pubblico, the Duomo, the museums and galleries, all rise in a historic context that is a monument in itself. Walking along the winding alleys that divide tall medieval buildings, you suddenly arrive to an unexpected square or a major street, which leaves you in stupor for its fine architecture.

Did you know that you can experience something very similar even underground Siena?
Siena is among the few important cities in Tuscany that did not rise on the banks of a river, nor near the sea. In time, when the population started growing and the need for water became pressing, it was necessary to find a reliable source of water other than occasional wells. Around the year 393 excavations of underground passageways started to find water tables and canalize water to bring it everywhere in the city.
After centuries of excavations, the Bottini were finished between the thirteenth and fifteenth century. The name Bottini derives from the word “botte”, which in Italian means barrel, from the shape of the small passageways, whose top part is vaulted to offer more resistance and avoid collapses.

The waterways run for a cumulative length of 25 kilometers under Siena. They were excavated mainly through hard rocks. The men that were employed in the excavation were called “guerchi”. They were often running away from the elves and flashes of light. Since these workers were mainly paid with wine, the darkness mixed with alcohol was very likely to produce elves. As for flashes of light, it might have been pockets of methane that were liberated during excavations, which flamed entering in contact with lanterns.

Another curiosity is that since ancient times, and still today, there has been a strong belief that an underground river flows under Siena. The river, which even after decades of excavations during the middle ages has never been found, has been named Diana, and many swear to hear it during moments of absolute silence in two points of the city: Porta Ovile and Pian dei Mantellini.
The water in the bottini still runs and is used to bring water to public fountains, whereas homes are provided with modern waterworks.

If you wish to visit the bottini it is certainly possible to do so thanks to the association “La Diana”, which takes groups of a maximum of 8 people through this underground labyrinth. Visit their website for more info.

TO read more on this kind of tours, here other underground visits in Tuscany.