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Il Campo: The Heart of Siena

Via Banchi di Sopra, Via Banchi di Sotto, and Via di Città all meet at the Loggia della Mercanzia, begun from Sano di Matteo's plans in 1417. Here Siena's merchants argued cases before a commercial tribunal so impartial that foreign governments came to have them settle financial differences.

From here, several tunnel-like stepped alleys lead down into Piazza del Campo (Il Campo), arguably the most beautiful piazza in Italy. Crafted like a sloping scallop shell, the Campo was first laid out in the 1100s on the site of the Roman forum. The herringbone brick pavement is divided by white marble lines into nine sections representing the city's medieval ruling body, the Council of Nine. The Campo's tilt, fan shape, and structure are all a calibrated part of the city's ancient water system and underground canal network. At the top of the Campo is a poor 19th-century replica of Jacopo della Quercia's 14th-century fountain, the Fonte Gaia. Some of the restored, but badly eroded original panels are in Santa Maria della Scala (discussed later).

The only surviving medieval buildings on the square are, at the top, the curving facade of the battlemented 13th-century Palazzo Sansedoni and at the fan's base, the city's focal point, the Palazzo Pubblico (1297-1310). This crenellated town hall is the city's finest Gothic palace, and the Museo Civico inside is home to Siena's best artworks. When the Black Death finally abated in 1348, the city built a loggia chapel, the Cappella della Piazza, at the left end of the palazzo's base to give thanks that at least parts of the city had been spared. Rising above it is the slender 100m-tall (328-ft.) brick Torre del Mangia (1338-48), crowned with a Lippo Memmi-designed cresting in white travertine. It was the second-tallest tower in medieval Italy and was named after a slothful bell ringer nicknamed Mangiaguadagni, or "profit eater." (There's an armless statue of him in the courtyard.)

If you fancy climbing 503 steps and aren't particularly claustrophobic, the tower is a great place to check out the unforgettable view across Siena's cityscape and the rolling countryside beyond. Admission is 8€. The tower (entrance in the courtyard) is open from October 16 through February from 10am to 4pm, otherwise from 10am to 7pm.

In Terzo Di Camollia

Siena's northern third spreads off either side of palace-lined Via Banchi di Sopra. Two blocks up on the left is Siena's oldest Gothic palace, the Palazzo Tolomei, begun in 1208 and now home to the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze bank. The piazza out front is where the city council met from the 11th century until the Palazzo Pubblico was built. Two blocks farther is the piazza formed by the Gothic Palazzo Salimbeni and its tributary palaces, linked to form the seat of the Monte di Paschi di Siena, Siena's powerhouse bank founded in 1472 and still a strong player in Italian finance.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.