The campo & I had a few firsts together – seeing chocolates in such abundance at a festival; first concert in Italy & “horse race”-Il Palio, place I sat down on the ground in the city center (like being back at convent haha); outdoor nap; met up with some people and sang in the freezing cold while another played the guitar; where I said a few goodbyes to friends and classmates and spent my last two nights before returning home.
But I can guarantee you, it was not only I who had many firsts there.
Anyone who has ever gone to Siena has felt a pull so strong that only until they have peeped their eyes through a portico, they understand that pull. It was their soul searching for peace, for that is what Il Campo gives you – peace.
Though I saw it frequently, it never failed to leave me in awe – there was this lightness and familiarity within. Il Campo is a real introduction to the Italian culture and how Italians enjoy not just good sunshine, but simply sitting and chatting anywhere.
It’s a square or piazza and where I come from, we usually pass ours without any thought as to how we can enjoy it or its significance. In the moments we do stop, it’s when there are activities which are few.
That’s not the case in Italy though, and definitely not in Siena. Il Campo, is simply l’anima (soul) of Siena.
What is it that I miss the most?
Walking through the portici that lead to Il Campo – one can’t help but feel so privileged. Privileged that my feet were about to step over hundreds of years of history, strategy & culture.
You see, è piu di una piazza and that’s what makes this place beyond idiosyncratic (I just really wanted to use a very extravagant word to mean fascinating).
Let’s take a step back in time together to appreciate this piazza…
Let’s go stand in the middle of this concave shell and imagine it’s the year 1200, the Middle Ages. Men, dressed in knee-length tunics and women in gowns come from their hillside communities (Castellare, San Martino & Camollia) which intersect at this open field. It is here that they have their usual markets and fair celebrations. The only elements they see are green hills and their brown bricked homes in the distance while they purchase wild boar and other meats and vegetables.
100 years later, under the Government of the Nine who ruled over the city from 1292 to 1335, their grand & great grandchildren witness this bare field being paved with red bricks in a fishbone style divided into a sunburst pattern. At the base, we stand near the gavinone (the central water drain) with the Palazzo Pubblico (the civic headquarters) and Il Torre del Mangia to our backs. And from our feet up, we follow 10 white tavertine bands upwards and realize that they divide Il Campo into 9. Can you guess why? To represent the Government of the Nine.
Il Palazzo Pubblico, a palace built for the republican government, is an Italian medieval architecture with Gothic influences. It houses municipal offices, the Museo Civico where you find frescos and other important art pieces; the Torre del Mangia and the city theatre, Teatro dei Rinnovati.
It’s now 1419 and at the top center is a pristine white marble fountain called Fonte Gaia being built to represent the artistic skills of the Senese & the completion of a hydraulic construction which was started in 1342 which brought water 25 kilometers away. What a joy right? Hence, Gaia, the Greek word for joyous.
All of a sudden people are pushing us, over excited and bursting with an inexplicable energy. We see flags of different colors being waved high up in the air and as our eyes turn to see what the fuss is over, 1..2..3 horses and jockeys bend the corner with such speed that dust gets into our eyes. That doesn’t stop us from seeing the excitement around us. Never seen a horse that big have you? Neither have I. We stand in awe as we observe the colorful costumes that the jockeys are dressed in. It’s truly a sight to behold. We have just witnessed Il Palio – a defining part of the Senese culture that will live on into the 21st Century.
Now we’re back to the present time- our bodies stretched out on the bricks while we imagine Il Campo holding the entire Senese population and relive the countless events and tournaments held there from years past and present, making you understand why this is the stage for civic and political life.
Sometimes I felt like I was invading, but also happy that I can say that in some way, I became part of that history.
Il Campo is not just a piazza.
It represents the essence of the other piazze in Italia. It is the coming together of a community, their culture, tradition, and way of life. It is there that many make memories that hold so much meaning. It is where you find creativity, artistry, power, strength, revival, love, hope, spontaneity, chaos… peace.
EVENTS HELD AT IL CAMPO
Il Palio– the most important and popular horse festival in Europe which many people come solely for. It’s a horse race among 10/17 contrade (districts) held every July 2 and August 16th. It is really an exciting period and celebration begin months in advance with every contrade putting on parties, ceremonies, band parades etc.
Mercato nel Campo- in December a traditional event gathering 150 stands exactly as they were in the XIV century.
Cioco Si- a showcase of the best chocolate artisans with exhibitions, tastings, workshops and more
Even Vintage Car Shows & more.
Really, you never know what you may find there!
Any place in your area holds such history and plays a huge part of your daily lives?
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