There are various branches of this system on two levels: the Fontebranda is very deep while the Gaia is several metres below street level.
Just off the via Camollia in a lane framed, this time of year, by wisteria, stands an ancient brick wall. Above a small iron door in this wall a plaque announces:
Fonte Gaia has been Siena's pride - and saviour - since 1343 (after 9 years of digging) when complex excavation and construction brought water to the city from springs in the Tuscan hills 25 kilometres away. The name Gaia (joyful) is supposed to derive from the joy of the citizens when running water finally flowed in Siena's main square. How the water reached the hilltop city is a fascinating story narrated via a 90 minute tour of the city's underground tunnels.
|the lowest part of the tunnel: since it is shored up with bricking presumably there were some structural problems here|
|calcium deposits and at right, water droplets hang from root filaments on the ceiling|
Although the engineering feat of this ancient hydraulic enterprise is most impressive (more on this below), I was deeply struck by the sheer hard work involved in creating 25 kilometres of tunnels, alcoves, water channels, decantation areas, side-channels, wells and spy-holes.
Imagine an army of Maremman miners (Siena worked mineral mines along the coast and brought in the miners and their families to create the waterways) labouring in shifts night and day by the light of candles, chipping and hewing their way through layers of hard sandstone.
|alternating layers of sandstone and rounded pebbles, our clue to geological movements over the ages|
|occhio/miraglio (the latter originating from the Spanish mirar, to see, interestingly, because the workers came from the coast and contact with Spanish traders) or spy-hole shaft, hewn by masters|
|tiny shell fossils and imprints of shells proving that all this was a seabed in prehistoric times|
|archipendolo - plumb rule, the closest translation I can find but hardly descriptive or accurate|
|deliberate switchback to slow down water flow|
|campaign slogan from late 19th century|
|free water for the Capuchin nuns|
|Here many families, many of whose descendants populate Siena today, joined the bandwagon, mostly with a single dado|
|water finally gushing down a man-made cascade on its way to the Fonte Gaia|
|our guide Antonio showing us the map of the various bottini|
|the endpoint of the walk, which might also be the starting point, is this trap or large manhole which opens onto a bar/caffe' on Piazza del Campo!|
|detail from the Fonte Gaia: the she-wolf mother of Romulus and Remus, one of the symbols of Siena and part of its claim to an ancient Roman heritage|
There is also a Museum of Water, il Museo dell'Acqua, in Siena: I hope to be able to post on that too, in the future.
The volunteer guides are organized by La Diana Siena
(The association's name derives from a legend originating during the excavation of the bottini: workers swore they could hear a river rushing in the earth below them, but it was never found and in fact does not exist. This phantom river was named Diana.)
Tickets cost 9,30 euros and cover insurance for visitors.
The tour in Italian is included in the price.
gum boots/ wellingtons if the water level is high,
but specially, a torch.
For a very informative and detailed site which elaborates on much of the above, have a look here.