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The secrets of Siena: let’s go and explore its hidden treasures!

An intricate network of aqueducts still in working order

The name “bottini” in Italian suggests a hoard of gold and jewels; but this is another type of treasure, with huge historical and cultural value. The “bottini” of Siena are in fact underground tunnels, and perhaps owe their name to their “barrel” vaulted ceilings. This maze of underground aqueducts played a crucial part in the development of Siena for many hundreds of years, for without it the town would have had no access to a water supply. The “bottini” have also become part of the folklore of Siena, with many legends telling of mysterious subterranean creatures that live in these tunnels. To promote awareness of this ancient network of aqueducts, which still feed the city’s fountains today, the “bottini” are now the subject of evocative guided tours.

The history and mysteries of the underground “bottini”

The earliest evidence of underground aqueducts in Siena dates back to 394 A.D., but it was only during medieval times that excavations intensified and the word “buctinus” appeared on documents for the first time. The current layout of the tunnels dates from 1466: a highly ingenious water network, with principal and secondary branches extending for about 25 km. The “bottini” with their rainwater collection system supported the growing city up to the First World War, when a new aqueduct was constructed to bring water into homes. The history of the “bottini” is associated with the medieval myth of the River Diana, which was believed to flow under the city of Siena. Legend has it that there are two points in the city where, if you listen carefully and in total silence, you can still hear the murmur of the water. However, despite repeated excavation work, this river has never been found. Other legends, based on accounts by those constructing the “bottini”, tell of omiccioli and fugsoli living in the tunnels: spiteful and somewhat scary creatures, from whom the workers defended themselves by engraving crosses in the rock or embedding terracotta Madonnas in the walls.

Guided tours of the “bottini”

Although the “bottini” are still in operation and supply many fountains in the city, part of the tunnels can be visited in small groups. Visitors are allowed access to the Fonte Nuova “bottino”, not far from the Relais degli Angeli, and to a section of the Fonte Gaia “bottino”, which supplies the fountain in Piazza del Campo. The Fonte Gaia tunnels also run underneath the Hotel Italia. Indeed, proof of this is provided by the existence of a covered well, now no longer visible, in the hotel car-park, together with a plaque that reads: “Fonte Gaia, Bottino maestro”. An evocative walk through the “bottini” enhances any visit to Siena, revealing the secret heart of the old city. Tours of the “bottini” must be booked in advance, and visitors should wear warm clothing and non-slip shoes (or boots, in the event of high water). If you book a room near the “bottini”, you will be able to change clothes easily before and after your visit.