I first climbed the Torre Mangia over 25 years ago and remember the powerful experience of slippery ancient stone steps, low ceilings, the coolness of the stone, the heat of the sun coming through the ventilation slits and the challenge of squeezing by someone coming down as I climbed the 400 steps to the top.
Torre del Mangia means tower of the eater and is named for its first guardian who apparently frittered away his money on the local taverns and restaurants. It is an imposing sight, high above the Campo, Siena’s stunning town square. The Tower was built in the early 14th century adjacent to the town hall and its height equals that of the Duomo — as a statement of the equality of church and state in old Siena.
People have been climbing these stairs for nearly 700 years. After my first climb I read a short story about a blind man climbing the tower and the sensations of worn stone beneath his feat, the heat and cold, the breezes at the top — although I have searched I haven’t been able to find the story again.
It is a fair climb just to the ticket office where you are required to divest yourself of everything except cameras — bags, water bottles, everything goes into a locker. The passageway is often so narrow that two people could not squeeze by each other; they have to wait for a corner to squeeze into. The climb costs 8 Euro — you can buy a combo ticket to the town hall/museum for 13.
The views are magnificent. Here is one looking out to the Duomo — my favorite church in the universe. Note the sort of hunk of wall in the top middle of the picture opposite the duomo; this is the remains of an attempt to enlarge the Cathedral in the 14th century. It was scuttled by the plague which nearly wiped out Siena (the population didn’t recover till the 19th century) and a bad architect (nepotism.) Today you can climb atop this wall from the museum and it is another birds eye vantage point for Siena; it is not as good as the Torre Mangia but very easy to access without the 400 narrow steps of the Torre.
And finally the view down onto the Campo. This is the loveliest town square in Italy. Ed and I have had drinks under a full moon on the Campo on two previous trips. A truly dramatic and romantic spot. You can see here where stone posts separate the brick paving of the square from a sort of road around the edges. During the Palio, the twice annual competition of the Contrada, horses representing the divisions of Siena race around this track which is packed with dirt for the occasion. Of course the cafes that normally occupy this space are removed for the races. We avoid the Palio itself but almost every time we have visited Siena there have been Contrada events. We were once relaxing in the Campo when they conducted the draws for which Contrada are allowed to compete; the track is small so a limited number of town divisions compete each time. There are two races a year in July and August. They draw in the town hall and stick flags representing the Contrada through windows on the facade to announce which have been picked to run.