Climbing the Torre Mangia at 67

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 first glance of the stairs tells you what you are in for and hints at just how hard it will be to come back down without handrails.  

More than once I pondered the wisdom of attempting the climb.Just when I doubted I could make it, the top was in sight.  

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.

This is a view out onto one of the town walls.  

And here is the fountain in the Campo below.  

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.  

Coming back down was a bit more challenging than climbing up as the stone steps are very slick with the wear of centuries of shoes.  This is the view down the wooden steps at the very top.

And with rubbery legs from the climb and descent, here I celebrate surviving the experience with a little gelato in the Campo — limone and ciocolata my daily gelato fix. 

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This entry was posted in Italy, Medieval Towns, Siena, Tuscany. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Climbing the Torre Mangia at 67

  1. Carolyn Vincelli says:

    I’m impressed with your climbing skills!!! With artificial knees, a little claustrophobia and fear of heights, I think I’ll pass! Thanks a million for your birdseye view!! My biggest challenge will be deciding on what shoes to wear-yours look comfy!
    Ciao,
    Carolyn

    • Janet says:

      If this climb is too much and it would be for me now I think at 70, the bird’s eye view from the old Cathedral wall accessed through the museum would be a good alternative. The access is on one of the upper floors of the museum and there is limited climbing to get to the top and have a great rooftop view over Siena. I think there is about one floors worth of stairs as I recall.

      Have a great trip.

      j

  2. Jerry and Stelly Hofelt says:

    Your pictures reminded me of the time we sat in the Campo drinking wine and people watching while we did laundry around the corner. Siena was a must see, since I had attended St. Catherine of Sienna school in Metairie, LA. We love Italy and have been there four times.. Will be in France for two months for the first time since our traveling to Europe bug bit us in 2007. We know we can’t see it all but we will give it our best shot. Hopefully we can say like my favorite aunt used to say “The world don’ t owe me nothing” when we are laid to rest.

  3. Janet says:

    We have twice had nightcaps on the Campo under a full moon. Such a romantic city. We did a month in Italy when I retired including that last climb of the Torre Mangia but have done most of our travel in France since then. Happy travels.

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