2.5 On the Francigena urbana


A love story

Via dei Montanini is one of the most elegant streets of the city, featuring a dense series of 16th and 18th century buildings. Immediately at the beginning, at number 12, is the Torre dei Montanini which was part of the disappeared medieval castle. For those in search of stories, the name Montanini immediately suggests one, that of Angelica. History that in the fifteenth century became a fortunate literary topos , thus knowing different versions. The event which inspired it is set in Siena in the fourteenth century and features Anselmo Salimbeni and the two brothers Angelica and Carlo Montanini. Angelica loves Anselmo, who is also a friend of his brother Carlo. The two families, on the other hand, are separated by an ancestral enmity, and when the Salimbeni brothers are in serious difficulty because of the family’s economic collapse, there will immediately be those who, hatred and profiteering, will try to seize their last property. With an unexpected gesture, Anselmo Salimbeni will resolve the situation. In short, a story like Giulietta and Romeo, but with a happy ending.

House of Ludovico Sergardi

Further on, at number 118, a plaque recalls the “domestiche mura” of Ludovico Sergardi (1660- 1726) who, under the pseudonym of Quinto Settano, was an appreciated poet of Latin satires in the style of Horace and Juvenal. The fourteen composites written in 1694 against the Roman society of the time have remained famous. Memorable The conversation of the ladies of Rome, an imaginary dialogue between the talking statues Pasquino and Marforio , that exposed the hypocrisy of the clergy and the papal aristocracy. 

Il Senesino

After crossing via Montanini, until the road splits into via di Camollia and via Garibaldi, we find Largo Francesco Bernardi called “Il Senesino” (1686-1758). An elusive singer who achieved a reputation equal to that of his colleague Farinelli. Bernardi lived in the building now marked by the number 109 in via Montanini (the original architecture of the building is clearly visible from the back gardens of the Lizza). We are in the eighteenth century, and it was not surprising that such a cruel action as that of castration could be done. A child who distinguished himself in singing with his angelic voice was discovered, and before puberty he was emasculated so that, reduced to a sort of “singing machine”, he could be used, even as an adult, in operas and musical compositions. It was a predominantly Italian practice that lasted until the early twentieth century, when it was declared illegal. The emasculated, also called “fourth voice” (after, that is, the white, male and female voices) found their maximum popularity in the eighteenth-century opera. They could in fact be used to represent unreal and idealized characters, taken from mythology or from a distant history (such as, for example, the Roman one). Some of them became a real star celebrated in theatres all over Europe, as happened, in fact, to Francesco Bernardi known as the Senesino, son of a barber from Siena. His celebrity surpassed Italian borders, to the point that (not immune from morbid curiosity) foreign travelers passing through Siena recorded in their diary the exceptional circumstance of having been able to meet him or see him just briefly. The singing skills of the barber’s son were revealed in 1695, when, at the age of nine, he joined the Cathedral choir.

As soon as he was thirteen years old, he was castrated, and continued to study singing and, in his early twenties, made his debut in the theatres of Rome and Venice. The critics immediately stressed his sloppy acting (also due to an imposing physique) which, however, found relief in the qualities of the voice. Of a performance made in Naples in 1715, the theatrical entrepreneur Zambeccari said: «Senesino continues to move around the scene rather poorly; he stands upright like a statue and when by chance he makes some gestures, he chooses just the opposite of what would be required». But it seems that the bad criticism of Zambeccari was so malicious that he had failed to put the Sienese singer under contract. A few years later the composer Johann Joachim Quantz, who had listened to him in Dresden in Lotti’s Theophanes would have made the following a judgment on the Senesino: «A powerful, clear, even, sweet alto voice with perfect intonation and an excellent vibrato . His singing was admirable and his elocution incomparable. He sang the cheerful with great focus and made rapid chest twirls with an articulated and pleasant technique. His posture was suited to the stage, and his acting natural and noble. To these qualities he combined an imposing and majestic figure; but his appearance and posture made him more suited to the part of the hero than to that of the lover». The fame of Francesco Bernardi had soon reached a European dimension. In 1717 he had found himself in the service of the court of Dresden (an important European center of Italian opera) with a contract as first soprano and a salary of 7,000 thalers. Following a disagreement with the court composer Johann Heinichen ( Bernardi’s reaction was called “crude righteous stroke”), he resigned, but was immediately recruited by George Frederich Handel, who had heard him at the court of Saxony. Handel was looking for Italian singers for the Royal Academy of Music in London and was positively impressed by the Senesino who, therefore, rushed to hire with an initial salary of £500 per season.

A figure which, it is said, came to as much as 3,000 guineas a year. A person with culture, a refined collector of art and rare books, he stayed in London for sixteen years, frequenting high society and making friends with personalities such as the Duke of Chandos, Lord Burlington and the painter William Kent. Although he had sung in about twenty or so Handelian operas, his relationship with the English composer was always turbulent. The pinnacle of contrasts was reached when, in 1733, Senesino, in disdain to Handel, switched to competition, going on to sing at the Opera of the Nobility. Here took place the artistic encounter with the even more famous evirate in the history of music, Farinelli, in the performance of the Artaserse, dramma per musica in three acts by Pietro Metastasio. There is a fascinating anecdote narrated by musicologist Charles Burney: «Senesino had the part of a cruel tyrant, and Farinelli that of an unfortunate hero in chains; but, during the first act, the prisoner so softened the tyrant’s heart with his singing that Senesino, forgetting his character, ran towards Farinelli and embraced him».

Bernardi definitively abandoned the London stages in 1736. He returned to Italy and in 1740 ended his career singing at the San Carlo in Naples in Nicola Porpora’s Il trionfo di Camillo . The castrates’ period was already in decline, that way of singing was considered to be outdated. Francesco Bernardi – it must be said – did not make a drama out of it. He had earned enough money to live like a lord. He returned to Siena and settled in a luxurious house fully furnished in English style, with a colored servant, a monkey and a parrot. He spent the rest of his days as an eccentric and in perpetual dispute with relatives. The nephew Giuseppe knew something about it, and in order to obtain the inheritance he had to submit to all the tantrums and high-pitched cries of his uncle. 

Fontegiusta and Christopher Columbus 

Continuing along Via Camollia, urban stretch of the ancient Via Francigena. A path, this one too, that preserves various traces of history, curiosities, artistic testimonies. As for curiosity, it may be singular the plaque placed on the building at number 6 where (we are in the year 1618) warning not to dump in improper places rubble, debris and waste. And since it was known that the perpetrators of such an act of incivility were not primarily the material executors, but their masters, the latter would receive the most onerous fine. The Via di Camollia continues beyond the crossroads. At number 85 we find the old gothic plant house that belonged to the Chigi Saracini family. Here stayed Arrigo Boito (1842-1918), writer, music critic, librettist (he wrote for Giuseppe Verdi the librettos of Otello and Falstaff). Boito was a guest of Count Guido Chigi Saracini (1880-1967), a great patron of music and founder of the prestigious Chigiana Music Academy. Further ahead on the right, on the corner with the Paparoni coast, the Romanesque remains of the Bandinelli family palace are worth noting. It seems that the Bandinelli family would have been nicknamed “paparoni” when, in 1159, a member of the family, Rolando, became pope bearing the name of Alexander III.





Church of Santa Maria in Portico

Opposite the Paparoni coast, a large 16th century arch leads down to the church of Santa Maria in Portico at Fontegiusta. On the arch we read the dedication to Our Lady that «overflows from an inexhaustible source of piety and your children here raise a righteous monument in the year of the Lord 1589». The church, in Renaissance style, was built between 1479 and 1484 to celebrate the victory of the Sienese over the Florentines in the battle of Poggio Imperiale (1479). The dedication alludes to the fact that in the construction was incorporated the porch of the office of the duty in which was located the Madonna of Fontegiusta (nearby there was a spring called in this way). The sacred image, thirteenth-century work (perhaps by Lippo Vanni) is now on the main altar inside a tabernacle in the shape of a carved temple (1509-1517) from Lorenzo di Mariano called the Marrina (the Pieta in bezel is Michele Cioli from Settignano). Hence close to the city walls, the building had to extend its three naves mainly in width. The reliefs on the facade (Madonna with Child and Angels) are attributed to John of Stephen (1444-1511) sculptor and painter, son of the Sassetta. The works of art contained inside it are mainly Marian-themed. Guidoccio Cozzarelli (1450-1517) is credited with drawing the stained glass window depicting Madonna with the Child between the saints Bernardino and Caterina da Siena. In the arch to the right of the entrance, Visitation by Bartolomeo Neroni called Il Riccio (1505-1571); in the corner a fifteenth-century bronze foot of John of the Bombards. At the arch of the right aisle, Jesus, Mary and two saints, canvas by Francesco Vanni; at the right altar Coronation of Mary and four saints by Bernardino Fungai (1460- 1516).

At the main altar, in addition to the already remembered Madonna di Fontegiusta, the fresco above shows theAssumption of Mary by Welcome Jerome (1515). To the right of the altar, the Blessed Ambrogio Sansedoni begging for the city of Siena, canvas by Francesco Vanni (1590). On the left, next to the side door, a bronze holy-water font by Giovanni delle Bombarde (1430). At the next arch, the Sibyl announcing to Augustus the birth of the Redeemer, fresco by Daniel da Volterra; in the corner a San Sebastiano, repainted wooden statue around 400. At the last arch, The plague in Siena of El Riccio. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/1515 The small museum located in the sacristy with relics that are said to have belonged to Christopher Columbus, including a whale bone that the navigator donated to the church of Fontegiusta as a votive offering for the successful discovery of the New World. As for Columbus’ ties to Siena, some believe that he may have been a student at the University of Siena. And to enrich the legend, there are even those who have gone so far as to suppose that he was engaged to a beautiful girl from Camollia during his university studies.

Women who succeeded in business 

We leave the church by turning to the right along its side to find ourselves at the end of the alley of Malizia and then at the Arch of Fontegiusta, Arch of Fontegiusta, built in the twentieth century. Passing it you can see, at the apse of the church, the pre-existing gateway into the ancient walls, la porta di Pescaia. Continuing to the right towards via Biagio di Montluc along the city walls until you find the remains of a fortification known as Fortino delle donne senesi. It must be remembered that we are in the northernmost part of the ancient city, the one facing Florence, which, for defensive reasons, was also the most fortified. For example, around 1270, beyond the Camollia Gate, an imposing defensive gateway had been erected, just in advanced defense of the city on the north side (it is still visible at the end of the viale Victor Emmanuel II). In short, this was the front that had to be protected the most, as was also seen in the circumstances of the battle of Camollia (1526) which was miraculously won against the Florentine and papal troops. So in 1527 the Sienese Republic commissioned Baldassarre Peruzzi, a renowned military architect, to do so, the construction of a further fortification close to the walls: this one in front of the remains of which we find ourselves, finished in 1532. As for the denomination of Fortino delle donne senesi, history and mythology of its events once again are overlapped. At the time of the siege of Siena in 1555, commanded the French troops, sent to the city’s rescue, Marshal Blaise de Monluc (the road we are on is named after him, even though Montluc’s handwriting is inaccurate). The generous marshal of France, though not too prone to literary undertakings, had to write in his Commentaires epic pages in which he praises the Sienese women for the value they demonstrated during the siege that led to the fall of the Republic of Siena. Monluc had promised: «It shall never be (you Ladies of Sienna) that I will not immortalize your names so long as the Book of Montluc shall live; for in truth you are worthy of immortal praise, if ever women were»  Faithful to his commitment, he praised the deeds of the Sienese heroines: «When this people made the noble decision to defend their freedom, all the ladies of the city of Siena were divided into three groups: the first was led by Mrs. Forteguerri who wore a violet dress like all those who followed her; her short dress, similar to that of a nymph, left her ankle boots uncovered. The second was Mrs. Piccolomini, dressed in a satin complexion, and her group had the same coloring; the third, Mrs. Livia Fausti, was dressed all in white as her followers, and had a white sign. On their flags there were fine mottos; who knows what I shall give to remember them. These three teams were composed of three thousand women, both noble and bourgeois; their weapons were picks, shovels, baskets and faggots. It was on this estate that they paraded on their way to begin the fortifications. The lord of Thermes, who has often told me about it (I hadn’t arrived yet), assured me that he had never seen anything as beautiful as that in his life. It wasn’t until later that I saw their teams. They had composed a song in honor of France that they sang as they went to their fort; I would give my best horse to get it and to transcribe it here». That’s why the story has been spread that this fortification was built by Sienese women; even if, as the documents attest, the structure had been finished more than twenty years earlier than the events narrated by Monluc, and, obviously, by masons and specialized workers. But the French commander’s story is the one that, understandably, has made the most breakthrough in the collective imagination, to the point of reflecting on several literary pages. The poet Enrico Panzacchi, based on monluc’s comments , writes in the poem Donne di Siena: «In order to remember a song of yours / which one day led the city’s husbands in great strife / of the city on the oppressed rampart, / women of Siena, a French knight / he wished in a polite spirit / to be able to give his best horse». And again Giovanni Marradi: «[…] On the ground the trenches fell here, / immortal glory / of heroic women who rise up to her singing, / singing in defiance of a war song / to which the steel around the ducal innkeeper / immovably responds by cannonading». To reach the popular Ballad of the siege of Siena by Manfredo Vanni: «Good women of Siena! / In the quick suits, / With limestone, stones and kidney / They labor at the walls […]». In truth, to turn poetry into prose, there are some accounting records that document how the fort was actually named “of the Sienese women” from its beginning, however, because it was financed with the proceeds from the taxes that the whores had to pay for the exercise of the profession. This does not take anything away from the courage and self-sacrifice of the Sienese women, truly demonstrated in the dramatic circumstances of the siege of 1555; to the point of suffering the cruel measure of the so-called “useless mouths”, when, not having enough to feed the entire population, they were expelled from the city – left behind outside the walls – women, children, old people, the disabled, the poor, foreigners, farmers, refugees and prostitutes. That is, all those deemed unfit to fight and, therefore, mouths to be unproductively nourished. 





Cor magis tibi Sena pandit 

Taking via Montluc you reach Porta Camollia. For those who came from the north it was the gate that entered the stretch of the Francigena urbana. Built in the thirteenth century, and after centuries of assaults and gunfire, it was rebuilt in 1604 according to a design by Alessandro Casolani. In the arch one can read the famous phrase: “Cor magis tibi Sena pandit”, that is, to say that «Siena, wider (than this door), opens its heart to you».  With a fair dose of hypocrisy, the motto was sculpted up there for the arrival in Siena of the unloved Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand I. Since then – but with a more sincere spirit – it was decided that the epigraph should sound as a welcome greeting to the stranger who enters the city through this entrance. 

Passing the gate, and turning right along the walls, is via Malta. After a stretch, we find a gate beyond which, once upon a time, the road continued until the Pescaia gate, then closed.

Church of the Magione

Bend left to reach the church of  San Pietro alla Magione. A very old church, documented from before the year one thousand, belonged to the Knights Templar who had also built a hospice for pilgrims here (a mansion, in fact). At the beginning of the 14th century, with the suppression of the Templars, the Knights of Malta took over and continued their hospital and reception activities. Next to the apsis is the typical sail-shaped bell tower of the Templar mansions. The entrance to the church is on Via Camollia, from where you can see the stone facade conceived in a romantic style (12th or 13th century) with a Gothic portal of the 14th century. Some Templar crosses are walled up on the building. On the right side is a Renaissance chapel in terracotta. The interior, with a single nave, is embraced in an austere semi-shade which induces meditation and silence. Fragments of monochrome frescoes (Crucifixion and Biblical Stories) of Bindoccio Christopher and Meo of Pero, dated at the end of the 13th century and from the ancient hospice, can be seen. Next to the high altar, a Gothic niche from the second half of the fourteenth century. In the chapel on the right, there is a Madonna and Child by Bartolomeo Neroni known asil Riccio (16th century), the with Saints John the Baptist and Peter by Diego Pesco(1760) and two 17th century paintings depicting Saint Hugh and the martyrdom of Saint Donnino. 





A Brilliant Man

Leaving the church, at number 168, it is listed the House of Baldassarre Peruzzi (1481-1536). He was considered ‘universal man’ for his work in various fields (architect, painter , set designer , architectural scholar, military engineer). Encouraged and sponsored by his influential fellow-citizen Agostino Chigi (papal banker), Peruzzi, from 1503 onwards, lived mainly in Rome, where he was able to accomplish important works. Among the most famous, the villa on the Tiber commissioned by Agostino Chigi himself, later known as Villa Farnesina. The sumptuous residence of the Chigi gave its architect great notoriety. The name of Peruzzi began to spread and to impose itself in cultural circles, facilitated also by the fact that, once the masonry work on the villa was completed, Raphael and the main artists of the time were engaged in an exceptional fresco campaign. Since then – and not only in Rome – many were the clients for the Sienese architect. In 1520, on Raphaelo’s death, he took over the construction of the Church of Sant’Eligio degli Orefici. He also assumed the role of coadjutor of the factory of San Pietro, which until then had been Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane. Peruzzi’s brilliance, his continuous search for innovative architectural solutions, his desire to experiment, are documented in numerous studies and drawings. As in the project for the completion of basilica di San Pietro, where, contrary to Raphaelo, he assumed a church with a central plan. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/1520 In 1527, during the sacking of Rome by the Lansquenets, Peruzzi was taken prisoner. Upon payment of a redemption, he managed to be freed and returned to Siena where he became architect of the Republic. He was hired for the Duomo site and worked on numerous other civil, religious and military buildings. As we mentioned in connection with the Fortino of Women, he designed several structures to consolidate the fortifications of the city. Precisely in this sector, Peruzzi distinguished itself for a new concept of Fortification that took into account ‘modern’ firearms, changes in military strategies and, consequently, in defense techniques. Despite his many assignments in Siena, after a few years he wanted to return to Rome. He resumed working as architect of the St. Peter’s factory and was able to fully express his experimentalist passion in the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, considered his masterpiece and one of the most significant examples of Mannerism. Vasari recounts that Peruzzi died old, in poverty and with a large family to support. It also suggests the suspicion that the death was caused by poisoning, killed by someone who had a strong professional envy towards him. He was buried in the Pantheon, not far from his master Raffaello. 




Boccaccio in Camollia 

We end our walk with a smile. In one of the Sienese setting novels of Decameron (the eighth novella of the eighth day) Boccaccio liked to imagine that the protagonists, Spinelloccio Tavena and Zeppa di Mino, were two young friends living in the Camollia district. Here, in short, is the boccaccesca incident. Spinelloccio is a frequent visitor to the house of Zeppa, especially when his friend is not there, so he can have fun with his wife. It had been going on for a long time, until one day the cornified man discovered the affair and told his wife that he was willing to forgive her as long as she collaborated in a plan of revenge against his friend. The wife agreed. So – this is the brutal plan of revenge – the next day she invites Spinelloccio home, who takes the bait quietly and happily because, in the meantime, Zeppa had made him believe that just tomorrow he was going to eat at a friend’s house. While the two lovers are cheering each other on in the bedroom, Zeppa breaks into the house, so that his wife – always according to plan – locks her lover in a coffin. At this point Zeppa tells his wife to invite Spinelloccio’s wife to lunch, who gladly accepts the invitation knowing that her husband (this was the excuse that had given her) was eating with a friend. After the three had dinner, Zeppa closes herself in the room with Spinelloccio’s wife and tells her about the betrayal of her husband, she owns it right on the bench where the cheater is locked up. So, in the presence of Spinelloccio’s bride, Zeppa lets his wife in and orders her to open the coffin. Spinelloccio comes out and, declaring himself repentant for his behavior, proposes to save their friendship with the most satisfying solution for both of them: sharing wives. Zeppa thinks is a good compromise. 


Produced by: toscanalibri.it
Texts edited by: Luigi Oliveto
Editorial coordination: Elisa Boniello e Laura Modafferi
Photos: Archivio Comune di Siena
Graphic design: Michela Bracciali

I Comuni di Terre di Siena