The Fountain of Fontebranda in Siena is a treasure that is often overlooked by visitors to the city. Siena is located in western Tuscany, without a nearby river to provide water for its citizens. This scarcity of water meant that they relied on the construction of underground reservoirs for the collection of water during the Middle Ages. The Fountain of Fontebranda is the result of brilliant Middle Ages engineering that continues to partially provide water for Siena to this day. This functional and beautiful solution for overcoming the area’s difficulties in terms of a water supply is not to be missed during a visit to Siena.
The fountain once provided the entire city of Siena with water. Fontebranda was mentioned as early as 1081 and was cited by Dante in the Divine Comedy in the 30th canto of the Inferno. The fountain was originally constructed with a succession of three basins. The first contained water for drinking. The second was for the watering of livestock and the third was used as a public place for laundering clothes. Fontebranda was important not only as a source of water for Siena’s citizens, but also for its craftsmen, particularly the tanners and members of the Wool Guild. The fountain is historically important as an example of Etruscan ingenuity, but it also has religious significance.
Fontebranda is linked to the birthplace of Saint Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine’s childhood home was less than one hundred meters from the fountain’s water source. It is said that her family washed the house linens in its waters. The fountain was rebuilt in 1246, right under the Basilica of San Domenico, also known as St. Catherine’s Cathedral.
Today, it is more possible than ever to enjoy Fontebranda. A leisurely walk through the tunnels gives one views of the beautiful brick and travertine walls of the fountain. An escalator provides easy access to St. Catherine’s Cathedral from the area of the fountain, which is located underneath the Cathedral.
The Fountain of Fontebranda is not to be missed during a visit to Siena. Tuscan Muse hosts tours in Tuscany and creative workshops in Tuscany. Typically, Siena is included on our itineraries as a must see “Tuscan Jewel”. Join us in Tuscany!