Siena and the Never-found-River legend. Built on top of three hills, far away from natural sources of water (lakes or rivers), the choice of Siena’s location is an unusual one to start with. The majority of rich towns were built near water, think of famous ones!
On one hand this allowed Siena to defend itself better from enemies, however, on the other hand, the choice for this location caused many difficulties to its inhabitants.
The need for water and the continuous search for it, is something unique and characteristic for this beautiful city.
The more you visit the town and know about its history, the more you see how central to Siena’s life water, or the need of it, had always been.
Throughout the years, many people claimed to have heard, when walking in quiet areas of the town, the sound of running water beneath the ground . Even my grandfather mentioned it to me.
According to a medieval legend, a river of the purest water once flowed under the city of Siena. The claim and the legend became so widespread, that Siena ‘s Government was determined to find it . For a long time Siena searched for the mysterious river, but every attempt failed. They even gave a name to the ghost river: la Diana
And so the legend of ‘The Diana River’ was born and great works carried out all over Siena in the search for it.
Experts were brought to Siena to listen for themselves for the sound of a large flowing river beneath the city. However, in spite of the long research, the Diana has never been found while a great flow of money (not water) came out of the pockets of the citizens, so much that it was even ironically mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his famous ‘Divina Commedia’!
Eventually most people gave up searching for it: the Diana River was (maybe) a legend but the need for water for Siena was real.
The end of the search
The solution was found in the 13th century when the construction of a unique underground system was decided in order to provide water to the population. The innovative idea was based on collecting dripping water filtered through the sandstone rocks that the city was built on.
The result was an aqueduct (1342) made up of 25 Km of tunnels and passages with “botte “ vaults, and therefore called BOTTINI. The system finally brought water to the whole city and the many fountains of Siena.
The bottini were always kept in perfect conditions to transport water. Emperor Charles V, after a visit, said that Siena was formed by two equally beautiful cities, one above and one underground with water flowing.
Finally it is like if Siena had its own hidden river: it that cannot be seen, only heard!