Florence and Siena have been longtime rivals since the Middle Ages, and this rivalry has led to great artistic achievements in both cities. This should certainly please travelers, who have the opportunity to see both gems of world art almost “in one sitting. Is Siena really more beautiful than Florence, you can tell only after visiting there.
Siena – a city in Italy, one of the largest tourist centers of the country, the administrative center of the province of the same name.
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Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, Siena is located in the northern part of the Crete Senese, an area where low, rounded hills are bathed in rays of warm golden light. One of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany, Siena stands on three hills connected by a labyrinth of intricate streets and steep alleys. The stunning cobblestone Piazza del Campo is at the center of the city, along with the majestic cathedral. Siena is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, so the ancient city has a lively atmosphere and bustling life.
There are no neighborhoods in Siena, only the “city thirds”. The main streets intersect at Croce del Travaglia next to Piazza del Campo, to the south is Terzo di Citta with Via di Citta and places around the Cathedral, which stands at the highest point of the city, to the north is Terzo di Camollia with Via Banchi dip Sopra and its elegant palazzo, to the east is Terzo di San Martino with Via Banchi di Sotto.
The city was founded as a hilltop Etruscan settlement, but by A.D. 30 the Romans had established a military outpost here. In the 6th century the Lombards came, followed by the Franks. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries, the church played an important role in governing the city, but soon the townspeople claimed the right to conduct their affairs.
The wealth and military power of the city grew rapidly, and serious disagreements arose between Siena and Florence as both cities sought to expand their territory. Many battles took place between these cities and finally Siena became part of the Florentine state. Despite the turbulent times, in 1150-1300 the city flourished, and many masterpieces of urban architecture were built, in particular the Cathedral of Siena. However in 1348 Siena was hit by the plague which killed three fifths of the population and it took a long time for the city to recover.
Piazza del Campo
The heart of the city is the semicircular Piazza del Campo, a square shaped like half a bowl; it spreads out in front of the powerful palazzo Pubblico building, together they form one of the city’s most beautiful ensembles. The marble Fonte Gaia at the north end of the square is a copy of Jacopo della Quercia’s masterpiece; the original is in the Palazzo Pubblico.
The Palazzo Pubblico, a majestic Gothic building in brick and travertine, was built in 1297-1310, the upper floor of a low annex appeared only in 1680. On the side at 102 m. the Torre del Mancha, built in 1338-1348, was built as a majestic fortress. On the side is the 102 m high Torre del Mancha, built between 1338 and 1348. At the base of the tower is the loggia-shaped Chapel di Piazza built in 1352 after the big plague, later reworked in Renaissance style. The halls of the Palazzo Pubblico are decorated with frescoes by masters of the Sienese school, which reflect the attitudes of the citizens of the XIV and XV centuries. One of the most moving examples can be seen in the Sala della Pace: the fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti “The consequences of good and bad government”, taken as a meaningful allusion to Siena. In the Sala del Mappamondo there are two frescoes by Simone Martini, painted in 1315 or 1330. On the second and third floor of the Museo Civico are drawings, paintings and documents related to the history of the city, on the fourth floor there is a gallery with the original sculptures of Fonte Gaia.
Loggia della Mercanzi
From the northwestern part of the Campo, the steps lead to the Loggia della Mercancia, built between 1428 and 14444 as an ancient commercial courthouse. Near Croce del Travaglio, the city’s main shopping and tourist streets intersect.
On the east side of the Piazza di Campo faces Palazzo Piccolomini, perhaps the most beautiful Renaissance palace in the city. It was built in 1469 by Nanni Piccolomini, father of Pope Pius III. Today it houses the city archives, which include manuscripts of Dante and St. Catherine of Siena, and a collection of “tavole di biccherna”, the wooden covers of the cost books, kept since the 13th century.
Baptistery of San Giovanni
From Piazza del Campo along Via Dei Pellegrini you can walk to the Palazzo del Magnifico, built by Pandolfo Petrucci, ruler of the city, and from there to the cathedral area. From the little Piazza San Giovanni you can see the high choir of the cathedral, which since the XIV century towers over the baptistery of San Giovanni – unfortunately, its beautiful façade remains unfinished. Inside the baptistery there are frescoes of 1450 and a work of 1417-1430 by Jacopo della Quercia. Jacopo della Quercia’s baptismal font, whose bronze reliefs were made by Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti.
From the baptistery you must return to the Cathedral Square, the highest place in the city. First you will find yourself in the place where the central nave of the new cathedral was to be located. In 1339 it was decided to enlarge the Cathedral, which would have made it the largest Gothic building in Italy, but due to mistakes of the builders and after the plague of 1348 the rebuilding was cancelled.
The current cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is one of the most impressive religious buildings in Italy; its construction began in the mid-12th century and was completed in 1264 with the dome on a quadrangular base; around 1317 the choir above the baptistery was enlarged. In 1284-1298 Giovanni Pisano executed the church of the Holy Trinity. Giovanni Pisano executed the lower part of the facade in red, black and white marble, and in 1376-1380 the upper part. – the upper part. The richly sculpted decoration was mostly renewed in 1869, the mosaics were realized only in 1877. The bell tower looks very elegant thanks to the darker inlays and arcades, which increase in number from bottom to top.
The interior of the cathedral makes an unusual impression because of the alternating slabs of black and white marble. The marble floor with fifty-six inlaid images of scenes from the creation of the world to the crucifixion of Christ, created between 1369 and 1547 by more than forty artists, is absolutely unique. Unfortunately, in order to preserve the floor, it is almost always closed and can only be seen on feast days and from late August to early October. On the main cornice of the central nave are one hundred and seventy-two terracotta busts depicting popes, as well as thirty-six medallions with portraits of Holy Roman Emperors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. An outstanding work of art is the white marble pulpit, decorated with beautiful relief representations of scenes from the New Testament, created between 1266 and 1268 by Nicolo Nisano. Nicolo Nizano. The large central altar is the work of Baldassare Peruzzi.
We should also pay attention to the late Gothic pews of the choir. On the left transept, the Chapel of John the Baptist with frescos by Pinturicchio, the portal by Marrin and the bronze statue of John the Baptist by Donatello should be seen. In the moral transept is the Cappella Chigi, which was designed by Bernini in 1059-1662 and had a Baroque appearance.
From the left aisle one can enter the cathedral’s famous library, one of the most beautiful and well-preserved Renaissance creations. It was built in 1492 by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, later Pope Pius III, in memory of his relative Enea Silvio Piccolomini, known as Pope Pius II. Later, between 1502 and 1509, the library was painted with colorful frescoes by Pieturicchio and his students depicting scenes from Piccolomini’s life. The wall of the Libreria is a masterpiece of decorative plastics by Lorenzo di Mariano.
In the side aisle of the cathedral, the same one that was once planned to be rebuilt, the cathedral museum displays Duccio di Buonicegni’s famous Maesta and Pietro Lorenzetti’s Nativity of the Madonna. The Archbishop’s Palace to the left of the cathedral is an early example of the historic style in architecture. Directly opposite is the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala. The pilgrim hall (you must sign up in advance to see it) is decorated with frescoes by D. di Bartolo, 1440-1443, depicting nuns caring for the sick. The left wing houses the National Archaeological Museum.
South-east of the cathedral is the Palazzo Buonsignori, a brick building from the beginning of the 15th century, there is the National Pinacoteca, which displays a remarkable collection of Sienese paintings of the 12th and 16th centuries. The best of the works on display are by Guido da Siena, Duccio di Buonicegni, Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti, Simone Martini, Giovanni di Paolo, Pieturicchio and Lombardy-born Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, nicknamed Sodoma.
Via di Citta
On the Via di Citta below the cathedral are the Palazzo Piccolo delle Papesse, destined to Caterina Piccolomini, sister of Pius II, and erected around 1320. Palazzo Chigi Saracini, today home to the Accademia Musicale Chigiana. The Magnanelli grocery (n. 71-73), founded in 1879 as a fine delicatessen, has a different kind of attraction.
The House of St. Catherine
On the Via Santa Caterina stands the house where St. Catherine of Siena was born and the chapel erected three years after her canonization in 1464. This saint, who had mystical visions all her life, was the twenty-fifth child of the dyer Benincasa; it was she who succeeded in getting Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome in 1377 from the captivity of Avignon.
Church of San Domenico
At the west end of Siena rises the fortress-like church of San Domenico, a brick building with a crenellated bell tower. In the chapel to the right of the entrance is a fresco painted in 1380 by Andrea Vanni, the only true depiction of St. Catherine. At the wall of the right aisle is the entrance to St. Catherine’s Chapel, where one can see frescos by Sodoma around 1526. In the marble monstrance of 1466 rests the head of the saint. The main altar is decorated with a canopy and two angels by Benedetto da Maiano.
Fort Santa Barbara
From San Domenico along the Viale dei Mille you can reach Forte Santa Barbara, built in 1560 by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici; there is now an open-air theater. At the Enoteca Italiana you can walk through the snack bar to the terrace and also enjoy the views of the Italian vineyards.
With the exception of a few streets, no private vehicles are allowed in Siena – which, of course, does not mean there are no cars in the city at all! Buses arrive in Piazza San Domenico; drivers must follow traffic signs and leave their cars in places designated for parking, or in parking lots along the city walls. The station is located outside the walls of the old town, about 2 km from the center.
The biggest and most expensive stores can be found on Via di Citta and Via dei Banci di sopra, such as Drogheria Manganelli (Via di Citta, 71-73), where since 1879 all sorts of pastries, including the famous panforte (Siena fruit cake), have been baked. The Nannini dynasty is the king of cafes and pastry shops in Siena. So any newcomer must visit at least one of their bars or cafes. The real wonders of pastry art can be found in the Conca d’Oro (Via Banci di Sopra 24), also owned by the Nannini. Those who want to buy wine should visit the Enoteca Italiano in Piazza Matteotti (30) or the Forte di Santa Barbara. Beautiful accessories, especially by Alessi, can be found at Ditta Muzzn Sergio on Via dei Termini (Via dei Termini 97).
Siena offers tourists a single ticket (biglietto cumulativo) for 2 days or 7 days – more expensive but giving access to more places (Tourist Information Office).
Piazza del Campo 56, Siena; Tel: 05 77 28 05 51; Fax: 05 77 27 06 76; www.sienaturismo.it www.sienaweb.it
Twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th, Piazza del Campo hosts a paleo, a race on unbridled horses over the cobblestones with 17 city districts competing, solemn processions dressed in colorful medieval costumes, noisy bands led by drummers and waving flags. These races have been taking place for at least 500 years, but they continue an earlier tradition and are a living part of Siena’s history.
When to come
In July or August to get to the Paleo.
What to see
The surrounding area of Siena.
To the southeast of Siena lies Crete, an area covered with hills intricately rugged with erosion. It can be seen well on the road to Asciano, a beautiful town with a noteworthy Etruscan Museum.
Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey
Ten kilometres from here stands the impressive abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore founded in 1313 by the Sienese jurist Bernardo Tolomei; it is a monastery of the Olivetan order, a Benedictine congregation. The construction lasted from 1387 to 1514, the terracotta sculptures above the entrance are by Luca della Robbia, in the cloister the cycle of frescoes “Life of St. Benedict”, begun in 1497 by Luca Signorelli and finished in 1505 by Sodoma, makes a strong impression.
The village of Monteriggioni
About 10 kilometres from Siena on the road to San Gimignano on the mountain is a small village with strong fortifications. It is the small village of Monteriggioni, which attracts tourists with two great restaurants.
The town of Colle Val d’Elsa
At 10 km to the northwest is Colle Val d’Elsa, the medieval upper town of Colle Alta is decorated with a Baroque cathedral, next door is the Archeological Museum and the Palazzo dei Prairi, where the municipal museum is located, and the tower house where Arnolfo di Cambio, the first builder of the Florentine cathedral was born.
Take a tour of Siena, Italy – The Amazing Medieval Reserve
I was looking forward to seeing the beauty of Rome, Florence, and Venice. And when the tour program saw such a point of visit as “the city of Siena (Tuscany),” I just thought unhappily that it would be another waste of precious time that could be spent with much greater benefit in one of these cities.
How I was wrong! Siena was a wonderful place with a rich history and unique Italian flavor. I just did not want to leave! If I had my way, I would have loved to spend a week there, enjoying the walks through the narrow streets, built with old palazzos, and delicious coffee and ice cream in local cafes.
Siena (more precisely, its historic center) is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. According to tradition, this city was founded over 2,000 years ago by Scenius and Ascimus – the sons of Remus and nephews of Romulus respectively. Siena was the capital of the powerful Republic of Siena in the Middle Ages, but in the 16th century it was besieged by Spanish troops, which overthrew the Republic. Siena has since become a cultural backwater, with very few new buildings, so the city, better than any other Italian settlement, has managed to retain its medieval image to this day.
When you walk around Siena, you get the impression that it was built all at once, “in a couple of years. There are almost no traces of earlier times, and the buildings of later construction are not conspicuous. Typical Italian stone courtyards with greenery in pots… Narrow winding streets, over which houses literally overhang. Stepping on the paving stones, you realize that people who lived before you have stepped on the same stones for more than VII centuries… By the way, cars are usually forbidden to enter the old town, which only increases the impression of a medieval reserve.
The center of life in both Medieval and modern Siena is Piazza del Campo, a unique seashell-shaped square. While in the square you can see the town hall built in 1310 with ancient frescoes and the graceful 102-meter pink tower (Tore del Mangia) from 1348.
And here begins the most important thing – here your guide will tell you an extraordinary and interesting story! Twice a year the townspeople play out a colorful medieval performance on the square – horse races (Palio). What an unusual and fascinating history and traditions of the Palio, held annually in Siena since 1656 (!). Ten Contradas (Siena’s district teams) take part in the race. Each contrada has its own coat of arms, a rich history and mythology. A total of 17 contradas in Siena, which are named after an animal or object: Eagle, Caterpillar, Snail, Dragon, Giraffe, Wave, Panther, Turtle, etc. Walking around Siena, you will surely pay attention to the corresponding symbols of the contrada in the area of its “placement” (signs, statues, lanterns…). It’s amazing how in the 21st century the contradas have survived – these fragments of medieval life!
The races themselves, in which unsaddled horses take part, are three circles around the Piazza del Campo, each 333 meters long. Even though I wasn’t lucky enough to see the Palio, my guide gave a very vivid description of how it goes: “After a parade of the contras in medieval dress, among a huge human sea of locals and tourists, 10 riders in colorful robes appear on the piazza-shell. The races begin… They race in a dense group but then one loses his balance and falls down… The fans gasp. The Eagle rider was the first to gallop, two rivals overtook him and beat him with their thick clubs (it’s okay, this is within the rules)… The first round is behind us. What’s going on in the square! The roar of thousands of excited voices, and even the passion of soccer fans pale before the frenzy of Palio’s fans. Heads, forward. “…
Victory in Palio depends not so much on the skill of the rider or the quality of the horse (both the rider and the horse are chosen by lot), but on the diplomatic skills of the head of the contrada, who organizes reconnaissance of the opponents’ plans, and spreads rumors about the chosen tactics in order to confuse the opponents.
But the medieval square, streets and contradas are not the only attractions of Siena. The most attractive and surprising place in the city is Siena Cathedral (Duomo) – a model of Italian Gothic. Graceful, light, airy, beautiful – these are just a few of the epithets that can be awarded to this magnificent structure. The alternating bands of light and dark marble make you admire the architect and builders of the Duomo, who created this immortal creation in the XIII-XIV centuries.
If Florence is the brain of Italy, Rome the soul, Siena the heart. Not without reason one of the inscriptions above the entrance to the city reads: “More than a gate, Siena opens its heart to you”.