Siena, the city of the Palio
Siena is the city of Gothic par excellance, as well Florence is the cradle of Renaissance. It's certainly one of the most beautiful art cities in Europe, internationally renowned for its beauty and for the famous Palio of Siena.
The city of Siena has strongly maintained its identity and culture over the centuries, despite all visitors coming from all over the world. Accommodations in Siena offer comfortable rooms and apartments meeting anyone's needs.
A brief history of Siena
Legend has it that Siena was founded by Ascanius and Senius, sons of Remus founder of Rome. Suggesting this ancient relationship with Rome, Siena has the Capitoline Wolf as city's symbol together with "balzana", a black and white coat of arms.
Apart from legends, Siena was a small Etruscan village, turned into a Roman settlement called Sena Jula. After Lombards and Frankish invasions, the city turned into a self-governing comune in early 12th century prospering and growing fast. During this period the city was divided into three halves (tre terzi) Cittą, Camollia and San Martino, that still characterized the historical center.
In the Middle Ages Siena was magnificent and most of the beautiful buildings we admire today, have been built at that time, such as the Cathedral, Palazzo Pubblico and the others.
The opposition with Florence was foregone and culminated in the bloody Battle of Monteaperti on September 4th 1260, when the Sienese army won over Florentines. The conflict between Siena and Florence continued till 1555 when Siena was defeated by Florence after 18 months of resistance. It lost its independence but not its identity, becoming part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany until the unification of Italy in 1861.
What to see in Siena
Monuments, Churches and Museums
Piazza del Campo is certainly one of the most pictured and famous areas in Siena. It is renowned because it hosts the Palio horse race twice per year, but also because of the beautiful buildings on it. The Piazza has a particular shell-shape and is ideally divided into 9 parts reminding the Government of the Nove (Nine) that started its construction.
The magnificent Palazzo Pubblico overlooks over Piazza del Campo. It was built between 1298 and 1310 by the Government of Nove and is a unique work of Gothic urban architecture. Inside, the Palazzo hosts the Civic Museum displaying extraordinary works of art by Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. In the Sala del Mappamondo (Great Council Halll) there are incredible frescoes by Simone Martini depicting a beautiful Maestą and Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the siege of Montemassi. Next door, in the Sala della Pace (Hall of Nine) there is the spectacular fresco cycle by Ambrogio Lorenzetti depicting the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government.
Next to Palazzo Pubblico stands majestically Torre del Mangia. The name comes from its first guardian Giovanni di Balduccio, called Mangiaguadagni for his tendency to spend all his money in osterias. The enormous bell has a particular sound due to its imperfection. From the top of the Tower you can admire a breathtaking panorama of Piazza del Campo and of Siena. At the bottom there is the Cappella di Piazza (Square's Chapel) built as a vow related to the Black Death in 1348.
In the square there is also the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy), so called because of Sienese joy when they saw water spurting. The fountain is a great example of 15th century sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia. The original is displayed at the Complex of Santa Maria della Scala.
Walking through the narrow Costarella dei Barbieri, from where the horses of Palio enter into the Square, you reach Piazza del Duomo. Before arriving to Duomo admire Palazzo Chigi Saracini, displaying a beautiful art collection and hosting the famous Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena's conservatory, and Palazzo Piccolomini, known as Palazzo delle Papesse, example of Renaissance building opposite to the Logge del Papa (Pope's Loggia).
In Piazza del Duomo rises majestically the Duomo entitled to Santa Maria Assunta (Holy Mary of Assumption). The Duomo of Siena is a unique work of Gothic architecture in Italy, built on the ruins of a pagan temple entitled to Minerva. Built between 12th and 13th century it has a Latin cross plan with three naves and is covered with black and white marbles that are the colors of Siena coat of arms. The lower part of the facade, as well as most of the statues, was realized by Nicola Pisano and his students, while the upper part in flower Gothic style by Giovanni di Cecco. By Nicola and Giovanni Pisano are also the cupola and the bells' friar in black and white marble. Inside the Cathedral has a magnificent inlaid marble mosaic floor consisting of 56 panels that are representing the sibyls, scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues realized by more than 40 artists, as well as Beccafumi. To be noticed the two beautiful stained-glass windows, two fonts by Antonio Federighi (1462-63), the splendid octagonal pulpit by Nicola Pisano (1266-69), the St.John the Baptist by Donatello and 16th century frescoes by Pinturicchio within the Chapel of St.John the Baptist. It certainly deserves a visit the Piccolomini Library, commissioned by future Pope III Piccolomini gathering together his family books' collection. The walls are entirely frescoed by Pinturicchio. Next to it there is the Piccolomini Chapel displaying a huge altar sculpted by Andrea Bregno and other artists, such as the young Michelangelo.
In Piazza del Duomo there are also the Opera del Duomo Museum and the Complex of Santa Maria della Scala. This one was one of the first places dedicated to offer lodging and shelter to pilgrims. The large complex hosts today several museums, art collections, exhibits and events. Inside Santa Maria della Scala there are the original of the Fountain of Joy by Jacopo della Quercia, as well as a beautiful fresco cycle depicting the history of the complex and Siena Archeological Museum.
Just behind the Duomo there is the Baptistery of Saint John, built between 1315 and 1325 by Camaino di Crecentino, father of famous artist Tino di Camaino. Inside you can admire the spectacular baptismal font with bas-reliefs by great Renaissance artists such as Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia, Ghiberti.
Not too far there is the National Picture Gallery of Siena that displays incredible masterpieces of the Sienese painting from 13th to 18th century. The artworks by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti certainly stand out from the rest of the collection.
Among the most famous churches in Siena there are the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi, beautiful example of Sienese medieval architecture, and the Church of San Domenico related to Saint Catherine of Siena. Legend has it that inside the Cappella delle Volte, Saint Katherine worked miracles.
Other important monuments of Siena are Palazzo Salimberni, headquarter of Monte dei Paschi di Siena displaying a beautiful art collection, the Medicean Fortress that today is a beautiful garden where admiring a delightful panorama, and Fonte Branda that is the oldest fountain in Siena mentioned by Dante.
To be mentioned the beautiful Sienese University Museums, collecting the cultural and historical heritage of the University of Siena. The collections displays significant pieces for history, art and all sciences.
The Sienese University Museums System(SMUS), started in 2007, has several museums such as the Anatomical Museum, displaying wax models, scientific instruments and other relevant anatomical objects still in used by professors, and the Botanical Museum hosting the Botanical Gardens, that preserves biodiversity, and the Herbarium, that collects more than 80.000 examples of different plants.
What to do in Siena
The Palio of Siena
The Palio of Siena is one of the most important and renowned events in Italy. It's an exciting horse race that represents Siena and Sienese tradition.
The Palio has ancient origins, seeming to be Etruscan. It is held twice per year on July 2nd and August 16th in Piazza del Campo. The prize is the Palio or drappellone disputed by the Contrade of Siena.
Siena is divided in 17 Contrade, or city wards, and each one is almost a small state with its own Council, Church and all needed for everyday life. Each Contrada has its own emblem and colors and is set in a specific city area determined by the law in 1730. The Contrade of Siena are: Aquila, Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Drago, Giraffa, Istrice, Leocorno, Lupa, Nicchio, Oca, Onda, Pantera, Selva, Tartuca, Torre, Valdimontone.
Ten contrade out of the seventeen take part in each race: seven are those that did not participate in the previous race on that day, while the other three are drawn by lots.
The Palio of Siena actually takes place over 4 days, even though for Sienese lasts over the year. Three days before the horse race takes place the Tratta, the drawing of the lots and assignment of the horses to each of the Contrade. Then jockeys have 6 heats to find the affinity with their horse. The race is held in Piazza del Campo and consists of 3 runs. The start is given by the Mossa, i.e. when 9 contrade are lined up between the Canapi (two ropes) and the 10th horse enters running into the square. The Contrada that arrives first wins the Palio or drappellone, an original and unique painting on silk that has an important symbolic meaning. The Palio is created every year by famous artists such as Botero.
Accommodations in Siena
B&B, Hotel, Villa, Agriturismo
Siena welcomes every year thousands of visitors from all over the world. It offers many lodgings, meeting anyone's needs both in the historical center and its surroundings.
If you are looking for a deep immersion in Siena and its culture you can find accommodations in Siena center such as cozy bed and breakfast, boutique hotels or rental apartments.
If you want to relax after a busy day in the historical center you can stay in comfortable farmhouses near Siena, rental villas in Tuscany and luxury resorts in Siena surroundings.
Both if you are in Siena for business and leisure you find the ideal accommodation meeting your needs for you and your family.