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Siena: a complete guide to the wonders of the Tuscan city

The beauty of Siena reveals itself as the days pass, an experience that can only be fully appreciated after leaving the Tuscan town. As you walk up the narrow streets and down the crowded squares, the richness of Siena may escape immediate comprehension. Only a few days later, when memories emerge, we appreciate the majesty of Piazza del Campo, the silhouette of the Public Palace with the Torre del Mangia and the black and white of the Duomo.

Every corner of this town tells a thousand-year-old story, making the journey an authentic immersion in the past.

The city history

Siena’s origins are lost in the mists of time, but the city is believed to have Etruscan and Roman roots. Its growth was accelerated in the Middle Ages, and in the 10th century, Siena became an important commercial center, competing with Florence for hegemony in Tuscany. The artisan guilds and the political system of the Nine, established in 1287, contributed to defining Siena’s independent personality.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the city thrived in golden periods, fueled by trade, agriculture, and banking. The prosperity of this era is evident in remarkable architectural achievements like the cathedral and the Public Palace. During this period, Siena acquired political and territorial influence, extending into several regions of central Italy.

In the 14th century, the dark shadow of the Black Death emerged, decimating the population and altering Siena’s history. Life loss and economic crisis, as consequences, weakened the city, setting the stage for its decline. Intensifying the rivalry with Florence, the bloody Battle of Montaperti unfolded in 1260, yet Siena’s victory ushered in periods of subsequent instability.

Despite the challenges, Siena rose again in the Renaissance with fervent artistic and cultural activity. Artists of the caliber of Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini contributed to creating extraordinary works, giving the city a unique artistic identity. However, the rise of the Medici family in Florence led to a further decline in Siena’s political power.

In the 16th century, Siena definitively lost its independence, submitting to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany under Medici rule. Although the city was no longer an independent political center, its cultural heritage continued to thrive. The Piccolomini Library and other architectural works testify to the richness of Siena’s history and culture.

Today, Siena presents itself as a historical treasure, jealously preserving the traces of its past.

What to see in Siena?

Piazza del Campo

Piazza del Campo, the main square, with its 9-segmented shell shape, is the beating heart of Siena. This unique configuration was designed to be the central location for city activities. The square is surrounded by historic buildings, each with its own history and importance, which contributes to creating a breathtaking setting.

Dominating the skyline of Piazza del Campo stands the Torre del Mangia, a symbol of power and majesty. With its 88 meters high, this tower offers a spectacular panoramic point over the city and the surrounding hills. A climb to the top is an unforgettable experience, allowing visitors to take in the full beauty of Siena with their gaze.

In the center of the square is the Fonte Gaia, a Renaissance fountain created by Jacopo della Quercia in the 15th century. The fountain is a celebration of water as a precious commodity. The sculpted reliefs and mythological figures add a touch of charm to this place, which has become a meeting and reflection point for visitors.

In this square, transformed into an arena of competition and celebration for the occasion, unfolds the Palio of Siena, one of Italy’s most renowned traditions. The contradas, or neighborhoods, engage in an exhilarating horse race, filling the square with a kaleidoscope of colors, resonant sounds, and vibrant energy.

Public Palace and Civic Museum

At the center of the magnificent Piazza del Campo, the Public Palace of Siena stands as a majestic monument that testifies to the grandeur and historical richness of this Tuscan city. Built in the 14th century, this palace was the heart of Siena’s government and continues to be one of Italy’s most important architectural jewels.

Public palace of Siena

The Public Palace, with its imposing façade and the Torre del Mangia that dominates it, embodies Gothic architecture in all its splendor. Built during the period when Siena prospered as an independent republic, the palace was the seat of the city government. The exteriors reflect the pride and power of the city, while the interiors contain richly decorated and frescoed rooms, testifying to the artistic mastery of the era.

The Public Palace saw the government of the Nine, the political council that contributed to shaping the architectural appearance of the city. It was during their rule that an edict was issued requiring the owners of the houses in Piazza del Campo to build buildings in stylistic coherence with the Public Palace. This decision contributed to creating an architectural harmony that still characterizes the square and its surroundings today.

Next to the palace, the Civic Museum of Siena offers visitors a journey through the art, politics and culture of this fascinating medieval city. The museum houses a vast collection of works of art, historical objects and documents that narrate the history of Siena through the centuries. One of the museum’s gems is Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government, a fresco that represents the virtues of good governance and the dangers of a corrupt government.

The Cathedral and the Baptistery of Siena

The Cathedral of Siena, with its black and white facade, is a work of art that captures the eye. But it is inside that it reveals its splendor as you find yourself immersed in a world of artistic beauty and spirituality. The interiors are decorated with an abundance of frescoes, sculptures and stained glass, evidence of the contributions of some of the greatest artists of the era. One of the most extraordinary elements is the mosaic floor, an intricate puzzle of esoteric symbols, biblical scenes and religious stories that captures the attention of every visitor.

Inside the Cathedral there is the Piccolomini Library, a jewel of Renaissance art. Pinturicchio’s frescoes decorate the walls of this small library, offering a visual spectacle of elegance and refinement. The works of art present here contribute to creating an atmosphere of contemplation and devotion.

Siena Cathedral

Behind the Cathedral, the Baptistery of Siena welcomes you with frescoes of great mastery. The Baptismal Font, a masterpiece by artists of the caliber of Jacopo della Quercia and Donatello, is the spiritual heart of this sacred place.

Cateriniana Basilica of San Domenico

A few steps from Piazza del Campo is the Cateriniana Basilica of San Domenico. Built in the thirteenth century and subsequently expanded in the following century, this basilica represents one of the most significant sacred places in Siena, closely linked to the figure of Saint Catherine of Siena, one of the most important mystics of Christianity.

It was built to house the remains of Saint Catherine, patron saint of Siena and doctor of the Church. The building, in Gothic style, reveals an architectural simplicity that reflects the ideals of Dominican spirituality. Its sober facade hides an interior full of noteworthy works of art and details.

Inside, the faithful can admire the Chapel of Santa Caterina, dedicated to the figure of the saint. Here, Michelangelo worked on the famous miraculous crucifix from which, according to tradition, Catherine received the stigmata in 1375.

One of the most fascinating places in the complex is the Kitchen Oratory. This space corresponds to the ancient kitchen of Catherine’s house and still preserves the remains of the hearth where, according to tradition, the saint slipped during a moment of ecstasy without suffering damage. The floor with colored majolica, the decorated ceiling and the canvases on the walls add a touch of authenticity to this place rich in history.

Cateriniana Basilica of San Domenico

What to eat in Siena?

The start of a Sienese meal cannot fail to include crostini, toasted and embellished with delicacies such as chicken livers or beans in oil. Local cured meats, such as finocchiona and Tuscan ham, combine with pecorino cheeses, creating appetizers that embody the generosity of the land.

Tuscan pasta steals the show with rich, flavorful dishes. The “pici” are handmade spaghetti, seasoned with wild boar ragù or garlic, a local garlic with an intense flavour. The “pappardelle al lepre” is a symphony of taste, with wide strips of pasta accompanied by a succulent sauce, celebrating traditional hunting.

On cooler days, Sienese soups are balm for the soul. The “ribollita”, prepared with stale bread, black cabbage, beans and extra virgin olive oil, is a delicious winter tradition. The “pappa al pomodoro”, with bread and tomato, offers comfort and simplicity.

Meat is the protagonist in Sienese second courses. The “Florentine steak”, famous throughout Tuscany, is cooked on the grill and served rare. Game, such as wild boar and hare, becomes a delicacy in dishes that recall peasant culture and ancient hunting traditions.

The “cantucci”, almond biscuits, are the perfect ending to any Sienese meal. They are often accompanied by Vin Santo, a local sweet wine. The “ricciarelli”, almond sweets, and the “panforte”, a spiced cake rich in dried fruit, close the meal with sweetness.

In conclusion, Siena reveals itself as a masterpiece of art, history and gastronomy. With its charming squares, museums full of treasures and authentic flavours, this Tuscan city promises to enchant every traveling soul who has the privilege of discovering its secrets.