Italy Travel Notes presents:
Siena is a city in Tuscany. It is the provincial capital of Siena province. The historic center of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. Siena is surrounded by olive groves and the vineyards of Chianti. Set on three hills, the city is drawn together by winding alleyways and steep steps. A wonderful city that is the home of some of the most precious medieval art and architectural treasures. Siena offers a never-ending number of cultural sights and interests for travellers.
Arrival Plane Florence Airport “Amerigo Vespucci” connects with all major Italian airports and 13 European destinations. From the airport there is a direct coach bus service for Siena offered by Train or take the train from Florence S.M. Novella station. Pisa International Airport “Galileo Galilei” is the most important in Tuscany: it links the city with major Italian and European destinations. Pisa is connected to Siena by many trains (app. two-hour trip) with a change at Empoli.
Train Siena is well connected to Rome and Florence by train. From Rome there are many connections, which take about three hours, with a change at Chiusi or at Grosseto. From Florence there are several runs that last 1.5 and 2 hours, in some cases with a change over at Empoli. For times please consult the Trenitalia site. There are other options and companies that link small Tuscany localities and major Italian cities.
Car From Rome and the South generally take highway A1 to the exit at Valdichiana/Bettolle and continue on Statale 73 up to Siena. From Milan or Bologna take highway A1 towards Florence, exit at Firenze Certosa and continue on Superstrada Firenze-Siena. From Venice and the Northeast take A13 Padova-Bologna and continue A1 up to Firenze Certosa. Those coming from Genoa, Pisa or Lucca, must take A11 Pisa-Firenze, and then take A1 towards Rome, and exit at Firenze Certosa, to get on the highway for Firenze-Siena.
History and Culture According to a legend, Siena was founded by Senio, Remo’s son, one of the founders of Rome. The origin of Siena’s name is still today an object of research: some historians attribute it to the Etruscan Saina family, some others to the Roman Saenii family. Certainly, the development of this town increased only in the Middle Ages, when the town expanded in various directions.
Siena was pre-eminently a Ghibelline town and it often “crossed its swords” with the Florentine Guelphs in epic and bloody fights, that marked the history of the Italian Middle Ages. One of the most famous battles took place in Montaperti, on 4th September 1260, when the Sienese defeated the Florentine. Siena reached its full splendour in 1300, when the most part of the civil monuments was built and it was made an attempt to build the new Duomo. With the tragic coming of the pleague in 1348, Siena had a very difficult period, that led to its annexation to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and to the loss of its independence.
The people of the city soon rebelled against the rule by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and managed to make him leave the city in 1402. For the next century, Siena was rules by the Medici and then by the Lorena families: from the 16th century, the city went through a very prosperous period, both artistically, culturally and economically. 1656 was the year when the traditional Palio Race was started. From that moment it has been organized every year in the city, attracting tourists from all over the world.
Between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, Siena fell under the rule of Napoleon, just like other cities in this region. Napoleon proclaimed Florence as the capital of the new Kingdom of Etruria. The Austrians arrived after Napoleon, who ruled until 1859. They were then defeated by the Franco-Piedmont army. In 1860, the temporary government of the newly liberated Florence joined forces with the Kingdom of Sardinia and then, the year after, with the Kingdom of Italy.
Churches and Museums The Duomo The Duomo of Siena, begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian romanesque architecture. Its main facade was completed in 1380. Its campanile and baptistry make a fine group. It is unique among Christian cathedrals in that its axis runs north-south. This is because it was originally intended to be the largest cathedral in existence, with a north-south transept and an east-west aisle, as is usual. After the completion of the transept and the building of the east wall (which still exists and may be climbed by the public via an internal staircase) the money ran out and the rest of the cathedral was abandoned.
Chiesa di Fontegiusta 1482-84 by Francesco di Cristòforo Fedeli and Giàcomo di Giovanni. In the brick facade is a fine marble doorway by Urbano da Cortona (1489). The church contains a beautiful marble tabernacle (16th century) and, on the left-hand wall, a fresco by Baldassare Peruzzi, “The Sibyl announcing the Birth of Christ to the Emperor Augustus”(c. 1528).
Battistero di San Giovanni The Battistero di San Giovanni is in Piazza San Giovanni, near to the Duomo. It dates back to the first half of the 14th century. The interior has a nave and two aisles, with walls that are full of frescoes by Vecchietta and with a baptism font in the center that is made from golden panels that show the life of John the Baptist.
The Church of Sant’Agostino The construction of the Church of Sant’Agostino dates back to 1258. Among the many pieces inside, there are two important works of art: the famous “Crocefissione” by Perugino and “La Maestà” by Lorenzetti.
Museum of Metropolitan Work The Museum of Metropolitan Work is inside a building that dates back to the 14th century. It should originally have been a new cathedral for the city, but was never completed. Inside there are works of art from the Duomo including the famous sculpture “della Maestà” made by Duccio di Buoninsegna.
Siena Civic Museum At Palazzo Pubblico, the Museo Civico holds masterpieces of Sienese art. The astronomical frescos in the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sala della Pace are not to be missed. Frescos from the 19the century, which depict Italy’s first king, can also be found there. You can climb to the top of the bell tower (Torre del Mangia), for a stunning view of Il Campo, Siena and the surrounding countryside.
Pinacoteca Nazionale The National Picture Gallery is inside Palazzo Buonsignori. This museum holds the largest collection of Sienese paintings, including great masters from the 12th century through the first half of the 17th century and works painted on backgrounds of gold leaf. Discover masterpieces by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti and other artists of the Sienese School here.
Historical buildings and monuments Palazzo Pubblico The Palazzo Pubblico, itself a great work of architecture, houses yet another important art museum.This wonderful building was completed at the beginning of the 14th century.Included within the museum is Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s series of frescos on the good government and the results of good and bad government, there are also some of the finest frescoes of Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
Archbishop’s Palace This wonderful building stands just a short distance from the Duomo and is home to the splendid panel by Lorenzetti that depicts the “Madonna del Latte”.
The Mangia’s Tower (Torre del Mangia) The famous Torre del Mangia and the Palazzo Pubblico form one of the sides of Piazza del Campo. The tower, built in 1848 and 102 metres high, gives excellent views over Siena and the surrounding countryside. It was called by this name in honor of the nickname given to its first bell-ringer, known as Mangiaguadagni. The top of the tower can be reached by climbing 400 steps.
Santa Maria della Scala The building Santa Maria della Scala takes up an area of about 350,000 square meters and was originally built as a city hospital, one of the first to be built in Italy. Today, many parts of the building have been recovered thanks to a massive restoration program, and exhibition spaces for Siena and international artists are now available. Inside the building it is possible to see three chapels, the Cappella del Manto, the Cappella della Madonna, the Cappella del Sacro Chiodo and the Church of the Santissima Annunziata.
Places of Interest The Botanic Gardens The Botanic GardensThe Botanical Garden, Orto Botanico, was founded in 1784 by Biagio Bartalini. The entrance is located by Piazza Sant Agostino. The garden of two and a half hectars lies in a small valley just inside walls located by Porta Tufi of Siena. Starting from the second half of the 18th century, several plants from all over the world were added to the garden, which was then turned into the “University Botanic Gardens”. Today the area dedicated to the garden is more than three times that of the initial garden, and holds thousands of exotic and non-exotic plants.
Piazza del Campo The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the town square, which houses the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, is another architectural treasure, and is famous for hosting the Palioi in August. The square, more commonly known as “il Campo” locally, is surrounded by Medieval buildings, open-air coffee shops, restaurants and trattorias.
Events Palio di Siena – July, August The Palio di Siena goes back to far off times: each summer, starting in the 14th century, a big horse race was organized that crosses the entire city, starting from Porta Camollia and ending at the Duomo. Around 1500, all 42 “contrade” of the time were called upon to take part in the Palio, each characterized by different colors and standards. In the 17th century, the event was transformed, from a horse race across the city to a race around . Only 10 of the several contrade could take part, in order to avoid dangerous accidents. The Palio is still an event that involves all the Siena inhabitants, who get busy with the preparation many months before the race, which attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world each year.
International Short Film Festival – November The International Short Film Festival was set up in 1995 with the aim of promoting short films by Italian and foreign artists. This event is now so successful that it attracts not only many cinema industry workers from all over the world, but also a large crowd of enthusiasts.
The oil and wine week – February In February there is a traditional gathering in Siena for extra-virgin olive oils and quality wines from Tuscany, organized by the Enoteca Italiana and the National Oil City Association. A whole week is dedicated to oil and wine, during which workshops, free tasting and conferences are organized.
Ferie delle Messi in San Gimignano – July A celebration from the Medieval period that is held in the streets and squares in the city: stalls are set up with food and wine products such as oil, wines and saffron, and also with local crafts products; there are story tellers, traveling theaters, archers and lots more too. On the last Sunday afternoon of the festival, a horse-riders’ parade is organized with a final tournament.
More about Tuscany and Siena:
For your Italy travel to discover even more about Tuscany and Siena what your fellow travellers recommend to visit while in Tuscany and what to do: