Discovering Siena, a city of a thousand treasures
It is one of the most famous and appreciated medieval cities in the world, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, owes its fame especially to the Palio that animates the historic village in July and August.
We are in Siena: its timeless charm is expressed between the hills that surround it and at the central position compared to other towns in Tuscany, which make it the ideal destination for a walk through history and landscape.
Let's find out together what to see in Siena and its surroundings, through its most suggestive places.
The origins of Siena between history and legend
The origins of Siena are linked to the intertwining of history and myth: legend attributes the foundation of the city to Senio and Ascanio, the sons of Remo who fled to Tuscany to save themselves from the murderous intentions of their uncle Romolo.
This tradition would seem to find an aesthetic rendering in the colors of the city: the black and white that contrast in the city would represent the colors of the two brothers' horses or, according to another version, the clouds that had protected them in their escape from Rome.
Legend aside, Siena arose as a minor republic of the Roman Empire and originated from a colony known as Sena Julia.
In medieval times the Franco-Lombard domination gave the city the luster of important public works, such as the Via Francigena, an economic and strategic hub that connected Italy and France.
Siena experienced its maximum development between 1200 and mid-1300: under the “Government of the Nine" the main palaces and public buildings were built, then the advent of the plague of 1348 marked an important setback.
Wealth and prosperity of the city were at the origin of the historical rivalry with nearby Florence: in the wake of the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, continuous wars took place until the prevailing Florentine Grand Duchy which in the mid-1600s had already completed the acquisition of Siena and the its territories.
What to see in Siena and surroundings
Thanks to its central position compared to other Tuscan cities, Siena is the perfect destination to complete any itinerary to discover the region.
The beating heart of the historic center, which gathers history, art and atmosphere of the city, is Piazza del Campo, an iconic place par excellence and a precious setting for the famous Palio.
The famous competition between districts, the "carriera", as it is traditionally defined, has delivered the charm of the medieval equestrian joust to the contemporary world and has made it an event much awaited by both Sienese and visitors who come to Siena from all over the world concurrently with the two annual races held on July 2 and August 16.
Piazza del Campo also hosts the main places of interest in Siena.
Taking a few hours to visit them means getting in touch with the history of the city.
Piazza del Campo
Characterized by the unique shell shape and the unmistakable brick color of the terracotta flooring, Piazza del Campo embraces the visitor and gives him a privileged observation point on the splendid buildings overlooking the open space.
Among the main points of interest that embellish the square is the Fonte Gaia: in the original version the work was decorated with sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia made of Montagnola Senese marble.
The version now visible in the square is a copy in Carrara marble, the original is kept in the Museum of Santa Maria della Scala.
Among the buildings that dot the perimeter of the square, stands the Town Hall: made of marble and bricks, which now houses the Civic Museum of Siena which hosts masterpieces signed by local artists such as the "Majesty" by Simone Martini and "The good and bad government "By Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
La Torre del Mangia
With its 88 meters high, the Torre del Mangia stands out in Piazza del Campo and ranks among the tallest ancient towers in Italy, offering a spectacular view over the city.
According to tradition, it owes its name to one of the first bell ringers. The "Mangiaguadagni" or simply "Il Mangia", aka Giovanni di Balduccio, was known to his fellow citizens for vices and excesses related to food: hence the origin of the nickname.
Among the curiosities related to the tower is the tradition reported by Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli according to which the Torre del Mangia, of equal height compared to the bell tower of the Duomo, is the manifest sign of parity between secular power and temporal power.
In Piazza del Duomo
The most evocative places in Siena are enclosed between Piazza del Campo and Piazza del Duomo: here is the spectacular Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a splendid example of Italian Romanesque-Gothic.
The chromatic predominance of the white marble that covers the façade captures the visitor's attention upon his arrival in the square and accompanies him to the discovery of the treasures it holds: inside it is possible to admire works by Donatello, Nicola Pisano, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio.
The alternation of white and dark green marbles that reproduce the contrast of the symbolic colors of the city is of great impact.
Among the most striking elements of the cathedral are the floor decorations: the 56 stained panels of which it is composed were carved in marble by local artists between 1369 and 1547. The completion of the work took about 600 years, the last piece of the mosaic was placed in 1800.
Piccolomini and Battistero library
Among the places not to be missed during a visit to Piazza del Duomo are the Piccolomini Library and the Baptistery: the first, dedicated to Pope Pius II, was designed to preserve the manuscripts from his collection.
It is a real frescoed casket that bears the signature of Pinturicchio and his pupils, including a young Raffaello.
The visitor is bewitched by raising his eyes towards the spectacular vault embellished with bright gold-colored details, as happens with the Baptistery dedicated to San Giovanni, which is another stop to visit. Built in 1300, it is decorated with a cycle of frescoes made by Sienese Renaissance artists and preserves the baptismal font which was decorated by Jacopo della Quercia, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello.
Where to stay near Siena: the Fattoria del Cerro
A trip to Tuscany is not really complete without a stop dedicated to local wine and Siena is no exception: its proximity to Montepulciano, land of Vino Nobile, makes it a perfect destination to combine landscape, culture and winemaking tradition.
Features that you will find with a visit to the Fattoria del Cerro, historic winery producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG in the locality of Acquaviva: here you can enjoy a guided tour with tasting in the cellar or a bike ride through the vineyards surrounding the estate.
For those who want to extend their stay in Siena, Fattoria Del Cerro has an accommodation facility: the Relais Villa Grazianella, with its 11 rooms overlooking the estate, offers the perfect formula that combines wine, a relaxing stay and good food: the chef of villa Grazianella, in fact, is always ready to pamper guests with the flavors of Tuscan cuisine and to reveal their recipes during special cooking class.
After all, a stay in the surrounding is a must because the territory of Siena area is perfect for a trip to discover the villages not far from the city. Among the places not to be missed are the Abbey of San Galgano and the village of San Gimignano.
Abbey of San Galgano
It is certainly one of the most fascinating places to discover near Siena: we are talking about the Cistercian abbey of San Galgano.
The Latin cross basilica built in 1218 owes its fame to the singular and spectacular absence of the roof. With the outer walls still intact and the area of the naves perfectly marked by pointed arches, the ruins of the abbey offer visitors a majestic spectacle, amplified by the effects that natural light produces when entering from the upper part of the structure.
Another unmissable stop is the medieval village of San Gimignano. The small historic center, known for its 15 towers visible several kilometers away, is crossed by a single main road that leads to Piazza del Duomo. Both the Town Hall and the Cathedral with its Romanesque façade preserve frescoes and works of art that make San Gimignano a small treasure to be discovered without haste, building your own itinerary among the towers that dot the town.
Siena, with its surroundings, is really a great little treasure chest to discover, don't you think?