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Siena Guide Italy

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 travelers: the unique Palio and wine tasting in the old wine bars, romantic walks along the narrow alleys and excursions outside the city in the Siena Chianti area and in ValOrcia.

Getting there
Getting to Siena from any Italian city is very easy: y By 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 or call the green number 89 20 21. There are other options and companies that link small Tuscany localities (Tra-In: +39.0577.204246) and major Italian cities (SENA: 800.930.960).

History and culture

Sienas origins are surrounded by myth: the story goes that the city was founded by Senius, the son of Romulus. Historical statements attribute the first human settlement in this area to the Etruscans, who gave the name Sena to the settlement. After it was conquered by the Roman Empire, the place took on the name of Saena Julia. In the Middle Ages, Siena became an extremely important town, due to its intense demographic growth and the urban expansion of the town. Economic development brought wealth and bitter conflicts. The worst was the one between the Papal supporters (Guelphs) and the Empire supporters (the Ghibellines) After facing a series of internal struggles, Siena which sided with the Ghibellines fought against nearby Florence, which declared itself a supporter of the Guelphs. The tension grew worse and in 1260 a true war began that culminated in the Battle of Montaperti. The Siena Ghibellines were then defeated in the famous Battle of Colle Val dElsa and were sent away from the city, which fell to Guelph rule. The Guelphs ruled the city for a long time. Siena enjoyed its period of maximum splendor starting from 1200, largely due to the Good Government of Nine: this was the form of government that lasted longest in Siena and which allowed the city to flourish both economically and artistically. In 1348 the city was hit by the plague and suffered greatly, also economically and politically: there was a series of governments one after the other, which created instability and which forced Siena to join the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, thereby losing 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 citys most interesting churches and museums: y The Duomo The Duomo of Siena, which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, is one of the prettiest churches in Gothic style in Italy. The imposing faades contain treasures such as the large inlaid floor, which holds holy scenes created by several artists of the time, including Pinturicchio. One of the altars has some statues by Michelangelo, while the chapels house some works by Bernini, Donatello and Guido da Siena. The Libreria Piccolomini painted with frescoes by Pinturicchio, and which contains ancient illuminated codes, is a sight not to be missed. Baptistry of St John (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 SantAgostino The construction of the Church of SantAgostino dates back to 1258. Among the many pieces inside, there are two important works of art: the famous Crocefissione by Perugino and La Maest by Lorenzetti. Siena Civic Museum The Siena Civic Museum is inside the Municipal Building, a wonderful example of Gothic architecture. It houses several masterpieces by Siena and Italian artists: panels, canvases and frescoes that show the evolution of art from the 14th to the 18th centuries. National Picture Gallery The National Picture Gallery is inside Palazzo Buonsignori. It houses a valuable collection of masterpieces of Siena art , painted between the 13th and 17th centuries, including the Madonna con Bambino by Simone Martini and la Piccola Maest by Ambrogio 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 Maest made by Duccio di Buoninsegna.

Palaces, monuments and places

Fascinating historical buildings and charming places: y Palazzo Pubblico This wonderful building was completed at the beginning of the 14th century. The Salone del Mappamondo, the largest room in the palace, entirely filled with frescoes by Simone Martini and the Sala dei Nove, decorated by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, with the Allegoria del buon governo and the Allegoria e gli effetti del cattivo governo, considered to be the first profane cycle in western art in history, are to be noted. Archbishops 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 Torre del Mangia stands alongside the Palazzo Pubblico. It was built in the period 1338-1348 and 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. At the top you have a view over the entire city.

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. The Botanic Gardens The Botanic Gardens date back to 1588, when the Giardino dei Semplici was set up, near to the Santa Maria della Scala hospital. This was the start of the citys first Botanic Gardens, where doctors and scientists of that time could study the therapeutic properties of many officinal plants. 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 This is one of Italys most famous squares, and probably the one with the most original shape. Piazza del Campo stands on the site that was once an ancient Roman forum, opposite Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. The area was initially intended for a city market place and only began to take on the dignity required of a true square in 1288. From 1327 to 1349, paving work was carried out in the square, using special red bricks. The square, more commonly known as il Campo locally, is surrounded by Medieval buildings, open-air coffee shops, restaurants and trattorias, and in August it is the location of the famous Palio.

Eating and Drinking

Siena cooking is characterized by cereals, pulses, herbs, game and pork, in particular the famous cinta senese, a wonderful breed of pigs that is bred only in Chianti. One of the most typical products in this area are cold meats such as soppressata, finocchiona and capocolli, in addition to other specialties made from wild boar meat. The area is also famous for cheeses such as cacio pecorino, from the Siena clay lands and marzolino. Extra virgin olive oil is also a typical product of the Siena hills: This oil, with its unmistakable fruity aroma, is produced using the olives that grow in the Chianti countryside. It is used in all traditional Siena dishes, especially crude so that its particular taste can be noted. A typical Siena lunch or dinner may begin with an hors doeuvre of chicken liver crostini, or game crostini, followed by lentil soup with pheasant, Siena bean soup or frog soup, in addition to the classic Ribollita and pasta with chick peas. Siena restaurants and trattorias offer various choices for the second course from hare to sweet and sour wild boar, roast pork, which can also be served cold with garlic and rosemary. As dessert we recommend two sweets that belong to the famous Siena confectionery tradition: panforte and ricciarelli. Panforte is an ancient sweet, used for many centuries only for religious ceremonies. This filling sweet, that is typically eaten at Christmas, is prepared with flour, almonds, candied fruit, dry fruit and spices, all laid on a thin wafer. Ricciarelli are lozenge-shaped almond biscuits made by mixing almond paste, honey and vanilla and baked in the over to give them their typical crunchy outer layer. We shall end this section with a mention of wine, a jewel in the crown of the Tuscany region. Wine production in the Chianti countryside goes back to ancient times: some Etruscan finds have shown that grapes were already grown at that time, but Chianti was first associated with wine starting in 1404. Over the centuries, the wine known as Chianti Classico has become more and more famous in Italy and abroad. Some of the most famous wines are Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino and the exceptional Brunello di Montalcino, produced from a Sangiovese vine in the borough of Montalcino, which is aged for 4 years at least in oak or chestnut casks. Today, 5 different DOCG wines and 12 DOC wines are produced in the area around Siena.

Craftsmanship became one of the most flourishing and appreciated activities in Siena starting in the 11th century. The jewelry made in the old goldsmith laboratories and the terracotta and ceramic vases made with ancient techniques handed down through the generations have become famous world over. They attract merchants from all over Italy and beyond. The first craftsman guild was set up in 1098 and even today, when walking along the pretty medieval alleys, it is possible to see the master craftsmen working, creating their terracotta items or tiles in their laboratories. Some of the most popular objects bought as souvenirs are vases, jugs and candle holders. The Santa Lucia Bells, made in terracotta and painted by hand in the colors and stems of the citys contrade that take part in the Palio, are also extremely characteristic. Embroidery is also a tradition in the city and wonderful tapestries, lampshades and other embroidered fabrics with Renaissance patterns can still be bought in the city, made by expert craftsmen in the citys laboratories. High fashion fans can go to Via Banchi di Sopra to look at the luxurious ateliers and boutiques that have replace the old craftsmens laboratories. For food and wine shopping in Siena, there is no end of choice: You can buy confectionery such as panforte and ricciarelli that are wonderfully made in the historical confectioners store Nannini, or high quality extra virgin olive oil and wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano.

This section shows you some of the most interesting and charming events that take place in and around the city. If you wish to visit Siena during one of these events, we recommend that you book your hotel in Siena, in advance, especially if the period of your stay coincides with the famous Palio, which attracts hundreds and hundreds of visitors from all over the world each year. y 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 Piazza del Campo. 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.

La Dolce Vita
Siena is a city full of fun and life, full of fascinating places to be discovered and to spend pleasant evening with your friends, surrounded by an atmosphere that is both attractive and mysterious. There are many pubs, wine bars, restaurants and open-air coffee shops around the splendid Piazza del Campo, meeting places for the locals, students and tourists. The alleys leading up to the square are full of bars and wine bars that are full of people every evening. One of the oldest meeting places in Siena is the famous Enoteca italiana, located inside the charming Fortezza Medicea, which was built on the wishes of Cosimo De Medici in the second half of the 16th century. This place, full of history and tradition, is where you can taste excellent rare wines, and where you can also admire the huge collection of precious labels, kept in the various exhibition rooms for decades.

An intense weekend
This is a one day itinerary to discover all the artistic and architectural beauties of this fantastic Medieval city. You can easily complete this itinerary on foot, as nearly all the most interesting places in the city are in the old city center. y Morning Our itinerary starts in the heart of the city: il Campo, the spectacular shell-shaped square where the famous Palio di Siena is held each year. You can admire the wonderful Palazzo Pubblico, whose interior is decorated with allegories by Lorenzetti and which houses the interesting Civic Museum in this square paved with the characteristic red bricks. Take a break in the famous confectioners store Nannini La Conca DOro in Via Banchi di Sopra, just a few minutes from the square, between one visit and another. You can be served excellent coffee and a few handmade Siena sweets here. You can also visit the huge Torre del Mangia in the square. The top is 120 meters from the ground, from where you have a wonderful view of the city. If you are still not hungry, you can carry on to Piazza San Giovanni to visit the fourteenthcentury Battistero di San Giovanni. Choose a small restaurant or trattoria nearby and enjoy the true flavors of Siena cooking. Afternoon Just a short walk from the Battistero you will come upon the wonderful Piazza Duomo. Here you can see the Gothic style Cathedral that houses works by Michelangelo, Bernini and Donatello. Next to the cathedral you will find the interesting Museum of Metropolitan Work and the Santa Maria della Scala building, which are both worth a visit. You can now dedicate the rest of your time to discovering some of the pretty Medieval buildings in the city. The first must be Palazzo Tolomei, one of the oldest in Siena. We also recommend the Bishops Palace and Palazzo Salimbeni, now the headquarters of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank. Evening Siena is a wonderful place in the evening. The faades of its Medieval buildings are lit up by the thousand street lights. Before dinner, go for a romantic walk, to Fonte Branda, for example, a charming fountain that dates back to 1080. We recommend you drink a wine-based aperitif in the historical Enoteca italiana, located in the huge Fortezza Medicea. Choose a restaurant near the Campo for dinner and then continue your evening in one of the several clubs in the area, some of which also offer excellent live music.