Visit Siena - one of Italy's best-preserved medieval towns, located in the heart of Tuscany.
Siena, built on three hills and surrounded by well-preserved walls, is filled with fine examples of Gothic architecture and has one of the world's most unique piazzas - Piazza del Campo. Siena is also famous for its Palio, a medieval horse race held twice a year.
Siena was founded by the Etruscans in the 5th century BC and was later conquered by the Romans in 222BC. The city became an important commercial center due to its location on a major trade route between Rome and northern Europe. The city reached its height during the Middle Ages when it became an important banking center. In 1255 Siena joined forces with Florence against imperial rule from Rome and became one of the first free cities in Europe. In 1494 Siena was conquered by Florence after years of bloody fighting between these two rival cities.
The historic centre of Siena retains much of its medieval character due to careful restoration work carried out after World War II bombings during which over 60% of the old city was destroyed.
The city was founded in the Middle Ages and reached its peak as a city-state under the rule of the Guelfs, who governed Siena from 1270 to 1555. The city's population grew rapidly during this time and as a result, its economy developed significantly. In fact, it became so wealthy that it surpassed Florence as the main banking center in Italy.
However, during this time period, there was also constant conflict between the Guelfs and Ghibellines (who wanted greater independence from papal control). This conflict finally ended when Charles V destroyed the city in 1555. It wasn't until after World War II that Siena regained much of its former glory; today it is one of Italy's leading tourist destinations.
The Cathedral (Duomo) is one of the largest in Italy, with a vast nave that has been compared to Florence's cathedral. It was built between 1215 and 1263 by Guido Bigarelli da Como who used white marble from Carrara for its exterior and pink marble from Piombino for its interior decoration. The cathedral has five portals decorated with statues which represent events in the life of St John the Baptist: birth, baptism, preaching, beheading and death.
The Baptistery is also by Guido Bigarelli da Como who completed it in 1260 after being commissioned by Pope Innocent IV in 1252. The upper part of the building was added.
Inside the medieval walls, there are many churches worth visiting including San Domenico with its magnificent frescoes by Taddeo di Bartolo (c. 1362-1422). Another great church is San Francesco, with its beautiful Gothic facade overlooking the city from above.
Siena also has some museums worth exploring: the Museo Civico e Diocesano di Arte Sacra displays religious artifacts; the Museo Opera del Duomo contains sculptures from medieval times; while the Museo Della Cattedrale displays historical documents relating to the Sienese history.
The main attraction in Siena is Piazza del Campo (Field of the World), which is one of the world's most unique piazzas. It's a large open space that has been used for public events since medieval times. The square was originally called Campo Piceno but its current name has nothing to do with horses or jousting matches; rather, it refers to its size (campo=field) and location at the foot of the town's central hill (piano=plain).
Surrounded by olive groves and the vineyards of Chianti, Siena is one of the most beautiful cities of Tuscany. Set on three hills, the city is drawn together by winding alleyways and steep steps.
Siena offers many cultural events, concerts, cinema, theatre and a wide range of sporting activities.
The Palio di Siena, a traditional horse race held twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th, is of great importance for the city. The Palio delle Contrade (contrade are districts) is an authentic medieval spectacle that can be seen from the Piazza del Campo or from the stands erected in each Contrada (district).
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