Situated on a hill approximately one hour from Florence, the ancient town of Siena is one of the most well-preserved places in Italy. With a population of 59,000, Siena is a fascinating town with many historical buildings surrounded by unspoiled scenery. The medieval character of the town still exists to the present day due to the remarkably well-preserved old Gothic buildings such as the Cathedral and Palazzo Pubblico. Siena is well-known for its flavorful dishes, art, museums, and the Palio, a horse race that is held two times a year.
Visitors to Siena will experience a more laid back atmosphere with locals carrying on a way of life as in past centuries. Vehicles are banned from a majority of the town’s streets; therefore, walking is required to explore the town’s attractions. Siena extends across three steep hills into neighboring valleys. In order to see the entire town and the various attractions, it is often necessary to traverse the deep valley.
It’s also a good idea to give yourself several days to explore the town and its treasures. Since a great number of the town’s streets are rather steep, a pair of good walking shoes is recommended. A visit to the top of Monte Amiata, as well as the clay town of Asciano and the Montagnola area, allows visitors a magnificent view of the valley and surrounding area below.
As mentioned earlier, a stroll through the town is the best way to get a feel of the town and its people. There is nothing quite like a nightly stroll through the town while grabbing some gelato and a drink along the way. The Piazza del Campo situated in the center of town is a great place to start. Here you’ll discover beautiful architecture such as the Torre del Mangia, the tall bell tower dominating the Piazza del Campo.
If you’re up to it, you can climb the 300 steps up to the top of the tower for a magnificent view of the town and surrounding valley. The Palazzo Pubblico, Siena’s City Hall alone is a magnificent work of architecture containing the famous frescos by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Simone Martini, and Duccio. Grab a little bite at one of the local cafes for a little relaxation while taking in other sites most notably the Duomo Cathedral that looms over the town.
In contrast to other cities, the cathedral does not differ with the structures surrounding it. All of Siena’s buildings maintain the gothic medieval architectural look and you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of gothic architecture in Europe.
Other notable attractions include the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo featuring Duccio’s famous Maestà, and the Palazzo Salimbeni, another architectural masterpiece built in 1472. The building serves as the world headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the major banking corporation in Siena.
Just a short distance from the Duomo is the residence where St. Catherine of Siena one of Italy’s major patron saints was born. One of the most popular attractions on the Piazza del Campo is the Piccolomini Palace. The structure was built in 1459 by the renowned architect Bernardo Rossellino, a student of Leon Battista Alberti.
The Palio Horse Race is an event that rivals any in Europe. The event takes place every year on July 2 and August 16. Since the beginning of the 11th century, locals have organized festivals such as horse racing, flag throwing, and fist fights. Although fist fights no longer occur, the nature of the competition is nonetheless intense. The festivity begins prior to the actual competition when numerous neighborhoods begin to challenge one another. The challenge involves various groups marching through their opponents neighborhoods during the middle of the night, creating as much noise as possible. When all is done, each neighborhood provides a horse and rider to compete in the race.
If you really want to experience the local culture, plan to stay for a few days. Much like wine, it gets better the longer you stay.
For more information, visit: http://www.discovertuscany.com/siena/