Siena is one of the most beautiful medieval cities in the world, well known for its artistic heritage and for the Palio, a famous horse race which takes place twice a year in Piazza del Campo, a spectacular seashell-shaped main square.
Among the Rolling Hills
Located in the heart of the scenic rolling hills of Tuscany, Siena is surrounded by some real landscape treasures that make the city a perfect base to explore the Chianti and San Gimignano to the north, the Crete Senesi and Montepulciano to the southeast, the Val d’Orcia with Montalcino and Pienza to the south, and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the southwest.
Built on three hills, Siena’s steep slopes, narrow and winding streets, small shops, and views over verdant valleys are like little treasures that are discovered one after the other at every turn. The city exudes a timeless elegance and manages to pull on the old heartstrings with every visit.
Walking in the City of Palio
The city is divided into the remaining 17 districts of the original 59 “Contrada“. Wandering through Siena, you come into contact with typical scents of sweet spices, the sounds of the city, and the magic and charm of its buildings.
At least once in life, Siena is a must see. Not to be missed are Piazza del Campo where the Palazzo Pubblico is located in addition to the City Hall with its majestic tower, Torre del Mangia. The main building hosts the Civic Museum, a coffer of treasures and paintings in the Sienese Gothic style. On a clear day, the top of the tower is a spectacular viewpoint over the Tuscan countryside if you are brave enough to climb up the 500 steep and narrow steps.
An easy 5-minute walk up the hill ends at the staircase of the Baptistry which leads you up to the second location that is a must-see in Siena: Piazza del Duomo. Only 500 feet away from the main square, Il Campo, you will find this beautiful square where the Cathedral, il Duomo di Siena, the Santa Maria della Scala Museum, and the Museo dell’Opera are all located.
A Glorious History
Mentioned by Tacitus for the first time in 70AD, Siena was founded under the Emperor Augustus by Senius, son of Remus, one of the legendary founders of Rome, with the name Saena Iulia even if Etruscan ruins suggest earlier origins.
In the Middle Ages starting in the X century, Siena became increasingly important because of its strategic position on important commercial and communication routes including the Via Francigena which led to Rome.
In the XII century, Siena set up a municipal council to expand the territory and form its first alliances. During this period, Siena prospered by becoming an important trading centre on good terms with the Church State, so much so that Sienese bankers advised authorities in Rome about loans and financing.
The War with Florence
The first battles with Florence started at the end of the XII century for the control of the north of Tuscany and the famous Battle of Montaperti in 1260. However, Siena, which supported the Ghibellines, lost the Battle of Colle Val d’Elsa in 1269. This led to the victory of the Rule of the Nine in 1287 for the Guelphs under whom the rule of Siena reached its maximum economic and cultural splendour ultimately controlling a third of the entire territory of Tuscany. Siena was the first western state to begin a pure democracy in the name of the people.
The decline of the Republic of Siena started with the epidemic of the Plague in 1348 which culminated in the end of the reign of Charles V on April 25, 1555 after a siege which had lasted for more than a year. The Emperor was helped by the Medicis, the noble family from Florence who received the territory of Siena as a fief in return.
After the fall of the Republic, hundreds of noble Sienese families led by the exiled Florentine Piero Strozzi who, not wanting to accept the fall of the Republic, heroically took refuge in Montalcino and created the Republic of Siena in Montalcino while maintaining its alliance with France. On May 31st, 1559 with the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, the French finally handed over the Republic of Siena in Montalcino to the Medici of Florence.