Italy is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, and Tuscany could viably lay claim to the most beautiful region within that. Nestled snugly amongst the Tuscan hills, is Siena.
Boasting over 163,000 international visitors in 2008, Siena is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, and with all it has to offer set in such a picture perfect surround, it is not difficult to see why. Siena was founded by the Etruscans c. 900 – 400 BC and was later settled by the Romans; however it was in the medieval era that the city really came into its own.
The Piazza del Campo is the city’s main square and is less of a square than a beautiful shell shape in red brick. It is one of the largest medieval spaces still in existence in Europe and is the setting of the Fonte Gaia which was built in 1419 to mark the endpoint of the water system bringing water from the surrounding fields into the centre of the city. Around the outside of the piazza is the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) which houses frescoes (including a Lorenzetti) in almost every room, and the Torre del Mangia, a tower built 1338 – 48 and visible from all parts of the city. The piazza really is breathtaking, but never more so than when it becomes the setting for the Palio.
The Palio di Siena is held twice a year (July 2 and August 16) and is a horse race run around the outside of the piazza. But it is no ordinary race. The participants ride their horses bareback in a mega fast mad scramble vying for the Palio – a painted banner of the image of the Virgin Mary which is commissioned every year and painted by a well known artist. But the Palio is more about honour, run by seventeen Contrade representing the districts within the city. Preparations and celebrations continue for a week and the actual event is heralded by drummers and flag twirlers dressed in historic medieval attire.The Palio is a medieval tradition continued until the present day, and if you are able to visit the city to see this magnificent and splendid event, then it is an opportunity not to be missed.
The Duomo di Siena is a medieval church completed 1215 – 1263. Famous for its decoration in black and white striped marble (which represent the black and white horses of the city’s founders, Senius and Aschius), it was originally intended to be the largest cathedral in the world, however building halted due to lack of funds. But the Duomo does not suffer. The cathedral really is one of the most impressive of its kind, and the bronze statue of St John the Baptist by Donatello alone makes it worth a visit. You can pick up a ticket for €12 which allows entry to all attractions on the site, including the crypt, baptistery and the Museo dell’ Opera, amongst others.
Siena is a city steeped in and proud of its medieval heritage. It is jam packed with things to see and do which can be taken in as you stroll around the city. There is more than a day's worth to see here, so make a short stay of it. And of course being in Italy, you'll never to be short of a good ice cream. Bella!