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Siena-Piazza Salimbeni
Siena-Piazza Salimbeni

Siena is a picturesque Medieval town, and, hey, this is Tuscany, Italy, so it is also a town of art.

How to get there:

If you made Florence your headquarters, Siena is easy to reach.

By Train:
Frequent trains run from Florence to Siena (approximately every hour).  The journey takes around 1h 28 min. A return ticket is 12.00 Euros.
If you drive: Use your GPS. Again, just keep in mind that the trip takes more by car than by train.

Siena-History and Attractions

Siena history is rich and tumultuous, marked by the economic and territorial rivalry with its more powerful Medieval neighbor, Florence. 

In the 12th and the 13th centuries, a divided Medieval Italy reflected the power struggles taking place in the Holy Roman Empire itself, and between the Empire and the Papacy. The Italian political factions were divided, and named according to the party they supported. The Ghibellins, mainly nobles, got involved on the Holy Roman Emperor side, supporting Frederick II in his conflict with the Papacy. The Guelphs, mostly merchant class, were sympathetic to the Papal cause. In this conflict, Siena was supporting the Ghibellins, while Florence, with its strong merchants class and greater economic power, was on Guelphs side. The most important battle between Siena and Florence, the Battle of Montaperti, was fought on September 4, 1260, when the Sienese Ghibellines, supported by the forces of King Manfred of Sicily, defeated the Florentine Guelphs.

With the imperial cause declining, the popes imposed economic sanctions against Siena. From the second half of the 14th Century, up to 1559, among political instability, Siena endured an economic and demographic decline.

In the early 16th century, Italy became the theatre of confrontation between the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and France, under Francis Ist. After 1530, the city had a Spanish garrison. In 1552, the Spanish troops were forced out of the city by the Sienese rebellion opposing the plans to built a fortress in Siena. With French help, the Sienese tried to keep their independence, fighting the forces of Cosimo I de' Medici and Spain. In 1555 Siena was starved into surrender, although fighting continued in the Sienese county for another 4 years. Siena was governed directly by Spain until 1557, when it was sold to Cosimo, whose possession of the city was confirmed by the Peace of Chateau-Cambrésis. After 1559, Siena history followed that of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In 1861 Siena, together with the rest of Tuscany, was included into the new Kingdom of Italy.

The University of Siena, one of the most important Italian universities, was founded in 1203 and is famous for its faculties of law and medicine.

Visiting Siena, you can see why, back in the 13th and 14th centuries,  the city rivaled Florence as a centre of arts.

The Medieval Piazza del Campo, the main square of Sienna, is outlined by the magnificent Palazzo Publico, with its Torre del Mangia standing 102 meters tall. Its construction began in 1250 and was finished in 1310. It is one of the most representative Gothic constructions in Tuscany, famous for its "Sienese" arches. The Palazzo Halls are splendidly decorated with murals by Simone Martini (The Hall of The Globe), and Ambrogio Lorenzetti (the famous allegory "Effects of Good Governement" in the Peace Hall).

Siena-Palazzo Publico
Siena-Palazzo Publico

Siena history was witnessed by its cathedral, the Duomo, begun around 1230, which is one of the most prominent examples of Italian gothic architecture. The façade portals are a splendid display of evolving architectural styles, the lower part being Romanesque, executed by Giovanni Pisano in the 13th Century, while the arcades above, in the Gothic Flamboyant style, are the work of Giovanni di Cecco, dating from the 14th Century.

The Cathedral Pulpit was executed by Nicola Pisano between 1266-1268. It has an hexagonal form, and its intricacies make it one of the most distinguished works in Italian sculpture.  The marble mosaic floor of the Cathedral is an ornament masterpiece by itself. And on the left side, there is the Picollomini Altar, with Michelangelo's statues in the niches, executed between 1501 -1504 heralding the master. You can recognize what made him unique, the movement embedded in the sculpture, especially Saint Peter's statue.  Another great treasury of the Cathedral is Libreria Picollomini, beside the Picollomini Altar, built by Pope Pius III. Its walls are superbly decorated by Pinturicchio, the frescoes depicting various moments in Cardinal Picollomini's life, his ordination as a Pope, and finally his death. The colors are incredibly vivid, and it is claimed that they are the original ones, not restored.

Siena history is also marked by the famous Palio, a festival which was officially acknowledged in 1310, but existed well before this date.  The Palio (Palio di Siena, or Il Palio), takes place every year on July 2 and August 16.  Standard bearers, wearing Medieval costumes in distinct colors, are leading the Procession of the Districts. After that, the actual horse race takes place. On the 2nd of July, the winning District is celebrated by a Te Deum of Thanksgiving at  the Church of Madonna di Provenzano. On August 16th, the celebration takes place in the Cathedral.

You can get more info, other recommended tours, and maps at the Tourist Office:

Tourist Information
Piazza del Campo, 56
Tel. 0577 280551

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