Siena is the capital of the province of the same name in the Tuscany region of Italy. It is probably the most beautiful larger small town in the country and, especially in summer, is overrun with tourists. During the traditional Palio, held twice a year, it is impossible to find a hotel bed in the city.
Siena travel guide
Region: Tuscany. Province: Siena. Postal code: 53100. Area code: 0577. Tourist office: The tourist information office is in Piazza del Campo itself. Town hall: Il Campo, 1 (tel. +39 0577292111).
By car/public transport
By car: If you want to take a scenic route from Rome or Florence, you can follow the old consular road Via Cassia (SS2). It is also possible to follow the A1/E35 until the exit at Sinalunga/Bettole. This is much faster, but it is a toll road.
Public transportation: The train station is a short walk outside the historic center of the city. From both Pisa and Florence you can reach the city by train by changing in Empoli. From Rome you will need to change trains in Empoli. Buses from Rome depart from Tiburtina station and do stop in the middle of the city.
What to see
For a medium-sized city, Siena has a lot to see and one can easily spend several days there. Moreover, there are several small towns and villages in the area that are also worth visiting. San Gimignano is the best example. The attractions in the city itself are mostly located in the historic center. Especially the Piazza del Campo and the immediate surroundings of this central square are full of beautiful palaces and churches.
The Baptistery is located behind the Cathedral. It was built in 1325 and for centuries was the only place where newborns were baptized. The baptismal font is made of marble and bronze and is placed in the center of the building.
The San Domenico Church is famous for the relic of the Head of Saint Catarina of Siena. Art lovers can enjoy the frescoes painted by Il Sodoma.
Santa Maria delle Nevi Church: This small church was once part of the Sant’Egidio Monastery.
San Cristoforo Church is one of the oldest churches in the city. The monastery next to this church is also worth seeing.
In the Middle Ages, the San Martino Church was the most important church in the district where it is located, and which is therefore called San Martino.
The Santa Maria dei Servi Basilica dates from the 13th century. The attraction is a fresco cycle by Pietro Lorenzetti.
San Donato Church
Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey: 14th century monastery, where some 40 monks still live. The cloister is decorated with frescoes by the ubiquitous Il Sodoma.
The Basilica dell’Osservanza is located outside the city walls. It was founded by San Bernardino da Siena, who also used to live there.
The San Francesco Basilica lost much of its glory due to a fire in the 17th century and its use as an army barracks.
Historic buildings Siena
The Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo is a 13th century building, where the political leader of Siena at the time had his residence.
Loggia della Mercanzia: It is here that merchants gathered to negotiate their prices. The Loggia was built in the 15th century.
The Palazzo Piccolomini is a Renaissance building. It is here that the city archives are kept.
Palazzo Chigi-Saracini: The curved Gothic facade of this building is actually the result of a much later restoration, which was intended to give it a more medieval appearance.
Loggia del Papa
Università degli Studi di Siena
The Palazzo Tolomei is in the square of the same name, Gothic Palazzo Salimbeni (prestigious head office of Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank), and the Renaissance Palazzo Spannocchi, from where 29 finely carved busts stare down at you from beneath the eaves.
Palazzo Spanocchi: Renaissance building, with 29 busts under the cornice.
The Gothic Palazzo Salimbeni is now the headquarters of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, one of the most important Italian banks.
The Torre dei Forteguerri was part of the city’s first defensive wall.
The Pinacoteca Nazionale features paintings by masters such as Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
Miscellaneous attractions Siena
The original 15th-century panels created by Jacopo della Quercia of the Fonte Gaia Fountain placed in Piazza del Campo in 1346 are on display in the Complesso Museale di Santa Maria della Scala.
Sallustio Bandini Statue
Santa Maria di Scala: This hospital was there for orphans, for the poor and for pilgrims and was directly opposite the cathedral. Today it is a complex that houses a number of museums spread over four floors.
The Orto de’ Pesci is a garden in town, where various species of animals (including goats and donkeys) roam.
The main event is the famous Palio, which is held twice a year. The central districts of the city battle each other in a horse race around the Piazza del Campo. During the days surrounding the festival, this square is filled at night with tourists who have been unable to find a place to sleep.
A brief history of Siena
Although people lived in the area as early as the Bronze Age, Siena was not founded until Roman times. Highlights of its history are the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period.
According to legend, Siena was founded by Aschio and Senio, the children of Remus, who had had to flee from Rome.
Previously it was one of the minor Etruscan settlements. Even further back in time, traces of human life in the Bronze Age have been found, although nothing to suggest that there used to be an actual village there.
After the Etruscan era, it became a Roman military colony named Sena Julia.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, Siena was ruled by the bishops. The construction of the pilgrimage route Via Francigena, along which several fortresses were built, increased the importance of the city.
Later, the bishops lost authority to the consuls, the consuls then to the Podestà, and the Podestà was replaced in 1236 by the Governo dei Ventiquattro (“Government of the Twenty-Four”), which in turn had to make way for the Governo dei Nove (“Government of the Nine”) in 1287.
In 1348, due to a plague epidemic, the population was reduced to no more than 8,000 people.
At the beginning of the 15th century, Gian Galeazzo Visconti held power in Siena. However, by the end of the same century, the Petrucci family took over the feudal lordship.
From that time on, much of the city’s history was marked by its rivalry with Florence. Siena was on the side of the Ghibellines and until 1552 also on the side of Charles V’s Imperial troops.
However, in 1555 the city had to surrender to the troops of Cosimo I and in 1559, after the defeat at Montalcino, the Republic became history.
In 1859, Siena was the first city to join the Kingdom of Italy.
Siena is now one of the most beautiful cities in the country and, especially on the weekends when the traditional Palio is held, is overrun by tourists.
Day trips (province of Siena)
Apart from the already mentioned San Gimignano, there are several beautiful hill towns in the area around Siena.
Abbadia San Salvatore is named for an abbey that used to be extremely important during the Middle Ages.
Siena (province of Siena, regio of Tuscany)
Abbadia, Agazzara, Bolgione, Casa Vannini, Casciano, Certano, Colle Malamerenda, Colombaiolo, Colonia Santa Regina, Doglia, Ellera, Ferraiolo, Ferratore, Ficareto, Fogliano Grosso, Ginestreto, Isola d’Arbia, La Pergola, Le Coste, Le Querce, Le Ropole, Leccio, Monastero Basso, Montalbuccio, Montecchio, Montechiaro, Monteliscai, Osservanza, Piazza, Pieve a Bozzone, Presciano, San Giovanni, San Martino, San Pietro a Paterno, San Rocco a Pilli, Sant’Andrea, Sant’Andrea a Montecchio, Santa Regina, Selvaccia, Tavernacce, Taverne d’Arbia, Terrensano, Toiano, Val di Pugna, Vico d’Arbia, Villa Mieli, Volte Alte, Volte Basse.