I like Siena. Maybe not as much as I like Florence, but I find it very alluring. It’s medieval town atmosphere with winding lanes and gothic architecture is quite charming. Unlike Florence’s gray, somber tones, Siena’s red-brick buildings catch your eye right away. The fortress-like town sits on three hills and is surrounded by olive groves and the vineyards of Chianti. Siena may be beautiful and charming, but it’s not only that. It is also rich in art, history and traditions. No wonder it is one of the most popular and visited places in Tuscany.
Siena was not designed for cars, but it’s a small city. Everything is close, so you can practically walk almost everywhere. If you visit Siena for the first time, here are some must-see spots that will make your experience worthwhile:
1. Piazza del Campo
You should probably start your tour from the heart of the city, the beautiful Piazza del Campo, one of the landmarks of the city.
The shell-shaped piazza with its red-brick pavement is incredible! It is larger than life! You can’t get the feel of this large open space until you stand there. Photos can’t even begin to do justice to this spectacular place. The Piazza’s fame derives first and foremost from being the location of the world-famous horse race, Palio di Siena.
2. Palazzo Comunale
Among the buildings overlooking Piazza del Campo you can see the Palazzo Comunale that once hosted the headquarters’ of Siena’s council, but today is occupied by the Civic Museum. Built in red brick and marble, the Palazzo is decorated with Gothic windows and beautiful frescoes.
3. Torre del Mangia
The Torre del Mangia is 87 meters high and offers the most spectacular views of the region for those willing to climb its 400 steps. The climb is very tiring and is surely not for those who are claustrophobic. However, if you venture up there a view of 360° awaits you at the top of the tower. The Torre del Mangia is the only place from where you can get a bird-eye view of the entire city.
4. Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy)
Also located in the Piazza del Campo is the famous Fonte Gaia, designed by Jacopo della Quercia around 1419. The impressive water fountain makes the centerpiece of the Piazza. The water that feeds the fountain comes from a spring that travels through 25 kilometres of underground passages. The name of the fountain (Fountain of Joy) derives from the great celebrations that took place when the people of Siena saw the water coming out from the fountain for the first time. From here you can continue to Piazza del Duomo.
5. Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption)
Also known as the Duomo di Siena, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption is a true Gothic masterpiece. The Cathedral of Sienna is said to occupy the site of a temple of Minerva. The present building was begun in the early 13th century, but the cupola was finished much later. The Gothic façade is absolutely magnificent, built with white, black and pink marble.
Unlike the Duomo of Florence, the Baptistery is not a completely separate building, but it is located in a lower level of the cathedral.
Adjacent to the Cathedral there is a wall that stands alone, like some unfinished project. The cathedral that you see today was supposed to be a much larger size, ending by that wall. The work to enlarge the church was started in the early 14th century but was abruptly stopped due to the Black Death that swept through the city in 1348. After the Plague Siena’s population dropped from around 42,000 to around 14,000. The work was never resumed, hence the unfinished wall.
The wall is used today as an observation deck to climb up to and enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of Siena. The access for the wall is through the Museo dell’Opera, also located in Piazza del Duomo.
6. Loggia della Mercanzia
Located in the commercial heart of Siena on a narrow street, Loggia della Mercanzia may go completely unnoticed if you are not aware of its whereabouts. The street is usually very crowded and the building is hard to photograph or even observe. This superb construction of was once the merchants’ storehouse. The building is composed of a spacious loggia with three arches supported by beautifully adorned columns.
7. Piazza dei Salimbeni
This uniquely beautiful rectangular Piazza is formed by three buildings that were once Palazzo Salimbeni, Palazzo Cantucci and Palazzo Spannocchi. Built around the 14th century, Palazzo Salimbeni is one of the most beautiful examples of Italian architecture. Equally beautiful, Palazzo Spannocchi was completed in 1880 and features the heads of Roman emperors on its façade. To the left is Palazzo Cantucci, which was built in 1548 by Bartolomeo Neroni.Today the three buildings are home to the oldest bank in the world still in operation – Monte dei Paschi (founded in 1472). At the center of Piazza dei Salimbeni is the statue of the archdeacon Sallustio Bandini, the founder of the Library of Siena.
8. Chiesa di San Cristoforo
Cheesa di San Cristoforo (the Church of St. Christofor) was initially built in the 11th-12th century, but suffered severe damages during the earthquake of 1798. After the reconstruction the church underwent some changes. The red-brick temple façade that you see today was added in the 1800s.
Interesting Facts about Siena
- Siennese are said to speak the purest form of the Tuscan dialect, which after the unification of Italy became what it is known today as the Italian language.
- Basilica of Santo Domingo houses the head and thumb of Italy’s patron saint, Catherine of Siena who played an instrumental role in bringing back the Papacy to Rome from its exile in Avignon.
- Siena is one of the richest cities in Italy. Restaurants are always crowded and the shops are filled with great merchandise, from fine silverware to aged wines and exotic meats and cheeses.
- People in Siena are famous to being law abiding citizens. Laws are followed to the letter. Streets are kept sparkling clean, scooters are parked only in designated spaces, tour busses also park only where they are allowed.
- Sina is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe.