Siena is located in the heart of Tuscany and is about 20-minute of driving from Monteriggioni. Its unique medieval brick buildings make the city to be one of the popular destinations in Italy. The Gothic town hall, the shell-shaped central square Piazza del Campo, Torre del Mangia, and many other buildings are very impressive. They are enclosed by the city walls and gates which form a medieval old town centre.
Siena was important in history as a commercial and banking city until surpassed by Florence in the 13th–14th century. Later, many modern buildings were built outside the city walls. However, Siena essentially remains a medieval town due to its original character.
Capella della Madonna del Rosario
If you park the car at the west side of Siena (Parking Lot “Siena parcheggi – parcheggio II Duomo”) and walk along Via S. Marco street, you will pass the first site Capella della Madonna del Rosario. Originally built by the Chiocciola family between 1655 and 1656, its restoration and extension between 1722 and 1725 used the money deriving from the winning of a Palio. The formerly Catholic chapel was later deconsecrated in 1820. Then, it was abandoned by Chiocciola family. In recent years locals use it to shelter the horses during the period of the Palio, the annual horse race event.
Palazzo del Capitano
Keep walking towards the centre along Via del Capitano you will pass a 13th-century Gothic style urban palace built in bricks and stones. The Palazzo is just next to Duomo Complex. Currently, it is the property of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation.
Siena Duomo Complex
The Duomo Complex is in the centre of Siena. It is one of the most beautiful sites in Siena and is impossible to miss when you are in the town. The Duomo Complex includes many sites such as the Duomo di Siena, the Crypt, the Piccolomini Library, the Baptistery of San Giovanni. It also contains many treasures including the artworks by Bernini and the young Michelangelo. The Duomo Complex makes this cathedral an extraordinary museum of Italian sculpture. Besides, you can also join a 2-Hour Walking Tour to discover these sites including this UNESCO sites, the Duomo Complex.
The exterior of the Duomo Complex
Before entering the complex, you should take some time to admire its elegant façade. The façade is mainly made in white. Part of it is striped in dark green and white marbles. The Duomo is so light when the Tuscany sun shines on it.
The interior of the Duomo di Siena
While the façade of the Cathedral is so light, it turns to be very dark inside the Duomo. The interior of the Duomo is made of various colours of marbles. The walls look absolutely impressive with black and white marbles stripes. At the right side, there is an information board telling you each place of interest inside the Duomo. It is better to follow the arrows on the ground to visit each place.
However, the most attractive part is the floor decorated with marble mosaics. They represent the sibyls, scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues. Most are well-maintained in their original status. Various techniques were applied in the earlier and later stages resulting in a vigorous contrast of light and dark. Nevertheless, the scenes have a modern and impressionistic composition.
The Piccolomini Library
This library is to honour the memory of Pinturicchio maternal uncle Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II). The paintings in the vault are ten stories illustrating the life of the Pope Pius II. The frescoes show scenes from Life of Pope Pius II on three Library’s walls. There are also a rich collection of books and manuscripts from the Pope. Make sure to locate this library on the information board inside the Duomo because visitors can easily miss it out.
The showcases around the walls contain a magnificent collection of illuminated manuscript codices. They offer nearly a complete overview of the history of Italian illumination in the 15th century.
The Piccolomini altar
The Piccolomini altar is remarkable because the four sculptures in the lower niches were made by the young Michelangelo. On top of the altar are the Madonna and Child.
Siena Baptistery of San Giovanni
The Battistero di San Giovanni is near the final spans of the choir of the Duomo di Siena. It is built between the 1310s and the 1320s. The monumental staircase rising to Piazza Jacopo della Quercia next to it was from the same period.
The museum is actually part of the Siena Cathedral. Some of the art pieces from the Duomo are now exhibited in Museo dell’Opera. It hosts an outstanding collection of artifact including religious art, sculptures, and stained glass. You can also enjoy panoramic views of the cathedral and the city of Siena.
Piazza del Campo
Follow the Via del Pellegrini until you reach the ring road Il Campo, you will arrive at the famous Piazza del Campo. The shell-shaped square is the focus of Siena‘s civic life. In history the places were used for fairs and markets. The entire population of Siena gathered there to attend events. Among those events the most famous one is Palio. The shell-shape took place at the end of the 1200s. The paving was made of red bricks arranged in fishbone style and divided into a sunburst pattern.
If you have limited time but want to get more from your trip, you can take the Siena Guided Walking tour. The tour will guide you through beautiful Siena’s squares and streets. Besides, you can Learn about the city’s history while admiring its cathedrals, museums, and libraries as well the famous Piazza del Campo.
It was just two days after the Palio when we visited there. The soils, used to protect the brick ground during the horse race, were still covering the square. Around the square, there are many restaurants and bars just like in many other Italian squares. Other than Torre del Mangia, the Palazzo Comunale (town hall) and the Fonte Gaia are worth a visit.
Fonte Gaia, the engineering miracle of Siena
“Gaia” means joyful, and represents happiness when the citizens witnessed the arrival of water for the first time in the square in 1346. It was the city’s most important public fountain. A massive hydraulic work was in place to lead water via a long tunnel to the high point of the city.
Upon the completion of this engineering work, Jacopo della Quercia, an important Sienese Renaissance master made the sculptures with themes from Old Testament reliefs and statues to decorate the fountain. But the original work was badly damaged throughout the years and is now conserved in the Santa Maria della Scala Museum. The current sculptures are copies of the original pieces.
Torre del Mangia
The Piazza del Campo is dominated by the red Palazzo Pubblico and its tower, Torre del Mangia. Do you still feel energetic? Then you can climb up over 500 steps and enjoy a wonderful view of Siena and its surroundings. On the other hand, the Civic Museum offers some of the greatest of Sienese paintings. The red Palazzo Pubblico is a Gothic town hall building in which nearly every major room contains frescoes.
There is a private tour of the Civic Museum in Siena. With this guided tour of the Civic Museum, you will discover one of the major museums in Italy. Inside Palazzo Pubblico, an expert guide will explain you the frescoes, created by some of the most important 14th-century artists. The duration is about 90 minutes. Please click private tour of the Civic Museum in Siena to check the availabitliy.
Walk the city walls
Visitors can walk on the ancient city walls. If you have limited time for the visit then just walk part of the walls. You will be rewarded with a scenic view.
Palio, the Horse Race in Siena
Palio is one of the major events in Siena. It takes place on July 2 and August 16 every year since the 6th century. We could still see some decorations on the wall, for example, those colourful lamps in different shapes. But we did not know this event when we planed our Tuscany trip. It’s a pity to miss that event. However, you should not expect to find a hotel during the event period.
Stroll around the back street behind the squares
The back streets behind the square are intriguing. You should take time to stroll around and visit the shops along the way. Besides, there are many Sienese specialties, gourmet pasta, vintage Chianti, boar prosciutto or extra virgin olive oil. By all means, Siena offers Italy’s best medieval city experience.
Where to stay
Most people see Siena as a day trip destination from Florence which is just 35 miles away. However, we found out that a day was too short for us because we did not stay in Siena. It also takes time to travel there from other major cities. Therefore, I recommend having an overnight stay in Siena.
Surrounded by olive groves and the beautiful hills of Chianti, the hotel is a 10-minute drive from the historic city walls. It offers free parking, a gym and spacious rooms. And it offers a large international breakfast buffet. You can find this hotel at Hotels Combine and Booking.com.
How to get there
Form Florence to Siena
The bus station in Florence is right in from of the SMN train station. The address is: Via Santa Caterina da Siena. There are two different buses to Siena: Rapida (the fast bus, it takes around 1:15) and Ordinaria (ordinary or slower bus, it takes around 1:30).
However, if you travel with small children, you might find the train more comfortable as there is more space for the stroller and for them to walk around. There are two trains per hour, one is direct and the other one requires a change at Empoli.
From Pisa to Siena
In case you take the bus, you have to change at Florence. Trains leave approximately two times per hour from the central station to Siena. However, you have to change in Empoli and the whole trip lasts about 1 hour and 50 minutes.