Located in the heart of Tuscany, Siena was important in history as a commercial and banking city until surpassed by Florence in the 13th–14th century. Today, however, Siena essentially remains a medieval town due to its original character.
Since Siena is about a 20-minute driving from Monteriggioni, we visited both places in one day during our Tuscany summer trip. Its unique medieval brick buildings, the Gothic town hall, the shell-shaped central square Piazza del Campo, Torre del Mangia, and many other buildings have presented us with a visualized history. Most sites are inside the city walls and gates. All places we haven visited spread over three areas:
- Capella Della Madonna del Rosario and Palio event
- Duomo Complex and the surrounding buildings
- Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped square
Capella della Madonna del Rosario and Palio event
We parked the car outside the medieval town and walked along Via S. Marco street. The first site we saw was Capella della Madonna del Rosario.
Capella della Madonna del Rosario
Formerly built by the Chiocciola family between 1655 and 1656, the chapel’s 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 and then abandoned by the Chiocciola family. In recent years, locals use it to shelter the horses during the Palio event, the annual horse race event.
Palio, an important event in Siena
Palio, the Horse Race in Siena, is one of the significant events in Siena. It takes place on July 2 and August 16 every year since the 6th century. The colourful and different shaped lamps on the walls were traces from the event of the year.
You can join a Palio walking tour of the medieval old town and learn more about the event from an informative guide.
Keep walking towards the centre, along Via del Capitano, the 13th-century Gothic-style urban palace built in bricks and stones, the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, came into our sight. After that, we arrived at the centre of Siena, the Duomo Complex.
Duomo Complex and the surrounding buildings
Duomo Complex is a beautiful place that is impossible to miss in the town. The Duomo Complex is an extraordinary museum of Italian sculpture, including many sites and treasures. It is a Gothic wonder in Tuscany and full of arts and treasures.
The Duomo was so light when the Tuscany sun shone on it. Its façade is in white, only part of it is in dark green and white marble stripes. To avoid missing out any place, we had to follow the arrows on the ground.
The most attractive part in my memory was the floor decorated with marble mosaics. Various techniques in the earlier and later stages resulted in a dynamic contrast of light and dark. Nevertheless, the scenes had a modern and impressionistic composition.
The Piccolomini Library
Piccolomini Library was to honour Pinturicchio’s maternal uncle Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II). The frescoes show scenes from the Life of Pope Pius II on three Library’s walls. There are also a rich collection of books and manuscripts from the Pope.
The Piccolomini altar
The young Michelangelo had designed four sculptures in the lower niches of the Piccolomini altar. On top of the altar are the Madonna and Child. It is a remarkable piece of art.
Buildings next to the Duomo
The Battistero di San Giovanni is near the final spans of the choir of the Duomo di Siena. Another building is Museo dell’Opera. Some of the art pieces from the Duomo are now in Museo dell’Opera. It hosts an outstanding collection of artifacts, including religious art, sculptures, and stained glass.
Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped square
Piazza del Campo
The shell-shaped square is the focus of Siena‘s civic life. In history, the Piazza del Campo was a place for markets and events, such as the most famous Palio. In addition to its size, the main feature was its paving made of red bricks arranged in fishbone style and divided into a sunburst pattern.
It was 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.
Fonte Gaia, the engineering miracle of Siena
Fonte Gaia was a massive hydraulic work that led water to the city’s highpoint via a long tunnel. By all means, it was the most influential public fountain.
Upon completion of this engineering work, Jacopo della Quercia, a Sienese Renaissance master, created sculptures with themes from Old Testament to decorate the fountain. His original works were badly damaged throughout the years, and hence they are now in the Santa Maria della Scala Museum. The current sculptures in the display are the copies.
Torre del Mangia, the red Palazzo Pubblico, and Museo Civico
From far away, we saw Torre del Mangia rising from the Piazza del Campo. Visitors could climb up over 500 steps to enjoy the view of Siena and its surroundings from the unique tower. The red Palazzo Pubblico is a Gothic town hall. Next to the Palazzo Pubblico is the Museo Civico offering some of the greatest of Sienese paintings.
Visitors who wish to learn more about these buildings can join a private tour of the Civic Museum in Siena.
Explore the back streets behind the square
The back streets behind the square are intriguing. We took time to stroll around and visited the shops along the way. I could spend hours seeking Sienese specialties, such as gourmet pasta, vintage Chianti, boar prosciutto, or extra virgin olive oil. Briefly speaking, Siena offers Italy’s best medieval city experience.
Where to stay
Practically, Siena is a great base to explore other villages in the surrounding areas. Here are several top picks:
For those who travel with children can join a fun guided tour of Siena. With the help of a local guide, the private tour keep your children’s attention alive with language that is colorful and lively, and where history is mixed with art, legends, and traditions.
How to get there
From Florence, the fast bus (Rapida) to Siena takes around 1:15, and the ordinary bus (Ordinaria) takes around 1:30.
However, when traveling with small children, it is more comfortable to take the train from Florence since there is more space for the stroller and the children to walk around. There are two trains per hour, one is direct, and the other requires a change at Empoli.
In case you take the bus from Pisa, you have to change to Florence. Trains leave approximately two times per hour from the central station to Siena, requiring a change in Empoli. And, the whole trip lasts about 1 hour and 50 minutes.