Siena Things to Do
monuments and museums
piazza del campo
Built in 1347 to commemorate the Government of Nine, this famous square, shaped like a conch shell with scalloped edges and paved in brick, remains the center of all activity in the city. It is in this Piazza that the world-renowned horse race, the Palio of Siena, takes place each summer. The race, preceded by magnificent processions in full historic costume, has all the pomp and excitement of ancient times and is a major festival attracting thousands. Adding to the specialness of the Piazza is the 19th century reproduction of Jacopo della Quercia's masterpiece, the Fonte Gaia that adorns the center. The heart of the city, this fan-shaped, gently sloping piazza remains as it was in the Middle Ages.
torre del mangia
Torre del Mangia, the bell tower that stands 330 feet tall, is the second highest in Italy and provides a view that can only be described as magnificent! Designed by Lippo Memmi in 1341 and built by Minuccio and Francesco di Rinaldo (1338-48), the tower is crowned by a beautiful stone belfry that can be reached from an entrance in the courtyard of the palace, and then by climbing the 336 steps to the top! The tower owes its name to its first bell ringer, Mangiaguadagni (spendthrift,) a lad known for his infuriating idleness and who in 1347 dutifully climbed the hundreds of steps just to ring the bell!
Built between 1297 and 1310 this building is one of the finest examples of gothic civic architecture in the world and it symbolizes the independence and economic power of the Sienese oligarchy. The facade has a three-story central part and two-storey wings, the second added at the end of the 17th century. Crowned with merlons and a large rose window with the monogram of Christ, the symbol of St. Bernardine, the Chapel of Piazza, built between 1352 and 1376 stands to the left of the building in commemoration of the deliverance of the city from the terrible plague in 1348. It has the structure of an elegant open loggia, decorated with statues mostly sculpted by Agnolo Bronziono in 1377, and extended around 1463 by Antonio Federighi.
Originally constructed in the second half of the 1200's to provide the city government with a suitable seat, it is still today the headquarters of the City Council and also houses the Museo Civico, or City Museum, which is open to the public.
One of the most important rooms is the Mappamondo, named after the map of the territories belonging to the Republic of Siena and painted on the walls by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Though these have been lost, frescoes by the same artist are still to be found in the splendid Pace room. These portray an Allegory of good and bad government, revealing a great deal about how the city was managed in the Middle Ages. The Government of Nine, who wanted visitors to know the thinking behind how Siena was run, commissioned the frescoes.
Spectacular and unsurpassed amongst It's churches, the Duomo is built in full Gothic style and considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Toscana. Built in the 13th-14th centuries, the Duomo is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption; its carved pulpit panels by Nicola Pisano are magnificent depictions from The Life of Christ.
Built on a Latin-cross plan, divided into a nave and two aisles by pillars supporting vaults painted blue with golden stars, the magnificence goes on and on throughout the Duomo. The polychrome marble facade with three doorways by Giovanni Pisano, the statues of the prophets, philosophers and patriarchs; the upper section representing the crowning of the Cathedral of Orvieto; the black and white striped bell tower rising on an old tower, the floor with marble inlay whose oldest squares depict symbols, the virtues and Biblical stories, the bas-relief representing the "Madonna with Child", attributed to Donatello; a bronze statue of St. John the Baptist, another work of Donatello.
Figures of angels adorn the sides of the high altar by Francesco di Giorgio Martini; a fresco of the apse, surmounted by a circular window is the oldest example of a leadlight window in Italy while Donatello's tombstone of Bishop Giovanni Pecci stands firmly in the stone floor.
In addition to the magnificent collection of illuminated antiphonaries, the Library boasts a colourful fresco cycle painted by Pinturicchio to illustrate the life of the Cardinal's famous uncle, the great Humanist Pope Pius II. And the marvel continues with the Renaissance Chapel of San Giovanni Battista with frescoes by Pinturicchio, and The Capella Chigi (or Chapel of the Madonna del Voto) from the second half of the 13th century created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, for Pope Alexander VII. The cathedral entirely dominates the square. To this day, visitors visit bringing special pleas for divine intervention. It is truly a divine experience.
san giovanni baptistry
In the middle of the Baptistry, built between 1316 and 1325, is a masterpiece of the Renaissance, the magnificent baptismal font. Decorated in gilt bronze panels the font depicts scenes from the life of John the Baptist and is embellished with statues and the Virtues: "Annunciation to Zaccariah" by Jacopo della Quercia; "Justice" by Giovanni di Turino; "The Birth of the Baptist" by Turino di Sano; "Charity", "The Preaching of the Baptist" and "Prudence" by Giovanni di Turino; "Baptism of Jesus" by Lorenzo Ghiberti; "Faith" by Donatello; "The Capture of the Baptist" by Lorenzo Ghiberti; "Hope" and "He's Banquet" by Donatello; and "Strength" by Goro di Neroccio.
The ciborium by Donatello and Giovanni Turino includes four angels and five statues of prophets by Jacopo della Quercia, a Madonna and Child and is crowned with a statue of Saint John the Baptist. On one of these steps leading down to the Baptistery from the Cathedral, a small cross marks the place where St. Catherine is said to have fallen while climbing up to the cathedral on her knees.
Built in 1460 for the prosperous Piccolomini family the Palazzo Piccolomini contains Sienese state archives and financial records of the past and today is the State Archive. It also holds the collection of Biccherne, the 103 painted wooden covers for the city's account books. The work of several Sienese artists from the 13th to the 18th centuries, the covers provide a view into the daily life and customs of ancient times.
pinacoteca nazionale (national gallery)
Containing the largest collection of works by the great artists of the Siena School from the 12th to the mid 17th century, the works document the activities of great masters like Duccio di Buoninsegna, Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti, Sassetta, Sodoma and Beccafumi. Established by Abbot Giuseppe Ciaccheri in the late 18th century, the gallery increased its treasures with works obtained from dissolved churches and monasteries, bequests and storehouses. In 1930, it passed to the State and was then placed in its present seat, 14th century Palazzo Buonsignori. Since 1977, the gallery included the Spannocchi collection of paintings by North European and Flemish masters. In 1997, the Sala delle Sculture, showcasing 14th-15th century works by Sienese masters, was opened. The hall was created to enable visitors to sit and leisurely admire the splendid view of the city, before continuing the visit of the museum and its beautiful rooms.
While the statues on the facade of the Duomo are copies, the originals along with other works of art from the cathedral and the baptistry and from the oratories of San Giovannino and San Gennaro, and of San Giovanni Battista della Morte, can be viewed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. Located in a part of the Duomo that was closed and abandoned after 1348, the main works include the "Madonna and Child" by Jacopo della Quercia, "Maesta'" by Duccio di Buoninsegna, and the altar-piece with the "Blessed Agostino Novello" by Simone Martini. A magnificent view of the city can be seen at the top of the new facade of the Cathedral, just outside the museum.
opedale di santa maria della scala (saint maria della scala hospital)
Some say that Santa Maria della Scala was founded by a cobbler name Sorore, who died in 898. Another legend says that a Blessed Sister founded the hospital in the 9th century. In reality, the oldest documents testify to its existence since the 11th century. But whatever is the true background, it is agreed that the structure was established by the canons of the Cathedral to offer pilgrims bound for Rome a resting place to stay and regain their strength on their journey. And because its reason for existence was to care for others, it became one of Europe's first hospitals, extending its mission to the poor and homeless.
Over the years the hospital has enjoyed the benefits of generous endowments and donations, investing these riches in agricultural estates. It contains works of art like the frescoes in the infirmary or "Pellegrinaio" (pilgrins'hall), painted mostly by Domenico di Bartolo and that depict the history of the hospital and the life of the Opedale. The building contains a fine collection of the works of by important Sienese artists that today puts Santa Maria della Scala in competition for importance with the Duomo and the Palazzo Pubblico.
Recently the National Archeological Museum, containing archeological finds from the prehistoric, Etruscan and Roman periods that confirm the evolution of the civilizations in Siena, moved here.
basilica di san domenico
Dominating Piazza San Domenico, with a magnificent view of the Cathedral and the Mangia tower, is this ancient Basilica built in 1226. Majestic and decorated with beautiful frescoes on its walls and altars, it is also a tabernacle on the chapel altar holds a reliquary containing the head of Saint Catherine. In the chapels of the Basilica, each a work of art, can be seen frescoed altars by Andrea Vanni, beautiful frescoes by Sodoma, the tabernacle with two marble angels by Benedetto da Maiano, and the Matteo di Giovanni masterpiece, "Saint Barbara Enthroned with Angels and Saints". The large crypt is only opened during concerts or conferences.
via banchi di sopra
Once a section of the Via Francigena, the old pilgrim route leading to Rome, this street has always been a hub of activity that included people, money-changing counters and shops. Today, there are elegant stores where large sums of money are still exchanged, but for luxury goods.
palio delle contrade
On the second of July and also on the fourteenth of August, Siena goes back in time to revisit the old alliances and feuds between the 17 medieval districts of Siena. It is time for the Palio, one of the most famous horse race in the world and an event filled with processions, pageantry and celebration leading up to the climactic and brief but no less intense bareback horse race around the Piazza that is over in five minutes! In the spirit of tradition the competition between the districts is as fierce as it was when the Palio began in 1147. It is a fascinating spectacle that is as much an authentic Siena event to experience as is strolling through its ancient streets and taking in the breathtaking art.
historic procession of the votive candle
Marking the grand opening of the Palio event is the late afternoon procession participated in by city authorities and the Pages of the 17 contradas. It begins with the "provaccia" sequence, or the last trial before the real race. The track is then cleared and the historic procession begins to enter the Piazza del Campo.
Called the "Collec's Corner", the market is a medley of antiques and collectibles from every period and offered by anxious exhibitors seeking sales. The Antique Market is held on the third Sunday of each month, except in August or if it coincides with Easter, in Piazza del Mercato.