Siena is a beautiful hilltop city located in the Tuscany region of Italy. Medieval influence is still visible throughout the city via the impressive Gothic architecture of local structures. Those travelers hoping to take advantage of Siena’s rich culture may want to plan a minimum stay of 2-3 nights for their Italian vacation to properly take in the architecture, art, music, and more of this enchanting city.
The heart of architecture for the city of Siena is widely considered to be found in the Piazza del Campo. It is here where travelers can find some of the city’s most well-known landmarks such as Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre Del Mangia. The Palazzo Pubblico, or city hall, sits prominently on the grand Piazza del Campo where locals and travelers often gather. The stately building with Gothic accents is majestic and a photo favorite for visitors. The large and open cobblestone square below it, considered to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world, only adds to the building’s overall grandeur.
Although it looks to be separate, the Torre Del Mangia is a part of Palazzo Pubblico. This tall and slender tower is said to reach just shy of three hundred feet into the air. While some travelers may be content to appreciate the tower’s architecture from the outside, others will want to take advantage of an opportunity to climb the four hundred plus stairs to the top for stunning views of Siena.
The Siena Cathedral, or Duomo, has an interesting backstory. The city had plans at one time to add on to the structure and give it the largest transept in the world, but those plans were derailed with the arrival of the Black Death as well as other financial problems. The Duomo is perhaps best known for its intricate marble inlaid floor, which was completed over a period of approximately two centuries. The floor extends throughout the cathedral and depicts stories and scenes from the Old Testament, as well as numerous allegories. In order to protect the delicate flooring from deterioration and foot damage, the majority of the floor is covered, and only portions are displayed on a daily basis. Each year, the full floor is uncovered for public viewing during designated periods, usually a few weeks at a time. If at all possible, try to plan your trip to Siena around those times for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Inside the church is the Piccolomini Library. This absolutely gorgeous room is anything but an ordinary library. Magnificent and detailed frescoes from the early sixteenth century attributed to Pinturicchio cover much of the walls in this room. However, guests would do well to look directly up when entering the library for an astounding view of colorful and gold accented frescoes on the vaulted ceiling of the room. Although it is one room, some visitors may be able to spend an hour or more here taking in every last detail of the art masterpieces they are surrounded by.
Siena’s Civic Museum, located in the Palazzo Pubblico, is the perfect spot to take in artifacts and art of various mediums, including paintings and frescoes. The interior of the museum is a work of art in and of itself with highly detailed frescoes from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries covering much of the wall space. It is best to give yourself at least an hour or two to wander the museum and appreciate the historic talent.
The Basilica of San Domenico is one of the most important churches in Siena. This stunning gothic basilica sits on a hill overlooking the city and offers spectacular views of the Duomo. It is home to a variety of artwork and frescoes, as well as holding the relics of St. Catherine, the patron saint of the city.
When enjoying the splendid architecture in Siena, don’t overlook the magnificent, fortified city walls. Dating back to the fourteenth century, the walls delineate the historical center of Siena. The walls have not only stood and protected the city for centuries, they continue to contribute to the city’s unique gothic atmosphere and historical charm as well.
Art has long been a rich part of the culture in Siena. Much of the origin of Sienese art is thought to have been birthed at the Sienese School of Painting circa the fourteenth century. Two of the artists most closely associated with the school are Duccio and Simone Martini.
Duccio di Buoninsegna, commonly called Duccio, was a thirteenth and fourteenth century painter from Italy. He is thought to have been born and passed away in the city of Siena. Some consider the artist to be the “father of Sienese painting.” Duccio’s most celebrated works include the altarpiece Maestà and a large stained glass rose window designed for Siena’s Cathedral, both of which can be admired at the Museo dell’Opera (The Cathedral Museum).
Simone Martini was also a thirteenth and fourteenth century Italian painter born in Siena that went on to become a student of sorts of Duccio’s work. Martini is credited with the works of the Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus and some frescoes in the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.
The tranquility and peace of Siena’s beautiful hilltop location often make it a haven for aspiring writers. Whether it is sitting outside at a café while scribbling away their thoughts or people watching at the Piazza del Campo for inspiration, Siena has much to offer the literary community. It is said that the city of Siena is to have inspired some of Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays just as it continues to encourage creativity in many modern day writers today.
Siena also has ties to Dante’s Divine Comedy, with several Sienese featured in the magnum opus. As you walk through the streets of Siena, keep an eye out for eight marble plaques with quotes from the Divine Comedy. The plaques have been placed on historic buildings that are directly correlated to the poetic verses. Additionally, Fontebranda, a large medieval fountain that transported water across the city, is one of Siena’s monuments mentioned in Inferno.
The Medici Fortress, originally constructed by Florentine forces to keep Siena in line, is now a park that frequently serves as a venue for local music exhibitions. Annually it hosts the Siena Jazz festival which highlights the talents of internationally recognized musicians via concerts in different areas of the city. An Enoteca, which promotes the local wine industry, can also be found here.
The Teatri di Siena, which translates to “Theaters of Siena,” are primary venues for concerts and the performing arts, comprised of two theaters: Teatro dei Rinnovati and Teatro dei Rozzi. The Teatro dei Rinnovati translates to “Theater of the Renewed” which is quite fitting considering the many renovations the theater has received over the years. Today the interior of the theater is stunning with three balconies, a brilliant chandelier, and accents of red and gold, and it features approximately six hundred seats. The Teatro dei Rozzi is a bit smaller with just under five hundred seats and three levels of boxes in addition to floor seating in the main area. The interior of the Teatro dei Rozzi is primarily white in color with many ornate gold accents, and an elegant chandelier. These historic pillars of culture in Siena date back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively.
The fascinating medieval city of Siena may not have had much time on the big screen, but the appearances it has made have been quite memorable. Perhaps the most notable inclusion of Siena as a filming location can be seen in the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace. There is a high energy scene filmed in the Piazza del Campo with the Palio di Siena taking place in the background. The Palio di Siena is a traditional yet competitive horse race between local neighborhoods within Siena that is an annual event with roots in the middle ages.
While Siena may not regularly be in front of the camera yet, those who have seen the beauty of the city of Siena doubt it will take long for filmmakers to take notice. This picturesque hilltop city in the Tuscan countryside has much to offer as a gorgeous background setting in films.
PALIO DI SIENA
It would be remiss to talk about the culture of Siena without mentioning the Palio di Siena. This is an exciting event that is richly ingrained in the daily life and heart of the people. This magical event happens twice each year and dates back centuries. Ten of the city’s seventeen contrade (or districts) are represented in each race and proudly display their colors, emblems and flags, in anticipation of the race.
While the horse race itself is the center of the festivities, this multi-day event features a number of interesting events that take place before and after the race. For instance, there is a ceremony before the race where the horses are blessed, followed by a parade with people wearing historic costumes. And it’s interesting to note that horses, rather than the jockeys, win the race. In fact, there have been horses in the past that have won the race by themselves after their jockeys fell off. The end of the race results in the winning horse’s contrada being given the Drappellone (a large painted canvas) to display, and a prayer of thanks is recited. This event epitomizes the rich culture and historic significance of Siena and its people.
To travel to the medieval city of Siena is to feel as though you are stepping back in time when touring the city’s historical sites and taking in the local culture. Plan a trip to Siena today and find out for yourself what makes this lovely city so special.
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