Located in central Italy, deep in the heart of the region of Tuscany, is the enchanting and picturesque hilltop city of Siena. This gorgeous city is known for its medieval roots and gothic architecture which are said to transport visitors back in time as they explore the treasures of Siena. Whether it is only for an afternoon or several days, plan to see Siena on your next vacation to Italy and discover the city’s vast cultural riches of art, museums, architecture, and more.
In order to truly appreciate the city’s legacy and cultural heritage, a quick history lesson is most helpful. Siena is an ancient city with roots tracing all the way back to the BC era when it was thought to be settled by Etruscans. The city was under the rule of Romans and the Lombards before it eventually became the Republic of Siena. In the early years of the Republic during the fourteenth century, Siena was considered a powerhouse in Europe for being such a large city known for its military might. However, later during the fourteenth century the Black Death overtook the city, followed by economic decline that devastated Siena and the rest of Italy. After losing its independence, Siena fell to the influence of the Spaniards then the Florentines. In 1860, Siena, together with the rest of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
The small medieval city of Siena is a magnet for travelers, particularly the city’s historic center which is recognized as a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. It is estimated the historic center of Siena welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who come to take in the fabulous museums, exquisite art, delicious cuisine, and medieval beauty.
Siena is primarily a pedestrian city with little to no traffic in the heart of the city. This contributes greatly to the old world charm of the city in addition to the steep and narrow roadways that are known for winding their way, around making outings an adventure from the start. There is no shortage of things to see while visiting Siena including the historical city center’s Piazza del Campo, the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy), the Duomo and museums, just to name a few.
Piazza del Campo is Siena’s main square and one with immense historical significance. From its early years to modern day, the square has served as a primary gathering or meeting place for locals and visitors alike, many of whom choose to meet at the piazza’s Fountain of Joy. One of the most iconic landmarks within the square is that of the Palazzo Pubblico (city hall) which features the Torre del Mangia, a municipal tower that is particularly sought out by travelers hoping to climb the steps of this high structure. This piazza is a favorite for travelers at any time of day, but particularly so as dusk falls upon Siena and locals take their passeggiata, or evening stroll.
The Siena Cathedral, known as the Duomo di Siena, showcases stunning Gothic and Romanesque architecture. After the original structure was completed, a large expansion was planned to make the transept the largest in the world, yet the arrival of the Plague and a shortage of funds led to the abandonment of the plans. Despite that, the cathedral is still considered the city’s highest point and is widely known for its intricate artistic masterpieces in the form of mosaics, statues, and sculptures.
Be sure to leave time in between sightseeing stops to partake in the local cuisine of Siena. The city is home to quaint little restaurants and cafes tucked into the city squares and side streets. Take advantage of your time here and taste test some of Siena’s most popular items on the menu, such as crostini neri, pici al ragù di cinghiale (handmade pasta with wild boar ragù), locally produced olive oil, and a glass of Chianti.
In order to reach Siena, the closest major international airport is in Florence. The quickest and most direct way to reach Siena is by car. There are a variety of options including renting a car or hiring a private driver. If renting a car, travelers can explore the city on their own time as they see fit. It is important to note that cars must generally be left outside the city walls in designated parking areas. However, if the hotel is located in the city center, travelers can drive up to the hotel following a designated route to unload their luggage before parking the car in the appropriate area.
The city of Siena is located in northern central Italy in the heart of the region of Tuscany. It is approximately thirty miles or so south of Florence, Italy making Siena a popular excursion for those visiting the Cradle of the Renaissance.
One of the main geographical characteristics of Siena is that the city sits atop three grand hills in Tuscany. Its elevated location is among a beautiful rolling green landscape of Tuscan hills and valleys. The portion of the countryside between Siena and Florence is known as the famed Chianti area where some of the best wines in the world are produced.
With relative close proximity of less than an hour to several hours away from Florence, Rome, and Milan, Siena is frequently a traveler favorite for its old world charm.
In general, the city of Siena enjoys mild temperatures. In the summer, temperatures tend to average close to seventy degrees Fahrenheit and experience some of the lowest average levels of rain for the year. The fall brings average temperatures in the fifties and sixties with a marked increase in rain amounts, with November often being one of the rainiest months of the year. The winter season in Siena usually sees average temperatures in the forties with a gradual warm up in the spring.
The largely temperate weather of Siena makes it an attractive Italy vacation destination year-round for most travelers.
ONLY IN SIENA
One of the most time honored and largest events in the city of Siena is the historic Palio di Siena horse race. Originating in the sixth century, the event now takes place in Piazza del Campo two times a year, on July 2 and August 16, and is a favorite among locals and travelers alike, attracting big crowds.
The horse race takes place among the city’s historic neighborhoods, known as contrade. Each contrada is represented by a specific animal or symbol with associated colors. These symbols and colors, which have been in use since the Middle Ages, are featured on flags and scarves during the Palio and also demarcate the borders of the neighborhoods throughout the city. The race itself is usually under two minutes long, however the event is a multi-day affair featuring a parade, trial races, a blessing of the horses, and a rehearsal dinner. The festivities begin with the drawing of lots to determine which contrade will run as well as horse assignments, rounding out on the last day with the actual horse race.
For those who wish to see the Palio in person, it is recommended that they arrive very early in the morning to secure a spot in the piazza or, even better, purchase a seated ticket well in advance. During the Palio, Piazza del Campo gets very crowded with the standing spectators who enthusiastically cheer and celebrate as the race unfolds and the winner is crowned. Truth be told, nothing quite compares to the level of passion that the locals have for their Palio. For natives of Siena, the Palio is more than a biannual tradition, rather it is an integral part of life year-round.
The beautiful medieval Tuscan city of Siena is one of the most fascinating and historical destinations in central Italy. If you have plans to visit Rome, Florence, or Milan, it is also an excellent idea to include Siena on your itinerary for a memorable travel back in time.
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