Destination> Siena

Siena - Tuscany

Located in the heart of Tuscany, Siena is a medieval gem generally overlooked by the streams of tourists who bustle back and forth between Florence and Rome. The city's center is set high on a hill and is closed to most traffic, making it's maze of sloping narrow streets ideal for walks and rambles. Specializing in rich pastries, such as panforte (a dense, spicy disk, first baked as a portable trail snack for the Crusaders) and ricciarelli (sort almond cookies, topped with powdered vanilla), Siena's menu also offers a typical and distinctive salt-less bread, as well as a spaghetti-like pasta known as pici, whose thick noodles are often accompanied by a ragú.

Siena first blossomed into one of Europe's most sophisticated metropolises during the 13th century. It was then that Sienese wool traders, bankers, and politicians cultivated enough local trade and statesmanship to threaten a nearby Florence, and to spark the rivalry between the two cities whose lasting effects can still be felt today. As Siena's status soared, so did her structures. The following century of busied construction filled the city with enough grandiose architecture to bequeath beauty around every turn. Siena's preeminence faded in 1348, when the Black Death swallowed half of the city's population. However, to counter this destruction, the city produced St. Catherine (1347-1380), whose ecstatic persistence in church politics helped bring the papacy back to Italy from Avignon; and St. Bernardino (1487-1564), who reawakened the teachings of St. Francis in all he encountered during his wanderings. Today, the rich past of Siena is brought back to life with the Palio (July 2 and August 16), a well-known semiannual wild horse race that takes place between the city's 17 competing contrade (districts). The ensuing pageantry intoxicates both Sienese and tourist alike, as banners line the streets and the clamor of drums and song fills the air. To any lucky enough to witness or participate in the general festivity, the Palio promises a colorful and enchanting experience not soon forgotten.

Siena expands outward from its central Piazza del Campo. The shell-shaped brick square was designed specifically for civic events, and its paving is divided into nine partitions, each representing a member of the city's medieval Council of Nine. While on all other days the ideal spot to picnic or relax with a bottle of wine, twice each summer the Campo makes way for the Palio, and the elegant cafes must roll back their awnings as the festive havoc is unleashed.

The Palazzo Pubblico is an impressive medieval building located in the Piazza next to the imposingly high clock tower, the Torre del Mangia. Home to the city's Council of Nine during the Middle Ages, it continues to house government offices-though the tourists who currently visit mostly come to see the Museo Civico also discovered inside. The green-and-white-striped duomo of Siena, set on one of the city's seven hilltops, is one of the few (and finest) entirely Gothic-style cathedrals south of the Alps. The marble pavement, Piccolomini altar, and library, the Libreria Piccolomini (commissioned by Pope Pius III), are just several of the internal treasures the cathedral has to boast. Additional celebrated sights to be seen while in Siena include the Ospedale di S. Maria della Scala, the Pinacoteca Nazionale, and the Santuario di Santa Caterina.

Siena is reachable by train or bus (TRA-IN / SITA), which link the city to the rest of Tuscany and make it the ideal base from which to explore the region.

Places of Interest

Places of Interest