Siena is one of the most loved and visited cities in Tuscany, a place rich in history and art, but also with strong traditions, mainly linked to the “contrade” (districts in which the city is divided) and the famous Palio di Siena.
Located in the centre of Tuscany, Siena can be easily reached from other cities in the region by car, train and bus. Keep in mind that the historic centre is closed to private traffic and therefore you will still have to move on foot or by public transport. The Siena railway station is located outside the city but is connected to the historic center by city buses.
It is better to start the visit of Siena from the heart of the city, the wonderful Piazza del Campo. This square is one of the symbolic places of the city, unique and unmistakable for the particular shell shape and brick colour is given by the terracotta flooring. Piazza del Campo hosts, twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th, the famous horse race Palio di Siena, the most awaited event by all the city.
In the square, you can also admire the Fonte Gaia, the largest city fountain decorated with sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia (what we see today is however a copy).
The most important buildings overlooking Piazza del Campo are the Palazzo Comunale and the Torre del Mangia. The imposing brick and marble Palazzo Comunale houses the city’s Civic Museum with several masterpieces by Sienese artists, including the beautiful Maestà by Simone Martini and the Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
From the Mangia Tower, 87 meters high, you can enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramas of the city. The climb to the top of the civic tower is a bit tiring, due to the over 400 steps to climb, but the view that awaits you will pay off largely the effort made.
The visit of the city then continues towards the beautiful Piazza del Duomo. In this square, you can admire the Duomo, the Crypt and the Piccolomini Library.
The Duomo of Siena, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is one of the most beautiful examples of a Romanesque-Gothic church. Made of white and dark green marble (the colours of Siena), the Cathedral is enriched with works of art by Donatello, Nicola Pisano, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio. One of the most striking works of the Cathedral is the floor, made up of 56 panels that represent as many scenes engraved in marble.
The Crypt is located under the Cathedral. Here are preserved extraordinary frescoes of the Sienese school of the thirteenth century representing scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
The Piccolomini Library, dedicated to Pope Pius II, is a real little gem, a must-see. It is striking for the richness of its frescoes, made by Pinturicchio and his students, including Raphael in the early 1500s.
The Opera del Duomo Museum is one of the oldest private museums in Italy and is located in the right nave of the Cathedral. Here you will admire the original fourteenth-century statues on the facade of the Cathedral, including those made by Giovanni Pisano, the stained glass window of the apse by Duccio da Buoninsegna and one of the greatest masterpieces of the early fourteenth century: the altarpiece of the Majesty.
The complex of Santa Maria della Scala, located right in front of the Cathedral, is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe, where pilgrims were welcomed and the poor and abandoned children were helped. Today it houses a vast artistic heritage and temporary exhibitions.
The Basilica of San Domenico stands just outside the 14th-century walls. It is one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Siena, famous above all because the head-relic of Santa Caterina, patron saint of the city, is kept here. However, there are also other reasons for interest: starting with the frescoes by Sodoma. The view from the outside is also beautiful, especially towards the Duomo and the Torre del Mangia.
You cannot leave Siena without tasting the delicious panforte, a typical dessert of the Sienese gastronomic tradition. It can be enjoyed all year round but on Italian tables, it comes especially during the Christmas holidays.
According to tradition, the first panforte seems to have been prepared by a nun in the Middle Ages who prepared a sort of focaccia by mixing honey, flour and candied fruit (orange and melon), with dried fruit (almonds) and many spices such as ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc … There are two versions of this excellent dessert: the panforte Margherita, created in honour of Queen Margherita di Savoia who visited Siena in 1879 and the “panpepato”, a more spicy version that includes a paste enriched with cocoa powder, candied melon and pepper.