Siena


SienaSiena is a special city and is unique in the sense that its historical centre is located away from the newer part of the city. Enclosed and isolated by its red walls, it is not accessible by car, a factor which has helped it to maintain its charm throughout the centuries.

Siena is divided into 17 districts, each of which is named after an animal. All of the districts compete against each other twice a year in the famous Palio, which is a bareback horse riding competition taking place on 2nd July and 16th August in Piazza del Campo with famous jockeys taking part. The Palio and the festivities which accompany it (including the historical procession, the blessing of the prize and the celebrations of the winners) are only the beginning of the many activities which take place on the streets of Siena during this competition with many other competitions, celebrations of victory and consolations of defeat following.

Particularly during the summer, with the good Tuscan weather and limited accessibility by car to the city centre, the streets of Siena are definitely where all action is with the locals leaving their front doors wide open and preparing long tables with spreads of typical local products such as wild bore, the tasty sheeps’ milk cheese Pecorino, olive oil, typical desserts, like the ricciarelli which is a Sienese nougat delicacy, spicy break, and naturally, local wine, that is perhaps the most famous product of the city. Siena, together with Florence and Arezzo, is one of the three provinces of the hilly Chianti region, which is famous for producing high quality wines.
In fact, the wines of the Chianti region owe alot to a protection act, issued by the Lega del Chianti, which has helped to maintain the wines’ high quality for many centuries. Issued in 1384, this protection act is in fact one of the oldest in the world and actually resulted in the Lega del Chianti, which was created primarily with the aim of protecting such local products of high quality, deciding to focus their efforts on regulating the production of wine (for example it established the official grape harvest season and enforced that all wine products must be produced within the the area where its grapes were harvested).

Returning to the city of Siena, its most famous image is that of Piazza del Campo, often featured on the front of postcards of Siena. The piazza, which is a large amphitheatre surrounded with elegant buildings built with a red stone that is typical of this area of Siena, is constructed in way which descends according to the natural course of the land. In the highest part of the area there is the Fonte Gaia, constructed in the 15th century by Jacopo of Quercia. In the lowest part, the ideal stage for the amphitheatre, Pubblico Palace, along with Mangia Tower and Sansedoni Palace can all be found.

Pubblico Palace has a rounded façade which follows the edge of the circular piazza and the buildings, which are of medieval origin, are adorned rows of windows and arches. Although numerous operations were completed on the façades over the centuries, the general appearance of the piazza has not changed. In fact, a Law was passed in 1262 that set the building regulations (for example, the prohibition of the construction of balconies), and in time no changes were made to the old plan of the city.

Besides being striking, the Piazza del Campo hosts the work of some of the greatest and most significant artists of the 14th century. Pubblico Palace, which is now a civic museum, was, in fact, decorated by the most important artists of this era. The hall in Mappamondo has two paintings by Simone Martini, the Maestà, a huge and precious painting that tells of the coming of the Gothic ways, and also the interesting picture of a horse by Guidoriccio da Fogliano (the city’s hero who succeeded in bringing the castles of the peasantry back into to Siena’s possession).

The hall of Pace is decorated by Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescoes, which essentially describe life in Siena and propose the ideal governmental structure namely: Good Government,Effects of a good government on the city and countryside, and A bad government and its effects.

However, let’s not forget the rest of the city which is also not lacking in charm. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (the museum for the work of the cathedral) and the National Picture Gallery exhibit a number of other paintings that arouse strong emotion including the work of Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio di Buoninsegna.

A visit to the Assunta Cathedral is equally impressive. Commended in 1179, it was continually touched up until 1339, when it was decided that a much bigger cathedral would be built, rather exploiting the original structure. The plague and the economic decline that followed, as well as a series of planning errors, which consequently interrupted construction, leaving a wall and several arches uncompleted, a testimony to the ambitious nature of the project. As a result, the cathedral is now an asymmetric and irregular shaped building that features a mixture Romanesque and Gothic decors but is, however, still equally majestic.

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