Medieval Town Of Siena To Explore
The whole region of Tuscany is quite exceptionally beautiful. It is steeped in history with some of the best preserved architecture that dates back to medieval times. For centuries man has been attracted to the area which means today we are able to see the legacies of their civilizations and what influences they had on the region.
The gorgeous town of Siena, the capital of the province is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has to be one of the most visited cities in all of Italy. There is an abundance of places to explore during a stay here, from museums as well as the magnificent art galleries along with restaurants that serve traditional and extraordinarily fine Tuscan cuisine and all of this in a superb medieval setting that takes you back in time.
Il Palio Horse Race
by Dean Ayres
Famous for its twice yearly horse race, Il Palio, Siena is quite unique. It is another one of the lovely fortified hill towns that are found in Tuscany. It was first settled long ago in c.900-400 BC and the first inhabitants were a tribe known as the Saina. This Etruscan people were way ahead of their time and reclaimed much of the previously un-farmable land with their innovative methods of irrigation. Everywhere the Etruscans settled became fertile land and their hill towns were incredibly well fortified against all marauders.
Through the centuries Siena has been settled by the Romans and even a Gaulish tribe. Being far from the main roads, the town did not prosper during the Roman time as trade was limited. As such Christianity did not reach Siena until much later when the Lombards invaded the town and its surrounding areas. It was then that Siena started to really thrive.
Walking through the town is like walking back through all the centuries with the ancient meeting the modern world in a harmonious way that it is utterly charming. Exploring the town is a delight and discovering the marvels it reveals around each corner is breathtaking.
Of course the main sights like the cathedral which dates back to the 12th century, is a structure that just makes a person feel so very small when standing and looking up at the fairy tale like towers that point to the heavens. The cathedral is the greatest example of pure Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture that one could ever hope to see. It has a marvelous history and with many of the finest artists, stone masons and sculptures of the day having added their works of art to the interior. Walking around inside of the cathedral surrounded by works of art that are out of this world makes it a mystical experience that is almost tangible.
Cathedral Of Santa Maria
With so much architectural heritage in Siena, it would be hard not to be impressed by each and every one of the medieval buildings which has survived the tests of time. The Piazza del Campo, which is the town square, is where the famous Il Palio horse race takes place twice yearly, but it is also here that you will find the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. As with all things in Siena, there are treasures within treasures and the Palazzo Pubblico houses another incredible museum with frescos by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti. It is like finding a secret drawer in an antique desk that has yet another piece of gold hidden it in and when you do discover it, you realise what a wonder it is to behold.
Lit up in the evenings the Piazza Salimbeni has to be one of the most beautiful sights in Siena. This incredibly statuesque building is the headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena which is the one of the oldest banks in the region. It continues to be part of the Sienese economy and is a major player that has been in existence for centuries.
There are some wonderful festivals that take place in Siena and the most famous one has to be the Il Palio di Siena. This traditional horse race attracts an audience from all over the land as well as spectators from all corners of the globe. Anyone wanting to witness this race which takes place firstly in July and then in August, should try to reserve seats as the event is incredibly popular and as such a very crowded affair.
For lovers of Italian wine, Siena is close to the wine growing region of Chianti, so a trip out to the surrounding area is a must in order to discover even more treasures that the region has to offer its eager visitors.
Siena is a town which is incredibly proud of its heritage and with so much to offer, a short or long stay here is an experience a traveller could never forget. Walking through the center of the town, which is pedestrian only, you can only stop and wonder at all the gorgeous things that you come across. That is when you can really take a break and treat yourself to the amazing ‘gelatos’ that you find here.
Discovering a fine restaurant in Siena is easy and the traditional Tuscan cuisine that they serve will get you coming back for more. All washed down with a superb bottle of Chianti from the region, has to be a travellers idea of heaven in a setting that could not be more idyllic.
The summer months do tend to get very crowded, so hotel reservations should be organized well in advance. I was very fortunate a few years ago to be invited to Siena by a couple of friends who have a house there. I went in the springtime and I found that the town was delightfully quiet. But the best part about my trip was that the landscape was just bursting into flower and the scents in the air were amazing. I fell in love with this medieval town, just like so many other travellers have done over the decades, and look forward to revisiting Siena one day in the not too distant future to enjoy once again the uniqueness of the town and all that is has to offer.