Сиена / Siena

The tour of Tuscany has its must visit city for a visit and that is Siena! With its unspoiled medieval charm and majestic works of art, Siena is a city that simply captivates you! Wandering through narrow mazes of winding streets, breathtaking views, delicious food, good wine and lounging under the stars in the central piazza del Campo are just some of the things that can happen to you!

Where is located, how to get there and where to stay

Siena is located on three hills in the heart of Tuscany, 80 km south of Florence and 200 km north of Rome. Monteriggioni (20 km) and San Gimignano (43 km) are very close. The two best options to reach the city are by train and by car. From Florence, the train journey takes 1 hour and 30 minutes and the ticket costs around €10. For exact timetables, prices and advance purchase, you can visit the Trenitalia website.

Car parking options aren’t endless, with one free option being Parcheggio Pubblico Gratuito Il Campino, located not too far from the main square. Another affordable option is Parcheggio La Stazione (€2 per day). This is the station’s car park, which is positioned in the low and a series of steep escalators take the flow of people quickly to the central part of the city.

 See car rental options in Tuscany.

Considering of the method of arrival, you can conform the place for the stay. On our first visit we traveled by car and preferred to spend the night at a farm outside the city, on the second we traveled by train and slept in a hotel in the heart of Siena – Hotel La Perla. The rooms are narrow, urban type, but well maintained. For a one-star hotel, the place is great! It’s in a perfect location close to all landmarks.

💡 If you are hesitating how much time to allocate for Siena, I would advise you to plan a day and necessarily an overnight stay… The city transforms in the afternoon, when the crowds of tourists decrease… And the atmosphere in the evening is indescribable!

 See more places to stay in Siena

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We start from Piazza del Duomo

We decide to start our tour of Siena from the Piazza del Duomo, one of the highest points of the city. Steep steps lead up to it, forming an alcove next to the baptistery (she worth a visit if you have more time). When you reach the end of them, you will most likely see a huge queue of waiting tourists curving… This is the entrance to the museum complex Museo – Opera della Metropolitana and the ticket office for the temple. In order not to waste unnecessary time, it is good to get passes in advance online – HERE.

You will be impressed by the high unfinished wall between the two buildings… This is the so-called panoramic terrace – Facciatone. At the beginning of the 14th century, work was started on the extension of the Duomo and this was to be part of the facade of the Duomo Nuovo. You can easily imagine, what a huge temple it should have been… But in 1348 a plague epidemic killed many of Siena’s inhabitants and the project was halted… There is also a fee to visit it, and a combined ticket with the museum and the Cathedral can be taken. Entrance is through the museum, but be aware that the top is reached by a narrow staircase and only a certain number of people are allowed in, resulting in long queues.

Siena Cathedral – Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta

We cross the square to looked around in one of the most impressive Italian cathedrals – Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta! The external facade is clad in striking striped white marble that literally sparkles under the bright Tuscan sun. It was built on the remains of an ancient Roman sanctuary, and the main construction was completed in 1215. In the following years, finishing works continued on the exterior, and the impressive lower part on the front facade was the work of Giovanni Pisano. After the failure of the idea of building a larger and more magnificent cathedral than the one in Florence (Duomo Nuovo), the locals decided to enrich the current one by adding more ornaments borrowed from the Duomo in Orvieto. This makes it perhaps the best Italian example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture!

If you are expecting a simple interior resembling the Florentine Santa Maria del Fiore, then you are very mistaken… Exquisite black-striped columns, lavish decorations, impressive frescoes, Michelangelo and Donatello sculptors and Venetian mosaics can make any visitor to wonder where to look… Don’t miss Niccolò Pisano’s octagonal pulpit, one of the most important sculptural achievements in 13th-century Italy!

But the greatest asset of the Siena Cathedral is the floor… or more precisely in the words of Giorgio Vasari: “The most beautiful, largest and most magnificent floor that ever was made…”. You literally walk around 56 marble panels designed by 40 artists (all from Siena, except one Umbrian) and made using a special technique – Opus sectile. Their entire completion took nearly six centuries! They are exhibited only in a certain period of the year between July and October, and during the rest of the time they are hidden under special covers… I was lucky enough to see them twice!

The Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomini)

You may be slightly surprised to find this library in the center of the Cathedral (Libreria Piccolomini). The Piccolomini family is a distinguished Sienese family, among which there are prominent statesmen, soldiers, cardinals and two popes! It was in memory of Pope Pius II that the project for this library was financed by his nephew – Francesco Piccolomini, who subsequently became Pope Pius III.

The idea is to store here valuable manuscripts and medieval books from the personal library of Pope Pius II, but in the end the decorative frescoes on the walls become a more valuable relic… Yes, you can enjoy some impressive exhibits behind the glass, but the cycle of drawings tracing the secular and religious journey of the Pope is delightful… They are the work of Pinturicchio, a Renaissance artist from Umbria, in whose school the then young Raphael also studied! It is said that it is from his brushes that some of the images may be…

Lunch at Gino Cacino di Angelo

We traveled to Siena from Prato and arrived right at noon, and after everything we had seen so far, we were definitely hungry… So we skipped the museum and the terrace I mentioned to you at the beginning and headed to Gino Cacino di Angelo – a small shop with local delicacies and a huge abundance of wines, hidden under a colorful arch in the charming Piazza del Mercato… It mainly offers sandwiches, but we wanted to try something different, so we put ourselves in the hands of the owner, who made us an amazing mix of crostini and a matching white wine to go with them… One of the tastiest places we’ve visited in all of Italy!

More about Siena

Like many cities in Italy, Siena’s origins date back to Etruscan times (around 400 BC). At the beginning of the 1st century, the Romans took over and gave their new colony the name Senna Julia. The heyday and most important period of Siena’s history was between the 13th and 15th centuries, when the independent republic began to develop successful textile production, trade and above all – banking.

The majesty inevitably led to numerous conflicts with the illustrious neighbor Florence, with Siena skillfully resisting and even inflicting a massive defeat on the Florentines in 1260. Unfortunately, the plague epidemic in 1348 that I mentioned to you killed over half of the local population… This was a disastrous moment for the flourishing republic, and in 1554 it fell under the rule of the Duke of Florence, Cosimo I Medici. Perhaps the fact that the city didn’t fight many fierce and devastating battles is the reason why its medieval appearance has been perfectly preserved to this day! The entire old town of Siena is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

💡 A legend about the origin of Siena states that the sons of one of the mythical founders of Rome – Remus, Senius and Aschius, escaped after the murder of their father and arrived on the lands of today’s city. They rode a black and a white horse, and they carried with them the statue of the Capitoline Wolf, which became a symbol of Siena and today you can see it everywhere! The coat of arms of the city adopted the colors of their horses – white and black!

The central square – Piazza del Campo

All roads in Siena lead to the central square Piazza del Campo or simply Il Campo! Another one of those Italian piazzas that inspires admiration and leaves us speechless… The vast space, likened by some to a seashell and by others to a fan, is the intersection of the three hills where the old city quarters are located. At the end of the 13th century, the local government (Council of Nine) wanted to build an impressive central square, and this place turned out to be the only one that didn’t belong to any of the so-called “contrade”.

Despite its imposing appearance and incomparable beauty, it lacks prominent landmarks. At its top is the public “Fountain of Joy” (Fonte Gaia), built in honor of the laying of the first water pipe in the city in 1340. The two most famous buildings are in its center – the town hall (Palazzo Pubblico) and the imposing tower next to it (Torre del Mangia).

The most impressive is the view from the Costa Barbieri steps (HERE), where on summer days hundreds of tourists usually gather in search of a bit of shade… The advantage of sleeping in Siena is that the next day you can come here in the early hours of the morning and take great photos, in which only the early ones passers-by and the buses unloading goods at the establishments may be present…

The traditional horse race Palio

Twice a year, on July 2 and August 16, Piazza del Campo becomes the arena of the most spectacular horse race – Palio (Palio di Siena). Sienese have been proud guardians of this tradition since the 14th century! In 1656, for the first time, the location of its holding was the central square, on which a huge amount of sand was poured, a track was laid out and areas for spectators were fenced off. Viewing spots sell out months in advance… The exact start time is not announced in advance so that the competitors cannot interfere with each other. Over the years, it has happened to have kidnapped riders or sedated horses…

Only ten of all the contradas participate in the Palio, and they are selected in advance by lot. All dirty tricks are allowed to achieve the cherished goal… victory! For this reason, serious injuries and even deaths are not uncommon… But the winner is adorned with great glory and extraordinary honor!

The race itself is three laps long and is over in about… 90 seconds! But they are accompanied by a long preparation that starts a few days earlier… The drummers and standard-bearers of each district train hard not to betray the trust they have voted. For the locals, devotion to the contrada is equal to the love of family and faith in religion! As soon as they are born, babies are swaddled in the neighborhood flag…

Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia

The elegant building of Palazzo Pubblico, dating from the 13th century, is Siena’s current town hall. It once housed the famous “Council of Nine” that ruled Siena during its heyday. On the first floor there is a city museum where you can walk through the various halls with lavish decorations.

Being in his yard, don’t miss to take a look up… it’s worth it! Right there is the entrance to the 102 meter high Torre del Mangia… If you decide to climb all 503 steps to the top, you must buy a ticket in advance. It can be combined with the museum or only for the tower. Keep in mind that the ticket is for a specific time and may sell out for the whole day until noon!

Looking down, we get a completely different perspective on the square… The nine red-tiled sectors symbolizing the former city council can be clearly seen. The horizon is vast… The Tuscan hills in the distance and the whole city below us… an exciting experience!

Fragrant cappuccino at Bar Pasticceria Nannini

After this climb on a very warm summer day, we definitely needed to recharge our batteries before continuing our tour of Siena… It was time for a fragrant cappuccino and a delicious dessert! With over 100 years of history, Bar Pasticceria Nannini is a true local institution and the perfect place to get them!

Through the streets of Siena

It’s time to escape the busy square and wander the medieval streets of the city… Their quiet charm and almost unchanged 13th century architecture seem to engulf us… Especially in places where our walk is accompanied only by the echo of our own steps, and our imagination begins to play to such an extent that we manage to imagine life in Siena more than 700 years ago…

Perhaps the most elegant of all is Via Camollia, which crosses almost the entire city, through which you must pass if you are coming from the railway station. The beginning is marked by the eponymous gate, and several excellent restaurants with traditional local offerings are located along hers length.

The small streets around Il Campo, with street lamps decorated in the colors of the respective contrada, are great to explore! Don’t be surprised that many of them are named after banks, as banking traditions are deeply rooted in Siena. On Via Banchi di Sopra you can find Piazza Salimbeni, where the palace of the same name (Palazzo Salimbeni) is located – home to the first European bank, launched way back in 1472! In the center of the square is the statue of one of the first bankers in the city – Sallustio Bandini.

Today there are seventeen districts! They each have their own flags, and when they are proudly displayed on the buildings, the sight is great! The steep Via della Sapienza, decorated in purple-green fabrics, looked spectacular!

Don’t miss passing through the arches of Via Diacceto, whose terrace offers a wonderful view, with the silhouette of the Basilica di San Domenico in the distance… On the Via di Città are some of the most interesting specialized shops, which are a real treasure for the city.

Basilica di San Domenico and views of the city

We are heading precisely to the basilica erected on the hill, which is one of the most important religious buildings in Siena. Located in the northern part of the city, the brick building of the Basilica di San Domenico was built in the 13th century in the Gothic style. It’s closely related to and dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, who lived nearby. In the huge interior space, numerous works and objects related to the life of the saint are exhibited.

The location of the basilica allows for fantastic views of the rooftops of Siena! The alley between the neatly arranged cypresses of Piazza San Domenico is one of the most perfect places for taking pictures of the city, using the Torre del Mangia towering over all the residential buildings as a backdrop… If you want to get a shot of the Duomo, you have to go down to the square itself, and the awning from the opposite restaurant and the huge cypress tree in the distance make for a very interesting shot!

For a completely clear panorama of the Siena Cathedral and the abundance of charming buildings at its foot, who seem to raise her on a pedestal, it is necessary to climb 300 meters to the panoramic terrace Vista Panoramica di Siena. Another one of the unforgettable Tuscan landscapes, but this time in an urban style!

Back to Piazza del Mercato

Located just behind Torre del Mangia, Piazza del Mercato is a little-known square that remains hidden from tourists! We really enjoyed it at lunch and decided to come back when the temperatures cool down a bit… It’s mostly filled with cars, and in its center is the market shed or so called “turtle”. It offers a beautiful view and is surrounded by terraced brick buildings. Here and there among them appeared some with pastel colors, which, bathed in the sun’s rays, at times made us remember Liguria…

Dinner at Osteria Le Sorelline

The perfect end to a day in Siena is a delicious pasta! We head to Via dei Rossi – another street lined with restaurants. There is the small family restaurant Osteria Le Sorelline. It doesn’t have many tables and a huge selection on the menu, but it has the typical Italian cosiness, and the flavors offered are great!

Under the stars of Tuscany

You don’t need to sit down at one of the square’s expensive restaurants to feel its magnetic atmosphere… Just find a free seat and boldly sit directly on the reddish tiles! Relax and enjoy the beautiful sky over Siena… We topped it off with an Aperol Spritz to get a perfect and unforgettable moment of our whole trip through Tuscany!

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