Siena: one of the loveliest cities in Italy, which offers much more than Piazza del Campo and the Cathedral. Visitors who decide to spend time here can find so much more if they look at Siena through curious and inquisitive eyes.
Walking along the narrow streets and hidden alleyways you can discover new pieces of history at every corner. This is a place where stones “talk” and reveal age-old secrets of a glorious past. Here is a three-day itinerary to enjoy Siena in all its beauty.
Day 1: We start in the city centre, in the world-famous Piazza del Campo. Climbing the 400 steps of Torre del Mangia is a must if you love breath-taking views and want to take some photos. Palazzo Pubblico, home to city hall and the Civic Museum, is worthy of a visit. The beautiful building, one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture in the world, contains wonderful artworks, such as frescoes of Good and Poor Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and the Majesty by Simone Martini.
Close to Piazza del Campo stand Palazzo Piccolomini and the Loggias of the Pope, designed for Pope Pius II Piccolomini. If you have time, we recommend a visit to see the Biccherne in the State Archives, which are 103 covers of account books belonging to the City painted by leading Sienese artists of the calibre of Domenico Beccafumi and Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
A less famous – but no less interesting place is the “Valle di Porta Giustizia”. In the Middle Ages, those sentenced to death leave the prison beneath Palazzo Pubblico and walked the length of the via dei Malcontenti, exiting the city through Porta Giustizia. The ancient and tragic route is now bursting with life and colour: there’s Orto dei Pecci, an area full of vegetable gardens since the sixteenth century. Enjoy the spectacular view of the Palazzo Comunale and Torre del Mangia from a totally original angle.
Day 2: Siena wouldn’t be Siena without the Palio. The horse race is held twice a year in Piazza del Campo and it is merely the pinnacle of a tradition held dear by Sienese, which they experience 365 days a year. In order to understand the true meaning of the Palio, visit the museum belonging to one of the 17 contrade (districts). On Siena’s official city website, you can find a full list of the addresses and sites so that you can book.
Following in the footsteps of tradition, stop at the Fortezza Medicea, a fortress built in 1560 by Cosimo de’ Medici and now the headquarters of the Fondazione Siena Jazz and Enoteca Italiana, where you can taste the finest wines in Italy: a fantastic place for all wine lovers.
A stone’s throw away, head for the Basilica di San Domenico, a striking brick building dating to 1226. In addition to numerous works of art, the church is home to the relics of the head of Saint Catherine. Continue towards the Costa del Serpe as far as Fontebranda, which is perhaps the most important place in Siena. According to both Dante and Boccaccio, Fontebranda’s waters are responsible for the townsfolk’s “inherent” madness!
Carry on along via della Galluzza with its arches that connect the houses to the sides of the street, reaching Ponte di Diacceto, where you can enjoy an incredible view of Basilica di San Domenico. Enter Vicolo delle Carrozze, where “bad and dishonest things” once happened.
Day 3: You can’t leave Siena without having visited Santa Maria della Scala. It is one of the oldest hospices in the world, which stood along the Via Francigena offering help to pilgrims on their way to Rome, without a doubt one of the most important hospices in history. With more than 200,000 cubic metres and located in a strategic position in the Santa Maria hills, right opposite the Cathedral, it is a “city within the city” and offers an invaluable way of understanding life in Europe of yesteryear. With its beautiful frescoes, precious artworks and evocative spaces, its basements in particular, it is worth whiling away some time here. Continue your quest for beauty and thirst for history with a walk around the Cathedral: its breathtaking architecture is one of the highest examples of Italian Gothic and Romanesque style. You can find out about all visits to the Cathedral on the official website.
To finish your time in Siena, buy some of the local excellent produce at the Consorzio Agrario di Siena, in via Giuseppe Pianigiani. The ground-floor food store is well stocked with fine products, all grown locally. Enjoy ricciarelli cookies and panforte cake as well as a vast selection of wines, pasta and vegetables. There’s also a fantastic butcher’s shop.
If it’s local handicrafts that you’re looking for, head for Senarte, in via Federigo Tozzi.
On Siena’s city website, check out some of the interesting urban trekking walks.
by Roberta Rist