From Piazza del Campo to the Cathedral
We start our journey at the Piazza del Campo, one of Italy’s most beautiful public squares. Once a medieval market, it’s now the track for the Palio horse races every summer. All the narrow streets of Siena converge on this piazza, and the space opens up like a flower in bloom! From here, you can climb the Torre del Mangia for a stunning view of the city. Then, continue on to the Palazzo Pubblico, which was built at the beginning of the 14th century as the headquarters of the Council of Nine of the Republic of Siena. Today, it hosts both the Civic Museum and government offices.
The Civic Museum displays beautiful, world-renowned art, like Spinello Aretino’s frescoes depicting the life of the Sienese Pope Alessandro III, including impressive battle scenes and the Maestà by Simone Martini in the Hall of the Globe.
In the Hall of the Nine you’ll find Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s masterpiece Allegory of Good and Bad Government. This painting shows you what Siena was like in the 14th century through scenes of daily life and beautiful images of the countryside that lies outside Porta Romana, stretching to the mouth of the Talamone sea. Plus, there are two other interesting facts about the painting. First, it shows Dante’s profile. Second, Peace is represented as a woman dressed in a pure white robe, and this is why UNESCO chose this figure as its international symbol of peace!
The Civic Museum frequently hosts spectacular plays, conferences, and special guided tours. You can also get a pass to go into the Palazzo Pubblico Costume Room, where the traditional costumes of the historic Palio parade are kept. (For more information, please visit: www.comune.siena.it)
Now, it’s time for a delicious dinner! Among all of Siena’s wonderful specialties, don’t forget the savory cold cuts made of the Cinta Senese and Pienza’s delicious pecorino – they make great appetizers! For the main dish, try the Pici, a spaghetti-like pasta made by hand. It goes really well with a fine bottle of Sienese wine! As a dessert, you absolutely need to taste the panforte or the ricciarelli, traditional Sienese specialties with almonds and spices.
In the afternoon, you can visit the Duomo of Siena, another treasure chest full of history and art! Its façade is uniquely beautiful, but it was never finished because of the plague in 1348. The Cathedral is now a museum full of artistic masterpieces, like Nicola Pisano’s pulpit, the Piccolomini Library, decorated with Pinturicchio’s frescoes, Donatello’s sculpture of John the Baptist and Michelangelo’s four Carrara marble statues: Saint Peter, Saint Pius, Saint Paul and Saint Gregory.
From about August to October, the Duomo displays its elegant marble floor, which features the works of the best Sienese artists, including Domenico di Bartolo and Pinturicchio, the creator of the famous window pane depicting the Mount of Wisdom. The Mount of Wisdom shows the attainment of inner peace as the path to virtue.
Sometimes, the Duomo will open its ‘Gate to Heaven’ by reservation! This is a guided path to the upper attics and crawlspaces of the cathedral that have been closed off for centuries. From here, visitors will have a beautiful, sweeping view of the cathedral’s interior and the city. (For more information, please visit: www.operaduomo.siena.it)
From Santa Maria della Scala to Bottini
On the second day of your trip, immerse yourself in the history of ancient wayfarers and pilgrims, putting yourself in their shoes to discover Santa Maria della Scala. Santa Maria della Scala is the oldest hospital in Europe, and it was created to treat and house the wayfarers that traveled along the medieval Via Francigena, a cultural melting pot and source of wealth for Siena. Today, Santa Maria della Scala is a museum preserving original statues by Jacopo della Quercia di Fonte Gaia. The fantastic frescoes in the Pilgrim’s Hall show scenes of medieval life, from people giving charity to the poor to lavish noble weddings.
Following the Via Francigena, you will arrive at the Orto de Pecci, the city’s main garden. It has a beautiful, peaceful park where you can take a nice lunch break and look out at the houses and towers of the city from a different point of view.
As a beautiful conclusion to the trip, there is one final gem for the most curious (and adventurous!) visitors: the Bottini. It’s an aqueduct that runs underneath the city for several kilometers, like the river Diana in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
It’s a ingenious canal system from ancient times that collects rainwater from the countryside and brings it to the city. This water still serves Siena’s fountains today. You can visit the Bottini from March to October with a reservation. Don’t miss the chance to be an explorer like Indiana Jones, discovering Siena’s ‘underground river!’
Info at: ladianasiena.it