Siena is a magnificent town, famous in all the world for its countless monuments and for its centuries-old tradition of the Palio, an event of medieval origin that has always fascinated the Sienese and beyond.
Siena is considerably smaller than Florence but has little to envy to the near and more famous city, also for its past rich in history and events. Infact, Siena was an ancient Etruscan settlement, later conquered by Rome, then lives the splendid period of the Renaissance, between the fifteenth and the sixteenth century.
The city tour
At Siena there are many monuments to visit. The city tour can start from the central Piazza del Campo (photo 1), certainly one of the most beautiful squares in the world, shaped like a conch shell, with a slight difference in height. At the center of the square there is a copy of the “Fonte Gaia” whose original work by Jacopo della Quercia is now kept in the Town Hall. In this square, twice a year (on July 2 and August 16), takes place the famous Palio of Siena, a horse race that establishes which district will be able to enjoy its own urban superiority.
The Town Hall (photo 2) overlooks the square, one of the most elegant examples of Gothic architecture. It was built between 1288 and 1342 and consists of a central three-storey building with two lateral bodies surmounted by a Guelph merlature. Above the building, on the left, stands the Torre del Mangia, 102 meters high, from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the Piazza and of the whole city (in photo 1). According to an ancient superstition, if a student climbs on top of the tower before he has completed his course of study (Siena is a university town), he will not be able to graduate.
A little more than 200 meters from Piazza del Campo, the Duomo of Siena (photo 3), begun with Romanesque forms in 1150, is among the most important monuments of Italian Gothic architecture, a magnificent example of the most beautiful Italian art.
The lower part of the façade, by Giovanni Pisano, has three cuspidate portals while the upper part is richly decorated with a large central rose window. On the right side, the beautiful Romanesque bell tower with two-colored bands, with increasing openings that go from the single-hole window at the bottom to the six-hole window in the upper part, with a spire and pinnacles.
The interior (photo 4), with three naves, is of Romanesque style, with round arches and two-colored cruciform pillars. The vault is blue dotted with stars.
The floor is very beautiful (photo 5) and it was a work of over forty artists, with inlaid panels, “the most beautiful …, great and magnificent … that was never done“, according to the words of Giorgio Vasari.
One of the most important works in the Duomo is the Pulpit (photo 6), by Nicola Pisano, assisted, among others, by his son Giovanni and Arnolfo di Cambio. It rests on a central column plus eight other columns, four of which are supported by lions and lionesses. With the Pulpit of the Cathedral of Pisa and the Duomo of Pistoia (the latter, a work of his son Giovanni), it is one of the absolute masterpieces of Italian art.
You can not miss a visit to the Piccolomini bookshop (photo 7), accessible from the left aisle of the Duomo, which collects illuminated codes of great value. The vault and the walls are richly frescoed with works by Pinturicchio that portray, among other things, life stories of the popes of the Piccolomini family (Pope Pius II and Pius III). In the center, a marble group representing “The three Graces“.
On the square in front of the Duomo you can visit the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana which, in addition to collecting a vast collection of sculptures and architectural fragments, hosts the Pala della Maestà (photo 8), an absolute masterpiece by Duccio di Boninsegna, one of the most important paintings of all Italian pre-Renaissance art.
It was originally imagined as a two-sided Altarpiece in the Cathedral, today it is a large table more than 4 meters long, cut along the thickness, following the little shake-up of the early ‘700.
The main side, the one originally intended for the faithful, depicts the Virgin with Child enthroned surrounded by saints and angels on a gold background. Among these we recognize, kneeling in the foreground, the four patron saints of Siena (Sant’Ansano, San Savino, San Crescenzio and San Vittore), while on the two sides are depicted the two standing patron saints (Sant’Agnese and Santa Caterina of Alexandria).
Not far from Piazza del Duomo there is the Basilica of San Domenico, with its austere Gothic-monastic style. The interior is stern, with the roof trusses uncovered. At the beginning of the nave opens the Cappella delle Volte (photo 9) where Saint Catherine of Siena, patron Saint of Europe, used to pray. Inside there is the only fresco that portrays her faithfully.
Visiting Siena is an unforgettable experience … but also expensive.
It is possible to buy the tickets online (click here to buy) of the main monuments of the town to avoid long queues at the ticket office located in Piazza del Duomo.
The cumulative ticket costs € 15 (plus € 1 in advance if purchased online) and allows you to visit the Duomo (including the Piccolomini bookshop), the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, the Baptistery, the Porta del Cielo and other monuments of the town.
Where to park you car
One of difficulties encountered when visiting a city of art is to find a suitable place to leave your car, also bearing in mind that Siena, like many other cities, also provides a large Limited Traffic Zone. Follow my suggestion and you will not be wrong.
Set your navigator for the “Parking Il Campo” located just behind the access to the LTZ. In less than 10 minutes walk you will find yourself in Piazza del Campo. Parking is located here.
It is not a properly economic solution (but in Siena there is nothing cheap, unfortunately), but it is among one of the best solutions. If you click here you can also see the availability of free seats, also referring to other parking spaces in the city.