Siena is a classic walled city and one of Italy’s prettiest medieval hill towns located in the heart of Tuscany with ca. 55 thousand inhabitants. It’s also the best preserved medieval city in Italy and I’ve read that the people of Siena speak the purest Italian in Italy – actually Italian language students often go there to learn the correct pronunciation. Its peak was about 1260-1348 when it was one of Europe’s wealthiest cities and many of its buildings and art works originate from that time.
While on a family trip to Italy recently, it was on the top of our list to explore of course. So if you like to join us, I’ll gladly give you taste of this magical, beautiful and culturally rich Tuscan town. It is world famous for its renaissance architecture, a stunning view of the landscape, famously fantastic cuisine, wine and the big event: Palio di Siena – a horse race festival – taking place at the large fan-shaped Piazza Del Campo in the heart of the city:
Twice a year, this famed Palio delle Contrade takes place on the jam-packed piazza. The city’s three districts, di Citta, di Camollia and di San Martino, were once divided into 59 sub-districts (or contrades) of which 17 still exist and make the competing teams. It’s a horse race like nowhere else (only ten can compete at any time for safety reasons) and runs on July 2 and August 16. All Sienese are affiliated with one of the contrade, to which a typical Sienese feels loyal with a strength perhaps surpassed only by their loyalty to their family.
Since the 11th century, the Sienese have conducted festivals every year where the contrade compete for renown (and in times gone by, actual political power) through contests such as flag throwing, horse racing and even fist fights. The race itself is in late evening but the whole day of the race is taken up with processions through the streets of the various contrade competing in the particular race.
The Duomo in Siena:
A magnificent black and white Italian Romanesque cathedral including the Libreria Piccolomini, Baptistery, and an attached Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century, but it was not finished until the 14th.
Its bands of dark and light marble make it an unusually beautiful cathedral, and its western façade is richly decorated with statues. Inside, the floor of the cathedral is covered with 56 marble panels with figures from mythology and the Old Testament.
Walking in the Medieval Renaissance City:
The center of Siena is accessible only on foot. Cars (other than taxis, police, etc.) are strictly prohibited, but motorcycles and scooters are OK – and there were plenty of them : -). Of course it’s like a fairytale to walk in this best preserved medieval city and maybe it is the warm colour of its buildings that also made it very special. After all, it is clay from surrounding district – terra di Siena – that gives us the colour in our crayon boxes; “Burnt Sienna”
Talking about the horse race and that all Sienese feels loyal with strength: Each contrade has a public fountain bearing its emblem, such as a panther, a fish or an eagle. While strolling through the city, we saw them on the corners of the houses too (top left in this photo):
This is the third post from our big family trip; my wife (DianeCA) and I, our children + SO and even my grandchild met up with Diane’s brothers and spouse from the USA. 14 people in all gathering in Pisa at the Park Hotel California, and having the time of our lives enjoying each other’s company, getting better acquainted and exploring this wonderful part of Italy. From my first post: Family from Norway touring Tuscany in Italy, you’ll get an introduction and then you will know that I’ll do more posts from this trip, so stay tuned – Pisa and the leaning tower is next!