Siena (also called Sienna) is an outstanding medieval city that has successfully preserved much of its original character. Throughout the centuries, residents have focused on keeping the Gothic appearance that was developed between the 12th and 15th centuries and its architecture has had huge influences on Italian and European art.
UNESCO World Heritage Site status
Despite Siena’s awkward setting between the Arsia and Elsa valleys, away from the main communication routes, it has thrived over the years as an important city and epicentre of Italian trade and culture. This, coupled with the impressive preservation of architecture, makes Siena a prime candidate for UNESCO World Heritage site status.
A procession through Siena’s streets
The history of Siena
The centre of Siena is delimited by a 7km enceinte of ramparts from the 14th to 16th centuries. The city’s walls have been enlarged several times over the years, and include a 25km network of galleries that evacuate the spring waters that are then delivered to the public fountains. The main fountains, mostly from the 13th century, are notable structures in their own right, with strong Gothic links.
The 12th century saw massive development in the area, with a unique semicircle of open space being created right in the centre. This acted as a key area for both residential living and trade. With embellishments being so intricate that they even line the pavements, it remains a place of interest to this day. Festivals were regularly held in the location, bringing it alive with bustling crowds and important figures. The building of the Palazzo Pubblico, the seat of the communal government, began at around the same time, thought to be a model for the influx in Gothic palaces that sprung up in following years.
The broad urban structure evolved over a period spanning just three hundred years. The city’s struggles during this time were directly linked with episodes in the contest between the Empire and the Papacy. The Republic of Siena’s policy of territorial expansions caused much envy for its rival, Ghibelline Florence. From the first half of the 12th century, the two cities engaged in a series of famous battles, including Montaperti in 1260. The city’s prosperity was largely thanks to its banking activities in the international markets of northern Europe, Marseilles, Champagne, and London, which funded the period of mass development.
Siena is a charming city that is well worth a visit for travellers who are interested in architecture and culture.
Siena’s heart is still its central piazza, now renowned for its famous Palio, a festival and horse race that takes place on the piazza itself two times every summer. This area truly comes alive during this time, so it’s advisable to book your trip during this period, if at all possible. Film fans will recognise the Palio from the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.
Much of this city’s original structure and architecture remains in place to this day, and visitors can enjoy the abundance of local art and museums.
A charming city that pays homage to its roots, Siena is a popular tourist destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you intend to explore the museums and learn a little more about the area’s history, or simply enjoy a few days relaxing, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Siena.
An article by Ruth Hinds who is a frequent author of travel articles. Hire a car from a site such as www.carrentals.co.uk/ to see everything on your trip to Sienna.