Siena represents a treasure chest, where one of the most important folkloristiс traditions is kept safe by the ancient medieval walls of the city: the Palio. Among with age-old artistic treasures, the Palio is the crown jewel standing out in this fairy-tale panorama.
Siena’s history is closely connected to the Eternal City’s myth: as a matter of fact, Siena is believed to have been founded by Remo’s sons, while escaping from Rome after their father’s death. According to the legend, spread by a team of intellectuals since XV century that aimed to enhance the status of the town by comparing it to Rome, Aschio founded Asciano, whereas Senio founded Siena. Myths aside, Siena was originally a military roman settlement, known as Saena Julia. At the beginning, the area was principally a binding site on the Via Francigena
path and, at the same time, breeding ground in the open conflict between Guelfi and Ghibellini parties. Only since XII century Siena had started developing as a free-standing political power, achieving a long-standing economic prestige represented by the foundation of the oldest Bank in Europe, Monte de’ Paschi di Siena, and by the inauguration of Duomo and Palazzo Pubblico’s majestic projects. Open-face conflicts with Florence were not slow to come, leading Siena to a tough time, which had to wait until XVI century to gain back its independence and to
settle down as a Repubblic. Beside the artistic treasures, iconic historic stages and leading figures, Siena still owes its importance to an age-old tradition which makes of the city itself a one-of-a-kind place: Palio, the horserace that takes place twice a year, July 2 and August 16, is one of the main attractions that every year lures people from all over the world to witness the strong feelings of inhabitants toward their city, their 17 districts, hard-won victories and unexpected defeats.
This is the heart of City. The long side of the Piazza, is dominated by Palazzo Pubblico, the seat of Siena’s Government. With your back to Palazzo Pubblico, you can see, starting from the right: Palazzo Chigi Zondadari and Palazzo Sansedoni, with its concave façade, with a tower on one side, and Fonte Gaia, the central fountain. What you see is a 19th Century; the original, made by Jacopo della Quercia, in 1419, is conserved inside Santa Maria della Scala, the old hospital, in front of the Cathedral. Why does the Piazza have this particular shape? There are several answers to this question.
First of all, a ‘shell’ is the symbol of pilgrims. Those who had visited the grave of Saint Giacomo, in Santiago de Compostela, could wear a shell on their mantle. As Siena was a safe harbour for many pilgrims, a shell-shaped piazza was perfect. Another possible answer is that this shape recalls the mantle of the Virgin Mary, spread out to protect Siena and its people. In fact the City is devoted to the Holy Virgin. And the most obvious answer: the shape is due to the geological formation of the ground; Siena is on a hillside, and the ground is naturally suited to this particular shape. The Piazza is divided into 9 segments as a homage to the so-called Government of the Nine, that ruled the City from 1287 to 1355.
Inside Palazzo Pubblico are frescoes, created by some of the most important 14th Century artists, such as Simone Martini, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Ambrogio Lorenzetti; as well as some others by later artists. It is worth mentioning La Maestà, by Simone Martini of 1315, a Masterpiece of European Gothic Art. This icon, of the Blessed Mary, sitting on a throne, like a queen, is very common in the Siena Region. The old Republic never had a lord, so maybe there was need to find a figure, to hail and salute; and thus the Queen of Heaven, was perfect for the Senese people.
The fresco called Il Buongoverno, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, deserves some explanation too. It was painted between 1338 and 1339. It is one of the first examples of civil art. The subject of the painting is not religious, but rather represents Utopia in Siena. On the right-hand wall, are portrayed the effects of the Good Government in the town and countryside. On the opposite wall, tyranny is depicted. If a tyrant is in power, then the virtues will disappear and the vices will take their places. At the feet of the tyrant, Lady Justice is in chains. Both the town and the countryside are desolate and in ruins, violence is everywhere.
The façade was added to the church between 1284 and 1317. It is a transition between Romanesque and Gothic style. The round arches above the three doors are Romanesque. Then, as you glance up, the shapes become longer, and everything goes up towards the sky, with typical features of Gothic architecture.
Inside of the Cathedral, there is a wide range of artworks, but what makes Siena's major church unique, is the religious significance that these masterpieces represent, of which, the floor, which consists of 55 marble and mosaic compositions, is undoubtedly the most important. The first floor compositions were made in the 14th Century, and the last were added during the 19th Century, in total spanning almost 500 years. Each composition is a masterpiece in its own right, but as a whole, they represent a symbolic path leading visitors towards the main altar, where King David sits enthroned.
Enjoy a 1-hour walking tour of the remarkable city of Siena, and discover its ancient history, stunning churches and fascinating palaces. Stroll through the distinctive alleyways and explore Siena's vibrant city piazzas, on this fascinating tour.
Languages available: English
A 90-minutes gastronomic tour to discover the original and genuine flavors of Siena, in a series of carefully selected restoration activities, where quality is the main rule. With our multilingual tour leaders, finding a place to taste the best of the local cuisine will no longer be a problem!
Languages available: English, Italiano, Español, Français