An intimate and welcoming city surrounded by the lush rolling hills of Tuscany, Siena offers an enchanting piece of Italian magic. This historic city is home to awe-inspiring medieval architecture, incredibly intricate artworks, beautiful cathedrals, mouthwatering local cuisine and one of the country’s most enthralling spectacles, the Palio. Whether you’re strolling along the sleepy streets, meeting the locals in the piazzas or soaking up the rich culture of the city’s distinctive contrade, Siena is a city that’s as good for the soul as it is for the senses. Here’s our pick of the best of Siena.
Admire the Duomo
Siena has a rich history, so it’s no surprise that the city is filled with magnificent and historic architecture. The crowning glory, though, has to be the Duomo – a spectacular showpiece cathedral made possible by some of Italy’s greatest medieval and Renaissance artists. This triumph of Romanesque-Gothic architecture, with its intricate white, green and red marble façade, was constructed over the 13th and 14th centuries and was planned to be Italy’s largest cathedral. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be – the building extension was cut short and abandoned following the devastating plague of 1348. Inside you’ll find plenty to admire. There’s the flooring, inlaid with 56 panels depicting historical and biblical scenes and created over a span of 200 years, as well as breathtaking artworks from renowned artists including Domenico di Bartolo and Domenico Beccafumi.
Discover Siena’s History and Art
With its strong identity and rich culture, Siena is an art-lover’s paradise. The city’s most popular museum is Museo Civico, which features frescoes by Siena’s most impressive artists – including Lorenzetti’s huge Allegories of Good and Bad Government and Martini’s equally massive Maestà. The Pinacoteca Nazionale is also sure to impress. Siena’s masters and artists remained loyal to Byzantine and Gothic styles throughout the 15th century (a time when Renaissance art was flourishing in Florence), and this beautiful gallery houses an inspiring collection of Gothic masterpieces.
Relax Like the Locals
To truly understand the beauty of Sienese life, it’s best to follow in the footsteps of the locals. Commonly known as Il Campo, the Piazza del Campo has been the city’s social centre since the 12th century, and young and old alike spend lazy summer afternoons and energetic evenings gathered around the sloping piazza. It’s not just the enchanting medieval buildings that draws in the crowds – the cafes that surround the square are some of the best in Siena. The perfect place to unwind with a delicious aperitivo.
The Taste of Siena
From seasonal porcini and plump grapes fresh from Puglia to winter truffles and pecorino cheese, Siena offers countless treats for the tastebuds. All across the city you’ll find the best food and drink from surrounding Tuscany, all created following that classic Tuscan recipe – the freshest high-quality ingredients mixed with a dash of simplicity and plenty of time and care. No journey through Siena’s local gastronomy is complete without a visit to La Taverna di San Giuseppe, where you’ll find authentic and traditional dishes including pici, a tasty home-made pasta, and bistecca alla fiorentina, a succulent steak prepared from locally sourced beef. If you’re after your sugar fix, you can’t go wrong with Siena’s many sweet-smelling pasticcerie, where you’ll find plenty of sumptuous pastries and cakes to tuck into.
The Excitement of the Palio
Of course, you can’t mention Siena without also mentioning the Palio. Held twice a year, the Palio di Siena is the city’s most important and famous event – a hugely competitive, energetic and entertaining horse race that has been at the beating heart of Siena’s culture since 1644. For the Sienese, it’s more than just a race: it’s a way of life. Ten horses and riders representing ten of the city’s contrade take part in an exhilarating race that is about local pride and rivalry as much as it is about festivity. Flags fly, locals cover themselves in the colours of their contrada and the streets sizzle with energy. It may be extremely busy, but a visit to Siena for the Palio is the best way to discover how this historic city is still bursting with life.