Siena is certainly less famous than its nearby cousins, Pisa and Florence. While not the equal of the latter magnificent city, it nevertheless holds sights that will delight any visitor to Tuscany. Not least of them are the Museo Civic, the famed Il Palio horse races and the deservedly highly praised Duomo or cathedral.
Siena’s city hall, first begun in the 13th century, holds the Civic Museum. Inside the Palazzo Publico, access is via an enclosed courtyard that alone is worth the trip. Off to the side is the entrance to the Torre del Mangia, another of Siena’s outstanding sights.
Far from a dull collection of local knicknacks, the museum holds some of Italy’s first-rate treasures, including many frescoes, one of which dates back to 1315. Not least of these stellar examples of painting on walls is the fresco entitled ‘Allegory of Good and Bad Government’. The Sala del Mappamondo and adjoining Sala della Pace hold the most well known frescoes here.
The Chapel of the Council Taddeo di Bartolo is another must-see. The frescoes in this area date to between 1407 and 1414. Even the choir stalls are things of beauty. Made in 1415 by Niccolò, they are intricately carved wood that are able competitors of anything found in Florence.
Il Palio in Piazza del Campo
Normally, Sienna is a quiet, peaceful place, like most of Tuscany. But twice a year it comes vividly alive in a horse race that is as famous as the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Held on July 2nd and August 16th, ten neighborhoods mount bareback and race through the area around the Piazza del Campo. They make only two or three laps. But in that time visitors will get as much excitement as the riders.
Extremely popular, tourists who want the best view should book a seat at least six months in advance. But even standing in the crowd and catching the horse and rider between heads is a thrilling experience.
Duomo in Italian means cathedral and, not surprisingly, Tuscany is full of them. But far from being yet another dull view of yet another ordinary cathedral, the duomo in Siena is truly something special.
One of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the area, it was begun in the 12th century and continued under construction for 200 years. The facade was made from white marble, dark marble from Prato and pink stone from the area. The lower section is Romanesque with the upper in Gothic, demonstrating the change in style over the interval.
Part of the interior is a dazzling array of black and white marble stripes, though large sections of the walls are obscured by outstanding carvings and sculptures. A large rose window is surrounded by impressive busts and carvings with an angel sculpture at the top.
Even the floors are works of art, covered in mosaics that depict stories from the Christian Bible and other works of mythology. Check ahead of time to find out whether it will be covered, as it is at certain times of the year.
Anyone with an interest in Tuscany should be sure to make time to see Siena. Though less often a part of a Tuscan tour today, it deserves a visit.