Things To Do In Siena
Siena is one of the typical medieval towns in Tuscany, but with plenty of flair and charming attractions, restaurants and cafes that make a visit worthwhile. The nice thing about Siena is that it has a well preserved medieval heritage and gives every visitor a good insight of how the people lived and survived in the early times. Walking through the historic center of Siena is a must-see experience because you feel like being transported back to the Middle Ages as far as the 13th century. The narrow streets, the old structures built of stone arches, the majestic Siena Cathedral (Duomo), Port Camolia, the Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Pubblico, and the famous Mangia Tower is a feast for those who like the past! The tower was built to be exactly the same height as the Siena Cathedral as a sign that the church and the state are equal and have the same status.
The Piazza del Campo is the very meaning of Siena; here you can catch the magical atmosphere that surrounds Tuscany. It is not to be missed and to be enjoyed from all angles, as well as from its central points. The shell shaped landscape of this famous square encompasses all the beauty of Siena and serve as the ideal meeting place for the many young people who study in the significant Italian language schools and distinguished universities that surround this historic landmark.
Siena is also popular because of the "Palio di Siena" which happens to be a horse race ridden by jockeys dressed like the time of the Renaissance and held in Piazza del Campo. It is celebrated twice a year (exactly on July 2 and August 16) and every summer in celebration of the Virgin Mary. It is really exciting to watch the preparations for the feast and the whole city is dressed with flags. A day before, spectators and participants or representatives coming from the ten contradas (communities) can feel the tension that becomes more tangible among the various rival teams as they get closer to the starting time of the competition. After the horse race, all of the festivities leads to great celebrations for the winning team and with teasing or taunting cheers towards the defeated rival team. The colourful festival usually lasts for days with lots of singing and dancing all around the Piazza.
When To Go:
The perfect time to visit the countryside town of Siena in Tuscany is during the spring season starting from the month of May until June, and also during the humid summer season, which starts from July to August (the Palio Race remains one of the best reasons why tourist arrival increases on this particular warm month in Siena). Summer is extremely hot with temperatures ranging from 27 to 30 degrees Celsius, but it does not stop people from joining the street festivals around this time in the city.
Most rains prevail during the autumn season, which starts from October to November with temperatures ranging from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius, but this does not dampen the desire of the travellers who want to see numerous art festivals and events (International Jazz Festival and the Siena Film Festival) that are held during these months. The city experiences favourable climate all year round and ends with the cold winter season in December with temperatures reaching its lowest number.
Here are the key attractions and things to do in the city of Siena…
The Siena Cathedral is a feast for the eyes and as you enter you remain stunned by the beauty of the frescoes and flooring. The play of colors that characterizes its atmosphere makes it one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. The main cathedral of the city is a real show, starting from the outside and from the inside; it’s like a treasure chest full of surprises. The Gothic architecture is truly impressive; deserves special attention to visit the bookstore called the Piccolomini, a true gem that preserves the interior frescoes and illuminated manuscripts.
It is imperative to take the audio guide to understand every art presented and the story behind its creation. The cathedral is also a place of deep inner reflection for its devotees and despite the presence of a large flow of tourists; the faithful continue their moments of silence, meditation, and prayer.
If you want to visit the entire complex, choose the Opi Pass + Gate of Heaven, a type of ticket that cost €20 (as of July 2015) and gives you access to everything like the; church, library Piccolomini, baptistery, museum work, and access to "The Gate of Heaven", which allows visiting the church from above, exploring the attic of the dome and thus having a unique view overlooking the beautiful inlaid marble flooring down below that tells gospel stories from the Bible. The climb from the baptistery to the square reveals the unique beauty of this extraordinary work of art.
The unique facade, the bell tower, the tour of Piccolomini Library, the fonts of Antonio Federighi, the pulpit by Nicola Pisano, the stained glass window by Duccio di Buoninsegna, and the statues done by Gian Lorenzo Bernini are all worth seeing and knowing while in Siena. The richness of detail, opulence and history of this cathedral contains the complexity of any description. The wonderful works of art are immaculately maintained; do not miss a true marvel that will leave you speechless!
Battistero di San Giovanni
Do not miss any single "brick" of the Battistero di San Giovani. It is located underneath the dome of the Sienna Cathedral. It highlights a mix of colors and the cycle of frescoes built during the Renaissance Siena, and an exciting baptismal font surrounded by bronze works adorned with minute details and signed by excellent artists.
For those who love art baptistery, it is an absolute gem that features the work of three major sculptors like; Jacopo della Quercia, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello. It is better to go there in the morning shortly after opening, at other times it is very crowded.
Crypt of Siena Cathedral (Il Duomo)
Go down in the heart of the Cathedral and you will be astonished by the beauty and quantity of frescos classified by their colors at the Crypt of Siena Cathedral (Il Duomo) and admire the work of the thirteenth century Sienese artists that were discovered only recently. Buy the combined ticket to visit all the wonder of the Divine Beauty Siena. There are combined tickets to see the crypt along with museum work, the baptistery and the cathedral.
The Piccolomini Library is a real jewel of Renaissance art that is located inside the Cathedral of Siena and its entrance is precisely at the end of the left aisle. It was founded around 1495 by Francesco Piccolomini, who became Pope Pius III, to save the precious library of his uncle Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Pope Pius II. The interior of the hall is completely covered with frescoes by Pinturicchio and tell the stories of the life of Pope Pius II. Under the frescoes on a number of carved wooden pews, there are exposed illuminated choir books owned by the Cathedral and the Hospital of Santa Maria alla Scala.
The beautiful tiled floor is decorated with the coats of arms of the Piccolomini family. Between the windows is placed a bronze statue of the Risen Christ by Fulvio Signorini and a bas-relief above the entrance that shows the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden done by Jacopo della Quercia. The Piccolomini Library is visited with a ticket, a fee that includes a visit to the Duomo, the crypt and the baptistery. Inside you can take pictures without flash. It is definitely recommended to all those who enjoy visiting the beautiful Italian cities of art. Siena is among those who can boast of real priceless artistic masterpieces that draws tourists from all around the world.
Piazza del Campo
The Piazza del Campo in Siena is without doubt one of the prominent squares in Italy with its unusual shell shaped design. It is unique not only for its highly original form, but also renowned worldwide for its beauty and for being the place where twice a year the Palio of Siena is celebrated. The space that occupies it seems that it was originally an enormous ground that was reclaimed to allow storm water to runoff and helped form its sloping landscape. The monument that is most striking for its powerful presence is the Town Hall is also known as the Public Palace. Among the other buildings overlooking the square are the; Palazzo Chigi, from the mouth of Via dei Rinaldini (also called Chiasso Largo); Sansedoni building, all brick structure; Loggia of the Merchants, Casa de Metz; Costarella dei Barbieri and Palazzo D'Elci with the crowning tower. On one side of the square you can find a fountain that is richly decorated with walled statues.
The Piazza is famous for its architectural beauty and its particular concave shell form with nine segments defined by white bands on the brick floor, and the conjunction of the three hills on which stands the city of Siena. Its grandeur is breathtaking, its structure and the definitions of the spaces have changed over time, through laws that have established how to organize spaces, facades and architectural perspectives.
It even proceeded with the demolition of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul (located between the existing lanes of St. Peter and St. Paul), because it was protruding from the perimeter of the surrounding buildings. At the highest point of the square is where you can find the La Fonte Gaia, the fountain 400, (actually kept elsewhere and replaced with a copy), which takes its name from the joy of Siena or the time when water first gushed in Piazza del Campo.
The square is overlooking the Civic Museum, one of the most elegant and imaginative examples of Gothic architecture. The Palazzio Pubblico was the seat of Government of the Nine and now houses the Museo Civico and the council of Siena. On the left side of the Town Hall stands the Torre del Mangia, a slender and elegant building 88 meters high with ornaments made of stone and drawn by the famous Philip Memmi. From the top (400 steps to reach it) you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Siena. The half perimeter is adorned with local eateries, pizzerias, and always filled with tourists just like the whole square. For each event and festivity that interests the public life of Siena, it becomes a big stage where concerts, events and festivals are held. In short, it remains one of the main attractions of the city, but also the social hub of all Sienese.
Mangia Tower (Torre del Mangia)
The climb to the Mangia Tower is done in shifts because the stairs are so narrow that the staff discourages too many people to cross, you also have to leave your bags, backpacks and bulky looking camera cases because these things are not allowed on the way up, only cameras. Do not be frightened by the 400 stair steps, it is all worth it. At the top of the bell tower you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city of Siena. This tower symbolizes the triumph of art, history, architecture and culture, and above all it is a monument built in honor the craftsmen who worked with skill and pure talent 700 years ago. The stairs are constricted and in some places quite dark. Surely, it is not a visit for those who are claustrophobic or people with mobility problems and heart disease. The ticket price is €10.
First tip: visit the Tower during the off season (early spring), because it is impossible to stop on the way up given the narrowness of the stairs. Second tip: do not go up on a full stomach, the tower is about 90 meters high and the stairs are very steep and the climb is really exhausting, but when you arrive at the top you will be rewarded with a unique and extraordinary view of Siena and its fertile countryside enclosed by mountains and hills and the breath of fresh air that will refresh you from the fatigue after a tiring climb.
Historic Centre of Siena
The Historic Centre of Siena is like entering a maze, but the good thing is that even if you stroll along its labyrinthine streets, you will always see a building or interesting monument. It has remained virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages. A visit can take three hours all around (without having to visit museums). Just wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for steep climbs and descents.
The walls are visible right from the balcony - and it makes such a strong impression! There is still need to understand that the Tuscan city wall rises from the rock - and as a result, and you see the beauty of nature, and that this powerful wall was survived by many generations. City Walls make the greatest impression in the evening, when electric light and the play of colors makes it look more stunning in the dark.
Palazzo Pubblico and Museo Civico
The Palazzo Pubblico of Siena is also known as the Town Hall. Today it is the seat of the municipal administration, as well as the Museo Civico which was established from around 1300. It stands on the Piazza del Campo and is flanked by the Torre del Mangia. Inside houses many works of Siena’s rich past including the famous fresco of the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, but you can also observe other frescoes and works by Simone Martini, Duccio, Sodom and Beccafumi. It rises like a mighty soldier on the square with a chapel and from which rises the Torre del Mangia. The wide facade of the building reflects the various periods of construction.
The Museo Civico is located on the first floor of the building where in many rooms you can admire many of the masterpieces of Sienese art. Among the rooms; the room of the Renaissance houses works of the nineteenth century; the hall of mercy, the hall of cardinals, the hall of the consistory with all the works from 1400 to 1700, the hall of the globe, the room of peace, the room of the pillars, and the pol loggia that spans the entire square.
Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana
The Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana that stands next to the Cathedral of Siena is really a pleasant surprise. The atmosphere that can be enjoyed inside with lights and shadows is fascinating and mysterious. The museum contains mainly the original statues that adorn the facade of the Duomo. Tourists mostly gather around the balcony and from here, the 360° view of the city and the cathedral is truly unique and priceless.
The path to this view is quite simple, since it is on the top floor of the museum by a narrow and small scale winding staircase. You just need to arm yourself with a little patience, because it allows access to a limited number of spectators and not more than a dozen people at a time. Moreover, the floor space is actually very limited. But the incredible view that you will enjoy makes it worth the time and effort.
Complesso Museale Santa Maria della Scala
The Complesso Museale Santa Maria della Scala is a former hospital with various rooms beautifully painted in the fifteenth century by various artists including Domenici of Bartolo and Vecchietta, with scenes from the missions of Ospedal, which are unique in its kind and very interesting. The site is divided on several levels with many rooms and religious circles untangled in a process that is a bit labyrinthine. It has a series of exhibitions ranging from Etruscan to the latest medical instruments used in the hospital.
There is an exhibition called Body and Soul that collects stories, paintings, personal items, medical instruments and other things that recall the incredible tradition of Tuscany as "hospitable". The basement is full of surprises because it contains the original statues of the Fonte Gaia, the museum with the finds of the Archaic period, and the collected bones from the mass grave . Visit this and go down from level to level, it is an essential experience in Siena.
Siena is perceived as a city with a closed space. Even in the central area, there are no wide avenues, and cut through the passages in houses. Even the stadium is wedged into some hollow between the rocks. The streets of Siena are more like a window to the past and the spirit of the old times. You can walk further in the narrow old cobbled streets, ancient architecture and if you go over the main square of the city, there are many passages through the arch. Siena is definitely worth a visit and leaves a lasting impression that is worth coming back to.
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