Awhile ago I wrote a post on Florence, Italy, one of the most culturally and historically rich cities in the world, and I thought I would follow it up now with a post on Siena, a medieval town in Tuscany that is situated some seventy kilometres away by car or one and a half hour ride by train from Florence. One of the reasons I love Siena is that it retained its medieval landscape; it is rich in history and its citizens still practice traditions dating to the twelve century. One legend says that Siena was founded by Remus’s sons Senius and Aschius, who hid there from their uncle Romulus (Remus and Romulus are infamous twin brothers that are characters in the legend on the founding of Rome). Even Siena’s symbol is a she-wolf, that is often pictured caring for Romulus and Remus. One other piece of information is that Siena was founded by Emperor Augustus in the 1st century BC as Sena Julia. In this post, I will briefly describe Siena’s main sights, and comment on the culture of the place. Apart from the header photo, all photos in this post are mine (again, excuse my phone camera).
I. Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Manjia
The Piazza del Campo (the shell-shaped town square) and Torre del Manjia are the most recognisable sights of Siena. While the piazza dates back to the twelve century, the tower dates back to the fourteenth century, and it was once the tallest secular tower structure in Italy, standing at 102 metres. The name of the tower – Manjia – derives from its first bell-ringer Giovanni di Balduccio, who was nicknamed Mangiaguadagni (“a profit-eater”). Palazzo Pubblico dates to the thirteenth century and was designed to hold the seat of the Siena’s government. The Piazza is still the place of town festivities, including Il Palio di Siena, a famous horse-race that takes place twice a year. The medieval aspect of Siena is a wonder for many, and is explained by the fact that Siena’s development stalled shortly after the Black Death outbreak, and other cities in its vicinity, including Florence, began to be preferred over it. The Renaissance, World War II and modern developments all seem to have passed the city by.
II. Fonte Gaia
I love fountains and could not get enough of them in Italy. Situated in the Piazza del Campo, there is a beautiful Fonte Gaia or “joyous” fountain. One version is that the fountain was named to salute the “joy” citizens felt in 1346 when water first arrived to the piazza, or maybe in 1414 when the fountain was first opened. The fountain was decorated by Jacopo della Quercia, a sculptor that merged a Siena-type Gothic style with the then emerging Renaissance style. The now replaced marble fountain panels depict Biblical scenes, including The Creation of Adam, and Madonna and Child.
III. Siena Cathedral (Duomo)
When I visited Siena, much of the Duomo was under restoration and I could not take decent photos of it. Hailed a “Gothic Wonder”, the construction of this magnificent Cathedral began in the twelve century, but the works only finished in the fourteenth century due to many wars and a disease outbreak. The Cathedral was designed to compete with the cathedrals of Florence, and is, indeed, a breath-taking sight since the exterior of the Siena Cathedral is made of the beautiful white marble and the interior is completed in the stunning greenish-black and white marble. Next to the Cathedral is also the Piccolomini Library, which is decorated with frescoes by Pinturicchio.
IV. Culture and Sport
Siena is a fascinating city because it retains some of its medieval ways and traditions, and has a unique medieval atmosphere not found anywhere else in Italy. Most of its festivities are a sight to behold. Twice a year (on 2 July and 16 August) Siena hosts a horse-race called Il Palio in the Piazza del Campo. This traditional horse-race stems to medieval times, and, during it, different wards (contradi) of the city compete against each other. There are seventeen contradi, and each ward is represented by an animal or mascot. For example, The Chiocciola contrada is represented by a snail and has a motto: “With slow and deliberate steps, snail leaves the battlefield triumphant“. Its colours are red and yellow, and its people originally come from the Via San Marco in the city. Another contrada is The Wave or Captain’s Contrade. Its location is on the street of Giovanni Dupre in Siena; its colours are blue and white, and its people were traditionally carpenters. One of the largest medieval celebrations in Siena is the Feast of St. Joseph, which happens on 19 March. During this celebration, there are street banquets, during which people consume traditional delicacies, and shopping fairs are held.
V. Other Trivia – Pinocchio
In Siena, like in most towns in Tuscany, it is possible to buy various Pinocchio souvenirs, and that is because its creator – Carlo Callodi or Carlo Lorenzini, known for The Adventures of Pinocchio , was born (and died) in Florence, Tuscany. His father was from Collodi, a village town not far from Pistoia, and, in Collodi, there is also the Pinocchio Park, equipped with artefacts and monuments built to replicate those found in the famous children’s book.