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What to do in Siena, Italy

A beautiful city in the region of Tuscany, Siena is only 48 km south of Florence. Siena, like other cities in Italy, is famous for its magnificent architecture. The city started to flourish in the 12th century and reached its golden age in the 13th and 14th centuries. The city was established by the Etruscan tribes but it became a known town in the Roman period of Emperor Augustus.

Siena specifically began to flourish in the time of the Lombards and became a powerful city for many years. Siena was ruled by Pandolfo Petrucci who was brutal in the era of French and Spanish invasions until he died in 1512, then his family continued ruling until 1524. After a series of wars and heroic defence, Siena was surrounded in 1555. After two years under the rule of Philip II of Spain, he united the city with Florence. Then, in 1861, Siena was united with the rest of the Italian cities under the new Kingdom of Italy.

If you are visiting the city, you will see that most of its buildings are built of brick made from the local red clay. You will find many fantastic attractions in Siena, as you walk down its streets and see the wonderfully decorated buildings, such as the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. Also, there are magnificent museums and galleries, such as the Siena Civic Museum and the National Gallery.

Things to Do in Siena and its Important Attractions:

1. Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta:

The Cathedral is one of the main attractions in Siena and it is one of the important examples of Gothic architecture in Italy. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was built in the 13th century. It is located in the main square of the city, the Piazza del Duomo, and it was designed by Giovanni Pisano who designed its façade and sculpted most of the statues. Its façade features a plethora of white stone and marble and also some magnificent frescos. Inside, you’ll find polychrome marble arches and an ornate golden dome as well as frescos above the main altar.

The Cathedral contains a lot of artistic treasures by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Donatello, Bernini, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Iácopo Della Quercia, Pinturicchio, Giovanni di Turino, Vecchietta, and many more. The works of these artists cover most of the Cathedral whether it is the walls, ceilings, and floors or the chapels, crypt, and library. One of the interesting things in this complex is the Piccolomini Library, the artwork there is fascinating where you will see the bronze reliefs by Ghiberti and Donatello in the Baptistery of San Giovanni and the carved marble pulpit by Nicola Pisano.

2. Il Palio (Horse Race):

The horse races are one of the famous things that take place in Siena on July 2 or August 16 every year. The race took place for the first time in the 16th century when the racers used to ride buffalos and donkeys.

The race takes place in the Piazza del Campo, with ten horses and their riders, and it is not a must that the riders should be on the horses till the finish line and the prize goes to the horse who finishes the race first.

The day of the race also includes a costumed bands show, demonstrations of flag throwing, and armoured knights riding through the narrow streets on horseback.  During the event, the city becomes flooded with crowds, so make sure if you are visiting the city at this time to make all your reservations before you arrive.

3. Piazza del Campo:

The Piazza del Campo is the main square in Siena which contains many spectacular buildings like Palazzo Púbblico, the city hall, the Fountain of Gaia, and the tower of Mangia.

The Fountain of Gaia is a rectangular fountain basin by Iácopo Della Quercia, created in 1419, restored in 1868 and the original marble reliefs were removed to protect them but you can see the originals on display in the Civic Museum.

The Piazza del Campo is a great attraction to start your tour in Siena with. It also has many cafes, restaurants and shops and the surrounding architecture and the great atmosphere makes this place a very important attraction in the city.

4. Torre del Mangia:

Another attraction is the Torre del Mangia, which is 102 meters tall and located at the Palazzo Pubblico. The tower was constructed at the same time as the palace by the two brothers Minuccio and Francesco di Rinaldo between the years 1338 and 1348.

It is characterized by a similar two-tone design with a white stone crown. When you visit this lovely attraction, you will be able to climb to the top of the tower, about 400 steps, and you will see a magnificent view of the city of Siena and the Tuscan countryside.

5. Palazzo Pubblico:

It is one of the important and fascinating buildings in Siena, located in the Piazza del Campo and built in the 13th century. The exterior design of the place is an Italian Gothic design with a two-tone stone cladding and a plethora of beautiful arched windows.

The interior of the palace has many beautiful frescos, and you will be stunned by the decoration and gorgeous paintings in every room in the palace. It was once the headquarters of the Republican Government of Siena.

You will have an unforgettable tour of the palace with guides leading you there and you will be able to climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia which is in the same place too.

6. The Cacciatore:

An interesting thing to do in Siena climbs to the top of the Facciatone, the façade of the cathedral that was never finished. It was planned in the 14th century to build a new nave 100 meters long instead of the original one but unfortunately, the constructions began to slow down with the onset of the plague, the resulting economic recession, and stability problems with the portions. To climb to the top you will have to take a narrow circular stairway and see a great view of the cathedral, Siena, and Tuscan countryside.

7. Siena National Gallery:

The Siena National Gallery is located in the Pinacoteca Nazionale which is a beautiful palace in Siena and specifically on Via San Pietro in the city centre. Inside the gallery, there are many collections of artworks by many Sienese Artists dating back between the 12th and 16th centuries.

The artworks include the Raising of Lazarus and Entry into Jerusalem by Guido da Siena, and Madonna Enthroned by Lorenzetti. This is a nice place to visit for art lovers as it is one of the most important galleries in Siena.

8. Palazzo Salimbeni:

An interesting square located in the centre of Siena, three palaces surround the Palazzo Salimbeni which is Palazzo Tantucci that has an orange façade with many white framed windows, the Palazzo Salimbeni and the Palazzo Spannocchi which was built by architect Giuliano da Maiano. In the old days, the square used to be the garden of Salimbeni palace but after that, it was designed to contain tiles and an ornate marble statue.

9. Church of San Domenico:

The historic church of San Domenico is in the western part of the city. It was built in 1226 in a Gothic style. The interior design of the church has magnificent decorations, such as the Chapel of Santa Caterina.

The nave has no paths, an enclosed rectangular choir, and a surprisingly high and spacious transept opening onto a pair of chapels flanking the choir. The Chapel of Santa Caterina contains on the wall of the nave, the Ecstasy of St. Catherine and St. Catherine Fainting, and a marble tabernacle by Giovanni di Stéfanon from 1446.

Also, the major nave contains golden candelabras and altarpieces. It is a place worth visiting and exploring and one of the most beautiful buildings in Siena.

10. Fonte Gaia:

This beautiful fountain was built in the 14th century, the water is piped in it from 24 km and it is located at the Piazza del Campo in the middle of the city of Siena. The side reliefs, sculptured from marble, depict scenes from Genesis and some statues look like wolves that represent Romulus and Remus. Also, two columns contain statues of women and they were moved with marble reliefs to the Santa Maria Della Scala museum.

11. San Francesco:

The church of San Francesco was built in 1326 but it was never completed until 1475. The interior design of the church is painted in alternate bands of black and white that will remind you of the marble facade of the cathedral and it is restored by banners of the old craft guilds.

In the church, you will see a fresco of the Crucifixion that is painted by Pietro Lorenzetti and the frescoes of St. Louis of Toulouse and also the Martyrdom of Franciscans at Ceuta by Ambrogio Lorenzetti which are amazing.

12. Baptistery of San Giovanni:

The Baptistery of San Giovanni is a great attraction in the city of Siena and it was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The interior design is such an amazing thing which was made in the 14th century in Gothic style. In the church, there are hexagonal font gilded bronze panels that tell the life of John the Baptist, there are also statues that were made by Siena’s famous artists like Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Jacopo Della Quercia.

13. Porta Pispini:

The Porta Pispini is known as the gate of the Water Spout; it is a gate where the city in the middle ages had a really powerful defensive network surrounding the city. The gate is located in the eastern part of Siena and it is one of the few gates remaining until now.

When you visit this location, you will see a double doorway made from stone, and the inner gate still has its wooden frame and doors. While you are there, you can see the city walls and the guard tower.

14. Sanctuary of Santa Caterina:

The Sanctuary of Santa Caterina is a religious complex that was built to honour St. Catherine of Siena, who was one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most beloved saints. In the complex, there are many different buildings, such as several arcades and loggias and the Church of the Crucified.

One of the known pictures of her is in a fresco by Andrea Vanni in the Church of San Doménico that was painted in 1440. It also contains many decorations and frescos that describe the life of St. Catherine. The Sanctuary of St. Catherine is in the place of her childhood home and the entrance of the house and has the Latin inscription Sponsae Kristi Catherine Domus and it means House of Catherine, Bride of Christ.

15. Medici Fortress:

The Medici Fortress was built between the 16th and 17th centuries by Duke Cosimo to stop any revolution from the people of Siena at the time when the Florentine rule. The fort is located beside the Artemio Franchi Stadium in the western part of Siena. The Medici Fortress consists of four triangular defensive towers and a large central walled area. Concerts and festivals are often held in the fort as well.

16. Siena Civic Museum:

The museum is located in the Palazzo Pubblico and it contains many lovely artwork and artefacts from Siena. Also, some frescos were painted inside the palace. The major fresco is called Good and Bad Government; it describes the different sides of local government in the history of Siena.

Another thing in the museum is the fresco of Madonna on the throne with Child. The Siena Civic Museum is a nice place to visit for families as children can look at the lively coloured paintings.

17. Santa Maria degli Servi:

One of the other well-known churches in Siena is the Santa Maria Degli Servi which is located in the southeast of the city and was built in the 13th century. When you visit the church, you will find that facade was left unfinished, and the Romanesque campanile has four layers of windows and it increases as you go to the top, so it can be like a tapered shape.

In the church, there are many wonderful artworks like the Madonna del Bordone by Coppo di Marcovaldo from 1261, the Slaughter of the Innocents from the 14th century by Pietro Lorenzetti, and in the altar is Lippo Memmi’s Madonna del Pópolo.

18. Metropolitan Opera Museum:

The Metropolitan Opera Museum has become a part of the cathedral but construction stopped with the Black Death (the plague) in 1348. The museum contains gorgeous works by Donatello and Ducci, there is a shining altarpiece called Maesta which is a beautiful creation by Siena artists. You can also climb rolling narrow steps to the top so you can have a fantastic view of Siena.

19. Piccolomini Library:

Inside the cathedral of Siena, there is a wonderful treasure called Piccolomini Library that has a wonderful interior dating back to the 16th century. The library was built for Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini who became Pope Pius II and he made his nephew grace the library’s construction and after that, he became Pope Pius III.

In the library, you will find many decorative manuscripts but the important thing to see there is the fabulous frescoes painted by Pinturicchio. The frescoes present 10 different scenes that are linked to the life and career of Pope Pius II.

20. Oratory of San Bernardino:

The Oratory of San Bernardino can be found beside Basilica di San Francesco and is a 10-minute walk from the cathedral and many other churches. It was built in the 15th century in the same place where the Franciscan friar San Bernardino of Siena often preached. It is a lovely place to explore where you will find many wonderful paintings from the 13th century till the 19th century. There are valuable religious paintings by artists, such as Sano di Pietro, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Jacopo Della Quercia and the impressive thing in the chapel is the frescoes on its wall by Sodoma, Doménico Beccafumi, and Girólamo del Pacchia that shows the life of the Virgin and various saints.

21. Santa Maria Della Scala:

It is located opposite of the cathedral, built in the 13th century and it was also called the Church of the Santíssima Annunziata. The Santa Maria Della Scala was rebuilt in the 15th century by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, and it was a former hospital and one of the first hospitals in Europe.

At first, the hospital served as a home for abandoned children, fed the poor, and offered food and lodging to pilgrims. It always received donations from Siena’s wealthy figures. Inside, you will find a large fresco painted by Sebastiano Conca that shows the sick awaiting miraculous healing at the Pool of Bethesda, and at the altar, you will find a bronze Risen Christ by Lorenzo Vecchietta from 1476.

22. The Restaurant Tar Tufo:

After visiting all these exciting sights and attractions, you should have some relaxation and a good place to have a delicious meal, so the restaurant Tar Tufo is a good choice.

The restaurant is located in the southern part of the city of Siena and its menu contains lovely Italian dishes like Antipasti, lamb, pasta, and seafood. Also, you can enjoy a glass of wine with your meal, while viewing the southern farmland of Siena as you dine.

24. Arezzo:

Arezzo is an old Roman military base that attracted artists since its early days and it is an hour from Siena by bus. It has a church that contains frescoes, terra-cotta work, marble carvings, altar paintings, goldwork, enamels, and magnificent stained glass windows.

There are other attractions you can see in Arezzo like the Cimabue Crucifix in the church of San Doménico, the fresco cycle by Piero Della Francesca in the church of San Francesco.

25. Abbey of Sant Ántimo:

The Abby of Sant Antimo is about 40 km south of the city of Siena, it was built by Charlemagne. The Abby grew so quickly until the 14th century and it was dissolved in 1462. One of the interesting things there is the church that was built between the 12th and 13th century in a Romanesque style.

If you enter the church, there is the nave that has aisles but no crossing transept and an ambulatory with chapels radiating from it. The entrance is decorated with a simple façade, the capitals in the nave are carved with Romanesque plant and animal motifs alternating with interlace patterns. There is also a crypt that consists of three passages that are from the 11th century.

26. San Gimignano:

Another place that is near Siena is San Gimignano which is famous for its 13 tall towers and more than other Tuscan hill towns. When you are in this beautiful place, you will find the towers in a squared shape that was built as fortified homes and later becoming status icons for rival noble families.

Most of these towers are located near the main square in the town, Piazza Della Cisterna, others are on Via del Castello and two of these tall towers are in Piazza del Duomo. There is also a church called Santa Maria Assunta built in a Romanesque style, which was constructed in the 12th century and was enlarged in the 15th century.

When you visit the church you will be fascinated by the shining interior with a collection of fresco cycles. If you want to go to San Gimignano, you can go by train or bus.

27. Monte Oliveto Maggiore:

This place has the famous monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore that built in 1313 by Bernardo Tolomei. Then it developed into a thriving monastery and enlarged many times and became a centre of spiritual and cultural life until now. When you are there, you will enter through a gate tower that was built in 1393 with terra-cotta reliefs by the school of Luca Della Robbia.

The monastery has some wonderful frescoes that show 35 scenes from the life of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order, nine of these scenes are by Luca Signorelli in 1479 and the rest was done after 1505 by Sodoma.

The church that was built in the 15th century also has some magnificent work like its choir-stalls and 125 individual works of art created in intricate wood inlay by Giovanni da Verona. You can have a great tour there with a monk guiding you.

28. Fortress of Montalcino:

It is a little town located inside walls on a hilltop above the rivers Ombrone and Asso. In the same place in the old ages, there was a dominion in Etruscan and Roman times and the walls standing now were built by the Sienese in 1361.

This fortress is a beautiful place you can visit where you can explore it and have a walk around the walls with their six gates and remaining towers. Also, you can see a wonderful view of the Tuscan countryside from the castle. There is the church of Sant’Agostino that was built in the 14th century that you can visit and see the Gothic doorway and the frescoes in the choir.

29. Chiesa dell’Osservanza:

In another small beautiful town not far from the city of Siena, you will find the Church of the Observance that was built in 1476 by architect Giácomo Cozzarelli. The church was seriously damaged in World War II but it was rebuilt in its original form.

The church has eight side chapels and in the third chapel is the 15th-century Reliquary of San Bernardino by Francesco d’Antonio. In the fourth chapel a triptych, Madonna with SS Ambrose and Jerome by an artist called Maestro dell’Osservanza.

30. Florence:

It is easy to reach this wonderful city either by car or train for a quick day trip, but you have to know that parking is difficult in the city so the train would be a good choice and it is near the city of Siena. There are many attractions to visit in Florence and most of them date back to the time of the Renaissance era.

These wonderful attractions are Brunelleschi’s soaring dome on the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Ghiberti’s bronze doors on the Baptistery, and many art collections of the Uffizi Gallery, as well as Michelangelo’s masterpieces in the Church of San Lorenzo.

31. Abbey of San Galgano:

The abbey of San Galgano was built in 1218 in the hilly country at the foot of Montesiepi. The church is a classic example of the austere Cistercian style that is made in France but it wasn’t popular in Italy. It was built partly in travertine and partly in brick and even though parts of it were destroyed, it is still impressive. There is a nearby attraction which is Monte Siepi where you can see the frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

32. Abbadia San Salvatore:

San Salvator is one of the famous attractions in Tuscany, one of the oldest religious houses there and in the old days it was the wealthiest place in Italy. It was established in 743 by a Lombard chieftain and was home to Benedictines, Camaldolese, and Cistercians.

The interesting thing there is the cellar that was built in 1036, the vaulting rises on columns of various shapes and styles many of them with exceptional carved stone capitals. The town still has the character of the middle ages that belonged to the Médici family.

33. Have a Drink at Un Tubo:

The bar of Un Tubo has a great selection of wine and live jazz music. It is located near the Piazza del Campo. The interior of the bar is dimly lit which makes you feel right at home and it hosts exhibits of contemporary art and live jazz music. If you like this kind of music I’m sure you will love this place and it is definitely worth visiting in Siena.

How to Get to Siena:

If you are travelling by plane, the nearest airport is Peretola Airport in Florence and Galileo Galilei International Airport in Pisa. There are also daily bus routes between Siena and Bologna as well as Florence, Rome, and Milan. You can go by train from both Pisa and Florence and change at Empoli.

Siena railway station is located at the lower part of a long hill outside the city walls. If you are going by car, it is not allowed to drive in the city centre as there plenty of parking for cars located outside the city walls. If you are driving to Siena, there are car parks called La Fortezza and Il Campo and they are close to the city centre.

Places to Stay in Siena:

  1. Relais degli Angeli:

It is a lovely hotel in the old town and it is just near Piazza del Campo. The decoration is gorgeous with lovely frescoed ceilings. The breakfast there is quite tasty and delicious.

2. Grand Hotel Continental Siena:

The hotel is located in a great palace built in the 17th century. It is a 5 stars hotel in the centre of the town. The rooms and suites are wonderful and have frescoed ceilings and original artworks.

3. Hotel Santa Caterina:

It is a 3 stars hotel, located in a small and cosy aristocratic villa near the gates of the town. You can have a nice breakfast on the terrace with a fantastic view of the countryside.

4. Hotel Athena:

The hotel is located 19 minutes away from the cathedral of Siena, where it has a great view over the Tuscan hills from its terrace and some of its rooms. The restaurant in the hotel offers some delicious Sienese dishes.

No doubt that Siena is another wonderful city in Italy, where you can visit many attractions or go on quick one-day trips to many nearby towns or places. You will enjoy a great tour there with friends and family from ornately decorated churches, museums, palaces, art galleries, and beautiful landscapes. Hope you will have a pleasant stay in Siena and enjoy a great vacation in this cosy Italian city.

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