Oh yeah, in my previous articles I decided to write about the places off the beaten tracks like small alleyways nestled between the crumbling and ancient houses or forgotten small churches but in this article I will focus more on the tourist places in Siena. Well, Siena is less tourist than some other italian cities such as Florence or Rome and I think it is a good alternative to visit this lovely city after a tiring day in the bustle hustle of Florence, which, I am sure, will be able to drive you crazy at the end of the day. Siena is more a place that can be enjoyed and discovered slowly. I guess one day is enough if you just want to visit the most known places in the city but I think staying 3 days here will not be a pain in the neck for the great heritage this city keeps in its walls.
1) Piazza del Campo
I was sure that I would have ended up writing about this place in Siena as it is the heart of the daily life in this medieval city. Everyone comes here in order to relax on the square (which is quite clean for being in Italy do no worries and sit down or even lie down on it) after an afternoon shopping session or after an exhausting long walk that tourists always struggle to do in their attempt to visit the whole city in one day. Piazza del Campo is mainly famous for the Palio, that is to say the big horse racing that twice a year in summer takes place on this square. Everyone always asks me how they can have such a challenge on this square and indeed, they are right. This place is very ancient, it dates back to the 12th century and was born on a reclaimed territory as a market square for its good location in the middle of commercial routes between Rome and Florence.
The town hall and Torre del Mangia
The town hall, which stands out the most in the jumble of ancient buildings located on the square, was built between the 13th and 14th century as headquarter of Governo dei Nove, in other words Republic of Siena: the period when the city knew its biggest splendour. A curiosity is that the material used is not simply stones but bricks and the white elements are marble. Torre del Mangia is the surname given to the town hall tower, named after its first guard known for spending all the money on food (ie. Mangia might mean mangione, a person with a great appetite in italian). It is one of the tallest tower in Italy.
2) Siena Cathedral
I start with saying that entering Siena cathedral is a must, even though you stay here for one day, because the inside is just breathtaking. Of course, all the biggest attractions must be paid, like it happened with this one, but I highly advise to buy your ticket and enjoy its benefits. The ticket can be purchased at the ticket office on the right side of the cathedral and is just 8 euros. With this ticket, you can visit not only the cathedral but also the library, which is an art masterpiece, the museums, the Baptistery and the unmissable Facciatone (you will understand later why).
On the same place, where now we can find the cathedral, before there was the residence of the bishop that later, in the 13th century, was converted into a church. The style of this religious complex is italian gothic-roman style as we can understand from the rose window, from the black and white stripes and from the impulse of the church’s architecture to reach the sky, a peculiarity of the gothic style. The cathedral inside is huge with beautiful pillars that lead you to the central part. A beautiful feature is the ceiling that is covered by myriad of stars making you feel like you are looking at a starry sky. The floor is covered for the most part of the year, they uncover it only twice per year – if I remember correctly – because walking on it could be harmful for the floor itself as it is painted with frescos.
The Baptistery is a relatively small chamber behind the bigger Siena Cathedral and it is the place where the newborns used to get baptised. According to the Catholic religion, everyone has the original sin when they were born because of Eve and Adam’s actions in the Eden and the only way to eliminate it is the baptism. The Baptistery is an art masterpiece with many colorful and detailed frescoes portraying mainly religious events like the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Annunciation. In the middle of the chamber, you can find the hexagonal baptistery built in marble and bronze by various major sculptors at that time, among them, Donatello.
The library is a small room on a side of the cathedral that, despite its size, will leave you with the open mouth. I did not expect something like this inside such a cathedral. The frescos are full of colours, so much colorful that will amaze you. This place was built to treasure the book collection of the Pope Pius II and was painted by some of the most famous Italian painters at that time like Pinturicchio and Raffaele Sanzio. The frescoes portray the greatness of pope’s power and praise the house of the Piccolominis.
This is the highlight of the cathedral; this is the main reason I wanted to visit siena cathedral, if I have to be honest xD it is the unfinished construction that should have been part of the church, where, now, you can go and climb up until you reach the top of it. Once on top, you can enjoy a beautiful view on the whole city. I felt like Ezio from assassin’s creed looking at those medieval roofs that were scattered all around my eyes. The best time to visit the Facciatone is when the sun gets down and everything around you is painted with a brightful gold colour.
There are wide range of museums to visit inside the cathedral that treasures mainly art masterpieces and items related to Siena. There is the museum on the first floor, the Treasure Hall and the Big Hall, which is my favourite. You find yourself in a suggestive environment with soft light used to highlight the beauty of the items found there. They are parts of the Duomo, which were ruined or fell from the original construction, and a beautiful glass window.
3) The best food to try
Siena offers a wide choice when it comes to restaurants; the Tuscan cuisine is rich of tasty recipes, especially meat and salami. They have very delicious salami in Siena and, if you are a food maniac, I highly advise to have a look inside the small family-run shops around the city. Another advice from me is to try the Siena pasta called Pici ? They are like thick hand-made spaghetti that can be together with boar sauce, normal tomato sauce, porcini mushroom (boscaiola), cheese and black pepper and many others; if you have visited japan in your previous travels, pici can be compared to the Udon. I discourage you from eating on Piazza del Campo because a normal pici dish that in normal restaurants in the city cost 7 euros, there the price is doubled to 13 euros! I know a very good restaurant with fair prices called Fontegiusta, located 10 minutes after the city’s main gate Porta Camollia. It offers pasta with boar sauce, pici, big gnocchi and salami ? The Tiramisu is also very big so it is better to share it with someone else 😉 My last advice about Siena food is: DON’T EAT pizza here because it sucks :/ the dough is too dry and thin, try the most traditional food because it is really worth it ?
The photos of food have been taken from internet!! For further information about the attractions, check the official website