Very few places in Italy rival Florence’s historical standing, but one that does is located just an hour’s drive away and also nestled within a picturesque Tuscan landscape.
Medieval Siena is known for hosting the biannual summer Palio runs, which have been featured in James Bond film Quantum of Solace. Piazzas, ornate cathedrals and churches are scattered throughout the city, making it a great alternative to Florence if you’re keen to avoid the crowds. Here are some other reasons why Siena should be next on your list of Italian cities to discover.
Siena was the first European city to limit the number of vehicles that passed through its streets in the 1960s. The result? An uncrowded pedestrian-friendly city centered around Piazza del Campo. Looking down from above this small medieval town, you’ll see the square at its epicentre, its slinking roads like throbbing arteries pumping a steady flow of visitors into it. This square is where the renowned Palio di Siena horse race is held twice a year.
The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not just a small section of it – the whole city is so important, its earned a place on the coveted list of protected sites. UNESCO has called the Siena the “embodiment of a medieval city”, and that’s thanks to its Gothic architecture and well-thought out town planning which harmonises with its surroundings. Siena’s appearance has remained unchanged since the 12th century, and it’s sheltered by a seven-kilometre fortified wall and gates. They are as impressive now as they were when were when first constructed.
There are two great viewpoints in the city – one is at the top of the Torre del Mangia bell tower in the Piazza del Campo. The other is the wall of the unfinished extension to the Duomo cathedral. At the Torre del Mangia, you’ll have to walk up 400 steps to reach the top, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of Siena and its surrounding countryside. It costs €8 and only 25 people are let in at a time. The other option is to admire views from the lavishly-decorated cathedral – a must see during your visit.
There are some delicious regional dishes on offer in the city, like wild boar, grilled meat and pici, a thick, hand-rolled spaghetti. Thanks to its Tuscan location, you can also sample some of the country’s most famous wines, like Chianti, close to where they’re was produced. Avoid the restaurants close to the Piazza del Campo if you don’t want to splash out. La Taverna di San Giuseppe is an extremely popular choice, serving up tasty fare in rustic and intimate cave-like setting.
There’s no denying it – Siena is a culture vulture’s haven. Just take a look at the ceiling of the Piccolomini Library and you’ll be astounded by the talent of the artists that worked on the ornate fresco. In the Duomo Cathedral you’ll also find the Museo dell’Opera, which contains works from the 14th-16th century and include pieces by Duccio. In the Museo Civico, there are beautiful astronomical frescos, along with other Sienese masterpieces.