The Beauty of Siena, Italy by Laura Ferguson
Before anything else, it’s important to point out that the entirety of Tuscany is truly breath-takingly stunning. From the bustling hub of Florence through to the small, quaint town of San Gimignano, there are endless ways to spend your time in the Tuscan region of Italy. There is, however, just something about the medieval town of Siena. Often you’ll find people saying that if you want to really experience Tuscany, then Siena should be your first and last stop. Whether you’re looking for beautiful scenery, the best of Italian cuisine or to immerse yourself in Italian culture, Siena can offer you one of the best off-the-beaten track Italian holidays, meaning that the town never has the same touristy feel as some of the more well-known Italian cities and towns.
Firstly, Siena’s history is some of the most fascinating in the country. Despite not being given the same prominence as the likes of Rome or Venice, it is a treasure trove of medieval buildings and historical influence for any and all amateur historians to explore. Weaving in and around the city’s narrow streets and hidden lanes, it’s not difficult to feel its history all around you. It’s architecture is so highly regarded it can be seen in blockbusters such as the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. Legend has it that the city was founded by the sons of Remus, Senius and Aschius and has a legendary association with werewolves.
The medieval city centre of Piazza del Campo, first established in the 13th Century, is considered one of the most impressive in throughout Europe. The main feature of the square is the bell tower, the Torre del Mangia, made entirely of red brick and situated in the centre of the city square. To this day, it remains one of the tallest non-religious towers in Europe, second only to Bologna and Lombardy. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb up the tower’s 500 plus steps and be rewarded with a pretty spectacular view of the entirety of Siena and beyond. The piazza is also filled with numerous beautiful red brick buildings as well as the Fonte Gaia, a particularly striking fountain located at the top of the square.
The town also has close ties to the Medici family who were extremely influential in Italian politics and culture for several centuries. Specifically, the family played a key part in the Conquest of Siena in the 16th Century. One of Siena’s most publicised, exciting and perhaps shocking events is the bi-annual horse race, named the Palio di Siena which is held on 2nd July and 16th August each year – sadly many horses end up injured so it’s a sight that many animal lovers would hate to see.
In addition to its fascinating history, Siena is home to some of the most beautiful architecture and art in the world. The basilica, completed in the 13th Century, is particularly impressive. At the time of its creation, it was intended to be the largest cathedral in the entire world. Sadly, money ran out before the cathedral was completed to the ostentatious manner intended. Despite this it’s still an exceptional building to behold. Although the outside may be purely black and white (but still extremely impressive), it is the inside where you really find something worth seeing. It is home to several pieces of priceless Renaissance art by Michelangelo, Donatello and Bernini are all proudly on display inside as frescos, sculptures and portraits. If, however, you’re looking somewhere that’s slightly quieter or less ostentatious, then Siena is also home to seven other churches that can be visited.
If you’re a foodie and are looking to experience the best of Tuscan cuisine then Siena is the place for you. Particularly if you happen to have a sweet tooth. The traditional pastries on offer in Siena are something special and can provide instant satisfaction, whether it’s the finale to a fabulous Italian meal or a quick sugar hit to see you through the rest of the day. Desserts like Cavalucci and Panforte are local favourites and very tasty. Other than that, it’s maybe not the most vegetarian city in the world. Traditional dishes of hare and wild boar are readily available.
As with all of Tuscany, however, it is in its wines that Siena truly excels. Home to some of the most delicious wines in the world, you can be sure to find a fantastic, locally sourced and fairly cheap wine here in absolutely any restaurant. Whether it’s a Chianti or Montepulciano, there’s always a delicious option on hand to wash down your lunch or dinner (or breakfast – we won’t tell).
The beauty of Siena is often not a typical tourist attraction. It doesn’t offer the grandiosity of the Colosseum or the spectacle of the Doge’s Palace that you can find in larger, more cosmopolitan and tourist-friendly cities. Instead, in Siena you find something quiet, peaceful and exceptionally beautiful. It’s far easier to truly immerse yourself in Italian culture in the smaller, less touristy city of Siena than in any of the bustling metropolitan cities that the country has to offer.