Siena is likely Italy's loveliest medieval city. Siena's heart is its central piazza known as Il Campo, known worldwide for the famous Palio run here, a horse race run around the piazza on July 2 and August 16 every summer.
The city sits over three hills with its heart the huge piazza del Campo, where the Roman forum used to be. Rebuilt during the rule of the Council of Nine, a quasi-democratic group from 1287 to 1355, the nine sections of the fan-like brick pavement of the piazza represent the council and symbolize the Madonna's cloak which shelters Siena.
The Campo is dominated by the red Palazzo Pubblico and its tower, Torre del Mangia. The civic palace, built between 1297 and 1310, still houses the city's municipal offices much like Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. If you feel energetic, a climb up the over 500 steps will reward you with a wonderful view of Siena and its surroundings.
Italy is home to many spectacular churches, and the Duomo of Siena is one of the most beautiful. This gothic style church was built between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. The cathedral is in the form of a Latin cross with a slight projecting dome and bell tower. The exterior and interiors are decorated in white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, black and white being the symbolic colors of Siena. The most impressive and beautiful of the treasures the cathedral holds are on the floor, where the pavement is decorated with the art of mosaics (using various techniques) to create storytelling masterpieces.
The 56 etched and inlaid marble panels were designed by 40 of leading artists between 1369 and 1547, all from Siena except for Bernardino di Betto, known as Pinturicchio who was Umbrian. Completion of the designs took six centuries, the last ones finished in the 1800s.
Siena is ideal for tasting the region’s many specialties, sipping its rich wines and enjoying the picturesque landscape of rolling green hills and stunning vineyards. Journey into Siena’s local gastronomy by trying some of the city’s most authentic and traditional recipes, such as the pici, a type of home-made pasta similar to spaghetti, and bistecca alla fiorentina, a thick, succulent steak prepared from locally grown beef. You’ll also find plenty of unique desserts produced in the Siena area such as Cavallucci and Ricciarelli, two delicious local biscuits. Cavallucci have a soft texture and contain nuts and spices, while Ricciarelli are made with almond flour and are covered with vanilla icing sugar.
It’s no secret that Tuscany is home to the best wine in Italy. Siena is no exception. The city is located between the Chianti region and Montalcino, and is a popular destination for wine enthusiasts. There are many vineyards producing a variety of excellent wines, both red and white. Some of the better known are the Chianti Classico, Brunello, Vernaccia and Moscatello.
Few places in the world can boast of the variety of natural beauty that surrounds Siena. To the north, you have the richness of the Chianti landscape, woven with vines and olive-trees throughout the hills. Here also are beautiful towns like San Gimignano and Monteriggioni with old walls, winding streets and incredible views. South of Siena, the Arbia valley leads to the hill-top town of Montalcino, home to the famous Brunello wine. And the area La Crete stretches out, amazing visitors with its harsh rock formations and unique landscape. Westward towards the coast, you will find captivating coastline towns like Castiglione della Pescaia, and nature reserves like Maremma.
With such natural beauty surrounding it, Siena is a good place to base yourself for a Tuscan experience.