Famed as one of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany, discover Siena’s main sights with me in one day…
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Bathed in olive groves and Chianti vineyards to the north and the Brunello wine region to the south, picturesque Siena is a great base to discover Tuscany’s hidden secrets.
Siena’s surrounding three hills ensure steep alleyways and cascading steps down to splendid monuments, expansive piazzas and intimate arches, which make for exceptional images that are timeless…
You may have heard of Siena’s famous historic horse race the Palio, which dates back to the 14th-century and still occurs in July and August?
Bareback riders dress in their district city colours and race around Piazza del Campo with thousands of spectators cheering on – sadly, it’s December so miss this popular event.
Siena’s legend of the she-wolf
Wandering Siena’s medieval cobbled alleyways, it’s not long until you stumble upon Siena’s symbol – young twins being suckled by a she-wolf – in the form of a stone monument, sculpture, or art piece.
Siena’s legend on how it was founded is less than salubrious. The she-wolf was foster-mother to twin-brothers’ Romulus (Rome’s founder) and Remus.
The sons of Remus (Senius and Aschius) fled to the hills and founded Siena, following their father’s murder by his brother Romulus.
What to see
So much to see and so very little time…
Siena is believed to be first settled in 900–400 BC by the Etruscans. A must-see is Siena’s UNESCO World Heritage elegant Historic Centre, which dates back to the 12th and 15th centuries – a feast for the eyes.
What better way to explore when travelling than to not have anything planned or be time-constricted…just meander the cobbled paths and it’s not long until you’re confronted by yet another wonderful monument, medieval building, art piece, and spectacular site.
Enclosed by medieval walls, the commanding Porta Camollia graces the northern side of the wall but is not the original gate built in the 13th century as the original was destroyed during Siena’s siege in 1555.
Over the centuries, this gate that leads towards Florence was often the most defended. The original gate, built during the 13th century was razed during the 1555 siege of Siena.
Centuries of turmoil between Florence and Siena required the gate to be re-built.
Still visible in the western gate along Viale Vittorio Emanuele II are frescos dating back to 1585-89 by Siena’s painter Alessandro Casolani.
Following Siena’s defeat to Florence in 1554, the imposing fort was built 1561 and 1563.
Take a passeggiata (stroll) around the 1.5-kilometre-perimeter and park space to gauge its enormity before heading back to the historic centre.
Every corner opens a new chapter in history or a unique ancient panorama.
Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Pubblico, Torre del Mangia
The heart of Siena, Piazza del Campo’s shell-shaped design exudes finesse and is a popular meeting point also regarded as ‘one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares’.
Built in 1338-1348, Torre del Mangia’s 102-metre structure dwarfs surrounding architecture – why not climb the tower’s 400-steps if you’re feeling energetic?
The Palazzo Publico (town hall) was constructed between 1297-1308 and almost every large room in the palace is home to frescoes.
Il Duomo – La Cattedrale dell’Assunta
A display of striking Italian Gothic architecture with a magnificent marble façade, the grand Duomo was built in the mid-12th century and the art piece of the Piazza del Duomo.
Statues by Michelangelo and frescoes by Italian artist Pinturicchio awaits the traveller inside…
Basilica of San Domenico
Soaring ceilings create a sparse but spacious presence in this basilica, built in 1226-1265 and also expanded during the 14th-century.
The basilica experienced damage during several fires between 1443 to 1531, then from military occupation from 1548 to 1552.
Partly unveiled frescoes and paintings adorn the impressive basilica as does a fresco representing Saint Catherine by another of Siena’s painters Andrea Vanni.
Flags fly proudly along timeworn alleys in Piano Dei Mantellini. Maybe this particular flag denotes one of the 17 contrade (areas) of the city – does anyone know?
Siena’s narrow paved streets are both steep and intriguing…
Abound with photo opportunities around Siena’s streets, you don’t need to walk far before something unusual catches your eye…
The Blue Hour paints a colourful backdrop against the medieval city.
Shop windows are graced with traditional Christmas trimmings…
The chilly late afternoon mist blankets part of the city to create an eerie panorama.
Stroll along Piazza di Postierla until you gaze across to the centre of the piazza. A carved stone column stands high with the Sienese she-wolf flanked by the two sons of Remus (Achius and Senius).
A bronze eagle represents the Baptismal Fountain of the Aquila Contrada.
You change at Empoli and with only around 5 minutes between the connecting train, it’s a close call.
Today, both the train there and return train are late but still manage the connection each time.
Where to eat
Tuscany is heaven for a foodaholic, but then again what part of Italy isn’t?
Siena isn’t any different offering local delights in fabulous restaurants, Osterias, cafes, and snack places at every budget.
Il Vinaio di Bobbe e Davide
On Via Camollia 167, Il Vinaio di Bobbe e Davide offers a gorgeous internal building with great eclectic art and photos gracing its walls.
Rowdy and loud whilst serving local Tuscan food and with local wines. The Antipasto (€10) includes delicious salami, hard cheeses, Prosciutto, accompanied with freshly-baked bread – cover charge (€1.50pp) and half-litre of wine (€5.50).
Dinner doesn’t start until around 7:30 pm, which is early for Italy.
Owners are super friendly and joke around a lot – very welcoming.
Along via Vittorio Emanuele 9, Bar Perù serves delicious savouries (€2.50+) in the pleasant outdoor seating amongst tall shading trees.
Bar Gli Archi
For great cheap coffee (€1+) and scrumptious pastries (€1+), check out Bar Gli Archi on via Montanini 154.
La Costrarella on via di Citta 33, is a gelateria although not in the winter – pastries and savouries are served and dinner starts later in the evening.
Today we try the deliciously warming Vin Brulè (mulled wine – €3) to escape the bitter cold.
After an incredible but long day exploring Siena but still not seeing everything, sadly it’s time to leave the misty gate and take the return train to Pisa for a little rest.