Things to see in Siena
The city centre of Siena is one of the most picturesque medieval centres in Tuscany and in the whole Italy. It is perfectly preserved and visiting Siena is like going back in time. Living history surrounds the travellers and charms them.
There is enough to see and do in Siena to keep visitors busy for several days . The main attractions are the Duomo of Siena (Siena Cathedral) and Piazza del Campo.
Siena’s cathedral, the Duomo, is one of the nicest examples of Italian romanesque architecture. It might appear an unusual Christian cathedral because its axis runs north-south. This depends on the fact that what forms the cathedral today was originally intended to be the transept. Siena wanted to have the largest cathedral in existence, but after the completion of the transept and the building of the east wall (which still exists) the city ran out of money and the rest of the construction of the cathedral was abandoned.
The interior of the Duomo of Siena is beautiful and houses some of the most important works of art of the Middle Ages. The Gothic pulpit by Nicola Pisano (1266–1268) and the labyrinth inlaid in the flooring which used to be traversed by penitents on their knees make the cathedral a must-see. In the Sacristy visitors can admire some perfectly preserved renaissance frescos by Ghirlandaio.
The baptistry is located beneath the Duomo and it features a marvelous baptismal font with bas-reliefs by Donatello, Ghiberti, and Jacopo della Quercia.
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo opens onto the square of the Cathedral. It houses incredible art treasures such as Duccio‘s famous Maestà and many other works by Sienese masters. Another great museums is the “Pinacoteca“, a gallery where other paintings by Sienese artists can be admired.
The other spot which the visitor to Siena should not miss is the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the town square. The Palazzo Pubblico with its tower called Torre del Mangia opens onto this square and it is a real architectural treasure.
The Campo is famous for hosting the horse race known as Palio di Siena which is held on July 2nd and on August 16th every year and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city. The event, however, is mostly for the citizens of the city who are litterally crazy about it.
The Palazzo Pubblico, Siena city hall, is home to another important art museum where Ambrogio Lorenzetti‘s series of frescoes on The good government and the results of good and bad government are preserved and also some of the finest frescoes by Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
In Piazza del Campo, there are many bars and restaurants with tables which make for a perfect spot for a break during which one can observe everyday life in one of the most beautiful and lively cities in Tuscany.
Also in Piazza del Campo, Fonte Gaia, the fountain in the square, and Cappella di Piazza, a chapel next to the Palazzo Pubblico are not to be missed.
Near the Campo, Logge del Papa and Logge della Mercanzia are two interesting examples of porticoed spaces built in the 15th century. Logge della Mercanzia were built where the Via Francigena once used to run.
Other attractions in Siena
Siena is rich in things to see and do. The centre has architectural and heritage treasures at every corner. We recommend a walk in the Corso and in the neighbouring streets of the historical centre. On the Piazza Salimbeni is the Palazzo Salimbeni, a notable building and also the medieval headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena.
On Via di Città, a notable Gothic building known as Palazzo Chigi houses Siena’s conservatory of music: the Accademia Musicale Chigiana.
Siena still has two city gates, Antiporto di Camollia and Porta Romana, and part of the city walls and the fortifications which used to protect the city. The city of Siena has a Medicean Fortress which houses the Enoteca Italiana and the Siena Jazz School, with courses and concerts all the year long. A major jazz festival is held during the International Siena Jazz Masterclasses every year in the Summer. Over two weeks, more than 30 concerts and jam sessions are held in the two major town squares, on the terrace in front of the Enoteca, in the gardens of the Contrade clubs, and in numerous historical towns and villages of the Siena province. Siena is also home of Sessione Senese per la Musica e l’Arte (SSMA), a summer music program for musicians and a fun learning musical summer experience.
The University of Siena occupies several beautiful buildings, like the Cloister of the Church of Saint Francis. The University also manages Siena botanical garden, the Orto Botanico.
Siena is home to many churches. Just to mention the main ones, visitors should not miss:
- Basilica dell’Osservanza: built in the 15th century, it’s located on the Colle della Capriola, where San Bernardino lived for a while. It is one of the most important churches outside the city centre. From the top of the hill where it is located, one can enjoy a beautiful view of the cityscape of Siena with its Torre del Mangia and the Cathedral.
- Santa Maria dei Servi: beautiful church on a hill that dominates the contrada called Valdimontone.
- San Domenico: a beautiful 13th century Gothic church where the head of Saint Catherine is preserved in a reliquary and on display so that the people of the city can pray to the saint.
- San Francesco
- Santo Spirito
- San Martino
- The Sanctuary of Santa Caterina, which also incorporates the old house of St. Catherine of Siena. Saint Catherine is a very beloved saint born in the city. In the church the miraculous Crucifix from which the saint received her stigmata can be admired, and a 15th century statue of St. Catherine.
Siena also has a lively University for Foreigners which is distinct from the University of Siena.
There are a number of interesting museums in Siena among which the Museo Civico, the museum of Santa Maria della Scala, Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, and the Pinacoteca Nazionale.