"I took many trips to Siena, and was struck by its beauty, but also by the beauty of the Siennese themselves." ~ Roger Allam
08.04.2015 13 °C
Where did we stay? Hotel Garden
Cobblestoned streets, narrow alleys, brown tiled roofs and towers give Siena its distinctly Medieval feel. All buildings in the town have the same brownish colour. The colour Sienna takes its name from this city, as this is where it was produced during the Renaissance. The city is rich in history and culture. A total of 7 popes originated from Siena and it has the oldest bank in the world. The city is surrounded by high medieval walls and until 100 years ago, the gates of the city were still locked every night. Siena is an ancient city in Tuscany, that made its money by many travellers coming through the area on their way to Rome. During the 14th century, Siena was as rich as big European cities such as Paris and London.
"I took many trips to Siena, and was struck by its beauty, but also by the beauty of the Siennese themselves. They are dark, fierce, and aristocratic, very different to the much paler Venetians or Florentines. They have always looked like this, as the paintings of their ancestors testify. I observed the groups of young people, the lounging grace with which they wore their clothes, their sense of always being on show. I walked the streets, they paraded them. It did not matter that I do not speak a word of Italian; I made up stories about them, and took surreptitious photographs." ~ Roger Allam
The walls of Siena: The tour bus had to park outside the thick Medieval walls, and we walked further towards the town centre.
The medieval streets of Siena
THE CONTRADE OF SIENA
Siena is divided into 17 contrades (districts). Each district has their own symbol and flag. Some of the districts are Aquila (Eagle), Drago (Dragon), and Torre (Tower). In the Middle Ages, each Contrade was a different military troop, set up to defend Siena against Florence and the Medici. As time has gone by, the contrade have lost their military functions and the districts are simply areas of local patriotism. Loyalty to your contrade is taken so seriously, that marrying outside of your contrade is seen as a 'mixed marriage'. Siena may be a maze of alleyways, but it is always easy to know in which contrade you find yourself. The symbols of each contrade are displayed everywhere to designate territory. Each contrade has their own symbol, flag, animal, mythological associations, traditions, etc. The entire history and way of life in Siena is shaped around the contrade you are from.
Symbols of the Selva district (left) and the Aquila district (right)
Piazza del Campo
The entire city is built around the Piazza del Campo. As the 17 different districts have strict boundaries, the Piazza is the only neutral ground in Siena. It is forbidden to fight in the Piazza. It is the principal public space in Siena and regarded as one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe. The square is shell-shaped and the brick patterns divide the Campo into 9 sections. Locals come here to relax and bask in the sun.
The Piazza del Campo
Twice a year, the famous Palio di Siena horse race is held around the Campo. 17 Horses take part in the race, each jockey representing one of the 17 districts. The race is fast and dangerous. In the past a lot of bribery used to take place, but in the last couple of years it has been made law that no amateur jockeys may race and only professionals are to be used. The James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, features the Palio di Siena as well as scenes from Siena.
Scenes from Quantum of Solace featuring the horse race in the Piazza
TORRE DEL MANGIA
The square also hosts the Palazzo Pubblico (the town hall), and the Torre del Mangia. The tower is literally named 'Tower of the Eater', after Giovanni di Balduccio, who was known for his gluttony. At 102m, it is built exactly the same height as the cathedral in Siena, as a sign that the church and the state have the same amount of power. Climbing the more than 400 steps, gives you an amazing view of the whole of Siena and is truly worth it. The steps are not for the unfit and if you have a fear of heights, do not look down the middle of the steps.
The tower sticking out above the town
Climbing the steps of the tower
Views of Siena from above
DUOMO DI SIENA
The gothic dome of Siena was constructed between 1259 - 1260. After this another extension was planned to almost double the size of the Cathedral. In 1348, construction to the cathedral was halted due to the Black Death. The work was never resumed. Today the uncompleted outer walls of the extension can still be seen south of the cathedral. The floor of the new planned nave is now a parking lot and a museum.
Uncompleted walls of the cathedral's extension
Next Stop: More Medieval madness, towers and gelato in San Gimignano
Aerial view of the Piazza and Siena
Credits to: Touropia. They listed the Piazza as the 3rd greatest square in the world.