Things to Do in Siena
The Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) is one Tuscany’s most beautiful churches, second perhaps only to Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore. The magnificent Gothic and Romanesque structure is hard to miss thanks to its tall spires, bold white-and-green stripes, and ornate facade. Inside, the cathedral is equally impressive with works of art by Donatello, Bernini, and Michelangelo.
Siena’s central Piazza del Campo is one of the most beautiful and famous squares in Tuscany. This sweeping, shell-shaped space is anchored by the magnificent Palazzo Pubblico (home to the Museo Civico) and soaring Torre del Mangia tower, and hosts the historic Palio di Siena festival each July and August.
With its lively piazzas, Gothic monuments, and well-preserved city walls, the Siena Historic Center (Siena Centro Storico) is one of Italy’s most impressive medieval cityscapes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, the old town is an open-air museum of striking historical architecture, including the Piazza del Campo and the Gothic cathedral.
Piercing the sky above Siena, the soaring Mangia Tower (Torre del Mangia) is a notable feature of the medieval town’s skyline. It affords views across the rooftops to the surrounding Tuscan countryside. Climb the hundreds of steps to the top, or admire this imposing bell tower in Piazza del Campo from below.
Every year in July and August, Piazza del Campo hosts the raucous Il Palio, a historic, bareback horse race between 10 of Siena’s 17 contrade (town districts). The festivities also encompass religious services, pageants, and banquets.
The lovely Tuscan hilltop town of Montalcino is world-famous for its rich red Brunello wines, but it also has a spectacular centro storico, with winding streets that lead up to the imposing five-sided Montalcino Fortress (Fortezza di Montalcino). Built in 1361 on top of earlier medieval structures, the site today includes a cobbled courtyard enclosed by sturdy watchtowers and a medieval chapel as well as a top-quality enoteca (wine shop) for tasting and selling the local Brunellos. The ramparts are open to walk around, offering spectacular views of the vineyards and olive groves of the Val d’Orcia.
In the Middle Ages, Montalcino was a settlement of considerable importance thanks to its proximity to the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between France and Rome, but under control of the Republic of Siena it became consistently embroiled in territory warfare with Florence. It was the last Tuscan town to hold out against the might of the Medicis, and although Siena fell in 1555 and despite a four-year siege, Montalcino's fortress never fell to Florentine troops. Cosimo I added its imposing ramparts in 1571, but the fortress lost its military significance soon after; over the years it housed a community of Benedictine monks but gradually fell into disrepair before restorations took place in the 1940s.
One of Tuscany’s most beautiful sights, the Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo) is a 12th-century Romanesque church and monastery set deep in the rolling olive groves outside the hilltown of Montalcino in the Val d'Orcia. The abbey is a popular stop during wine tours or day trips through the Tuscan countryside.
One of the most historically important churches in Siena, the Basilica of San Domenico (Basilica di San Domenico) is famous for another saint: the city’s own Saint Catherine. It was here that Catherine took her vows in 1363 at the age of 15, and the church holds a number of her relics, including her head, thumb, and whip used for self-flagellation.
The heart of Siena is Piazza del Campo, and the heart of this famous square is Fonte Gaia (Gaia Fountain). Dating from the 15th century, the fountain is lined with replicas of the original bas-relief panels by Jacopo della Quercia, considered a precursor to Michelangelo, and is one of the top attractions in this Tuscan town.
The Siena Civic Museum (Museo Civico di Siena), housed in Palazzo Pubblico on Piazza del Campo, is one of the most important museums in Siena, with a large collection of frescoes, paintings, and sculptures from the Sienese school and others. The most significant is Ambrogio Lorenzetti's massive 14th-century fresco cycleThe Allegory of Good and Bad Government.
More Things to Do in Siena
The Cathedral complex is among Siena’s top attractions, and it includes both the Duomo and adjacent Baptistery of San Giovanni (Battistero di San Giovanni). Echoing the Cathedral’s Gothic architecture, the stripped-down facade of the baptistery belies its sumptuous interiors, decorated by some of the 15th century's most important artists.
Siena is one of Tuscany’s most striking medieval cities, with soaring Gothic churches and lively piazzas—including the historic Piazza del Mercato. Site of the city’s market for centuries, this important square behind Piazza del Campo offers some of the best views in the city center over the surrounding countryside.
One of Europe’s first hospitals, Santa Maria della Scala was endowed by Siena’s wealthiest medieval families, who also commissioned artworks to decorate the building. View the original frescoes and altarpieces inside the chapels and oratories of this historic hospital, now a museum, on a tour of Siena’s most important sights.
Siena’s National Art Gallery houses a large collection of paintings from the Sienese School, an artistic movement from the 13th and 15th centuries. Peruse paintings and sculpture from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance at this museum.
Part of Siena’s magnificent duomo complex, the Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomini) delights art enthusiasts with frescoes by Pinturicchio and his school, which included the young Raffaello. Take in the pieces' vivid colors, complex composition, and use of perspective, and revel in masterpieces that are among the most important works of art in Siena.
Adjacent to Siena’s magnificent cathedral, the Siena Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana or Museo dell’Opera del Duomo) is one of the most important museums in this Tuscan city. The collection includes artworks and architectural details from the Duomo complex, including masterpieces by the greatest artists of the Sienese school.
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