Siena, home of Il Palio, the famous horse race
History, art and culture
Siena was founded by the Etruscans and was a Roman colony at the time of the Emperor Augustus. In Mediaeval times with the Lombards and the Franks, the city began to exercise a certain degree of power.
Proud and wealthy during the Middle Ages it was an independant state and quite often at war with it’s neighbour Florence. The period when Siena was at her zenith was between the 12th and 16th centuries.
The “Council of Nine” ruled from 1287 to 1355. This was one of the most peaceful periods in the city’s history and also saw a healthy economic and cultural revival. Thanks to this newfound wealth and tranquillity, many new buildings like the Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Churches of St Francis and St Domenic were built along with the Palazzo Pubblico. Some of the works of this period were by such illustrious artists as Simone Martini, the Lorenzettis, Duccio and many others.
Recommended Hotels in Siena
|Hotel||Price Range||User Score|
|**** Hotel Athena||€ 99 p.n.p.r.||7,9|
|*** Locando di San Martino||€ 129 p.n.p.r.||8,2|
|***** Grand Hotel Continental||€ 319 p.n.p.r.||8,8|
|See all 58 Hotels in Siena
Sienese people today are still fiercely proud of their city and their neighborhood (contrada). The Palio, the famous horse race, is all about neighborhood pride and rivalry. It also constitutes the unbroken continuation of a Medieval tradition associated with religion, pageantry, trash-talking, bragging, and occasional violence.
The Sienese take it very seriously and it is in no way just for tourists. In fact, you are likely to be less welcomed during the Palio than at any other time, and there isn’t the slightest doubt that Siena would run the Palio with great enthusiasm regardless of whether any visitors ever showed up. The chance of no tourists or other visitors turning up is not likely to happen. It’s is probably one of the bussiest periods of the year. The whole main square is packed with people.
July 2 and August 16 are the dates when the Palio di Siena is held.
Art in Siena
Over the centuries, Siena has had a rich tradition of arts and artists. The list of artists from the Sienese School include Duccio, and his student Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti and Martino di Bartolomeo. A number of well known works of Renaissance and High Renaissance art still remain in Siena galleries or decorate churches in Siena.
The Church of San Domenico in Siena contains art by Guido da Siena, dating to mid 13th century.
Duccio’s Maesta which was commissioned by the City of Siena in 1308 was instrumental in leading Italian painting away from the hieratic representations of Byzantine art and directing it towards more direct presentations of reality.
And his Madonna and Child with saints polyptych, painted between 1311 and 1318 remains at the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena.
The Pinacoteca also includes several works by Domenico Beccafumi, as well as art by Lorenzo Lotto, Domenico di Bartolo and Fra Bartolomeo.
Siena’s Ampugnano airport is located 9 km from the city. At the moment, connections from Olbia, Vienna and Munich are available. For additional information tel 0577-392226. A shuttle service connection is currently available between the airport and Piazza Gramsci TRA-IN (tel. 0577-204224).
Most travellers arriving by plane will land at airports in Florence or Pisa.
From the north, take the Chiantigiana from Florence (SS 222 – 72 km) that elegantly crosses the hills of Chianti or the highway (SS 2 superstrada Siena/Firenze – 68 km). From the south, Siena can be reached by taking the Autoway from Rome (A1 Roma-Firenze, exit Valdichiana), turning right on state highway #326 (Bettolle-Siena – 240 km). Free parking can be found near Fortezza Medicea, northwest of the city stadium – and around it.
From the north, some trains go directly from Florence to Siena, and otherwise it is possible to take any train that stops in Empoli and find train connections from Empoli to Siena every 30-60 minutes. From the south, direct connections to Siena depart from Chiusi or from Grosseto. The train station in Siena is located approximately 2 km from Siena’s historical centre, a five minute bus ride – buses leave regularly from Piazza del Sale. Buses numbers 3, 8, 10, 17, 77 leave from the station to Piazza del Sale and bus #17 departs from Piazza del Sale for the train station. If you don’t mind walking uphill, you can also walk to the centre in about 20-30 minutes: Exit the train station, turn left, walk past the bus park and then uphill, bearing right at the traffic circle, staying on the road called Viale Giuseppe Manzini. When this road sharply bends to the right, follow the curve around where the road becomes Via Garibaldi, which will take you into the city.