Siena, the Ancient Rival of Florence
Legend says that the historic rival of Florence was founded by the sons of Remus, twin brother of Romulus, first king of Rome. Senius and Aschius were forced to leave the Eternal City and finally found refuge in Siena. From a historical point of view, the city was founded in the time of the Emperor Augustus and named Sena Julia; previous historical events indicate that Siena – like other Tuscan cities – was an Etruscan settlement. The city soon gained importance due to its position along the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage route that runs from Canterbury to Rome; in the 12th century, Siena expanded and formed its first alliances, its growing economic and political power led to numerous battles against neighbouring Florence. The famous Battle of Montaperti (1260) saw the destruction of the Florentine Guelphs; however, the Ghibelline Sienese army lost the war at the Battle of Colle Val d'Elsa (1269) and the city was forced to ally with Florence. Under the Council of Nine (a Guelph government), Siena enjoyed its greatest splendour and many of the wonderful buildings that give the city its striking appearance (e.g. the Public Palace, the Mangia Tower, the Cathedral) were built during this period. To the time of the Council of Nine also dates back the Sienese School of Painting, the only one which could compete with the Florentine School.
The reasons for the decline and fall of Siena include the collapse of the Bonsignori bank, the famine of 1326, the Black Death of 1348, internal strife and sieges. In April 1555, after almost two years of resistance, the city surrendered to Spain and – two years later – the new Spanish king Philip II of Spain ceded Siena to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to which it belonged until the unification of Italy.
The historic centre of Siena was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and it is famous around the world for its artistic, historic and cultural heritage. Not many people know that the city is still divided into three historical quarters or “terzi”: Terzo di Città, Terzo di Camollìa and Terzo di San Martino.
Terzo di Città lies south-west of Piazza del Campo and it is said to be the place where Senius and Aschius found refuge and built the very first fort. It is the highest point in Siena and in addition to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta – one of Italy's finest Gothic churches – it features the following sights:
- The crypt
- The Santa Maria della Scala Museum Complex
- The Pinacoteca Nazionale (home to masterpieces of the Sienese School of Painting)
- The Church of St. Augustine
- The Botanical Gardens
- Via delle Sperandie
- The Fountain of the Nuns
- Porta San Marco (one of the city gates)
- Via di Castelvecchio
- Palazzo Chigi-Saracini
- The Fisiocritici Onlus Academy Natural History Museum.
Terzo di Camollìa is located north of Piazza del Campo and boasts the following tourist attractions:
- The Sanctuary of St. Catherine
- The Medici Fortress
- The Basilica of Santa Maria in Provenzano
- Palazzo Salimbeni
- Porta Camollìa (another city gate)
- Fontebranda (a 13th century fountain)
- Palazzo Tolomei
- The Church of San Pietro alla Magione
- The Basilica of San Domenico
- The Basilica of San Francesco.
Lastly, Terzo di San Martino includes:
- Piazza del Campo
- The Mangia Tower
- The Public Palace
- The Gaia Fountain
- Palazzo Piccolomini
- The Loggia del Papa
- Porta Pispini (one of the oldest city gates in Siena)
- The Basilica dei Servi
- Via di Salicotto
- Piazza del Mercato
- The Valley of Porta Giustizia.
You can’t visit Siena without tasting its delicious cold cuts, cheeses, pasta dishes and Christmas cakes. If you are going to Siena in early July or mid August, don’t miss the chance to attend the Palio di Siena, a traditional Medieval horse race that is held around the edges of striking Piazza del Campo.
The city is an ideal base for visiting Monteriggioni, San Gimignano, Certaldo, Volterra, Montalcino and Pienza. It is also a great place to relax and enjoy a pleasant walk far from the daily routine.