SIENA, THE CITY OF THE PALIO

The city is famous for the Palio, an event held twice annually, recalling long-standing traditions and customs. The territory around Siena is mostly made up of the Chianti area, famous all over the world for its enchanting landscape and hilly terrain.

History

According to legend Siena was founded by the Gallic Senones, but historic evidence suggests that the city was established by the Etruscans with the name of Sena. In the era of Augustus it was conquered by the Romans and took the name of Sena Iulia. It became very important in the Frankish era, when it was the residence of a count, but the momentum gathered by flourishing trade and the wealth accumulated led to social conflict, which then resulted in ideological conflict between  the supporters of the Papacy and those of the Empire. Siena always remained Ghibelline, in contrast to the Guelph city of Florence. In subsequent periods, the structure of government continued to change, with alternation between the aristocracy and the common people. The opposing factions gained power in turns, seeking the support of the Empire and the papal state. In 1554 the town, besieged by soldiers of the Empire, was obliged to surrender and passed under the dominion of the Medici family, following the fortunes of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Siena is a medieval city and still retains important events such as the Palio, which is held in Piazza del Campo on 2 July and 16 August.

The city and its monuments

The town is still divided into three parts: Terzo di Città, the original nucleus of Siena which saw the Castelvecchio as its first fort, Terzo di Camollia and Terzo di San Martino/Piazza del Campo. The whole of the city is worth visiting, with 15 museums containing works of major importance for Siennese and Italian history and art. The museums include the Botanical Gardens and Institute, the Archaeological Museum, the national art gallery and the Tablet Museum. Tourists should not miss a visit to the Libreria Piccolomini, with frescoes by Pinturicchio, containing scenes from the life of Pope Pio II and the Cathedral Museum, with paintings, sculptures and sacred vestments, altar cloths and holy vessels. Piazza del Campo, on the border between the Terzo di Città and the Terzo di San Martino is today the heart of Siena just as it was in the Middle Ages. Always a meeting place for the population during displays and events, it was once a large meadow, then transformed into a square by the Government of Nine (the nine segments which make up the shell-shaped square indeed recall the number of rulers of the time). Each year on 2 July and 16 August the Palio is held here. This is a horse race preceded by a historic procession. Palazzo Pubblico is the symbol of the independence and economic power of the Siena oligarchy, one of the most significant examples of gothic civil architecture in the world. It still houses the municipal government of Siena and also contains the Civic Museum. Finally there is the Duomo, which dominates the square with its black and white marble and the façade by Giovanni Pisano, a genuine masterpiece of Gothic Romanesque style.

The geographical area

Valleys, castles, farms and small vineyards make up an enchanting landscape, which sees the alternation of woods, cultivated areas and historic country dwellings which have subsequently been transformed into magnificent hotels and farm guesthouses, offering unforgettable holidays. Then there are seasonal festivals linked to grape-picking and olive-pressing, exhibitions, concerts, initiatives and meetings. In a few words, this is the Chianti area, a huge open-air theatre with the city of Siena in the background. Historically linked to the affairs of neighbouring regions, the Chianti area is an inexhaustible resource in terms of culture, human resources, landscape and tourist facilities, as well as the centre of the finest food and wine traditions in Tuscany. On the Siennese side of the Chianti area we find the most important historic communes: Radda in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardenga, the arrangement of which follows the defensive lines of the republics of Siena and Florence. In the province of Siena there are also many spa towns, such as Chianciano Terme and Montepulciano. Chianciano is situated in the southern Val di Chiana and is one of the most important spas in Italy, with numerous hot-springs particularly suitable for the treatment of the liver and biliary system. Montepulciano instead stands in a magnificent position on the top of a hill between the Val d’Orcia and the Val di Chiana. It was the birthplace of the famous renaissance poet Agnolo Amborgini, known as Poliziano, from the Latin name of the town, Mons Politianus.