Siena Mini Guide
Tell me About Siena
Siena is a beautiful and ancient city in Tuscany that has had varying fortunes over its existence. Originally an Etruscan city it became Roman but was overlooked for development because of its isolated position away from major Roman roads. It was only when the Byzantine Empire began to threaten the area that trade routes were changed to pass through Siena and the city grew. In the time of the Renaissance the city was regularly at odds with Florence finally succumbing to its more powerful neighbour after a defeat to an enemy that ceded it to Florence in lieu of debts. Florence ignored it for centuries with the city becoming poorer – a reason cited for the way Siena’s historic heart has not been rebuilt over the centuries. Passion and patriotism grew until Siena governed its own affairs once more and today that passion exhibits itself in the excitement of the world famous Palio horse race.
What Should I be Visiting in Siena?
First should be the Piazza del Campo, a huge square which is relatively quiet for most of the year until the time of the Palio horse races in July and August. Then, the square changes to a mad race track with spectators jostling dangerously close to the action. Next, head for the cathedral, unusually aligned north to south because funds ran out and the larger, traditionally aligned part of the building was never completed. Finally, there is some great art to be seen in the city, most of it displayed in the cathedral or churches of the city.
How do I get to Siena?
Although Siena has an airport it’s been out of operation for years. Most people travel from Florence
or Pisa Airport
by train or you can drive an attractive route from Rome.
What is There to buy in Siena as Souvenirs?
Siena makes lots of beautiful and unique products in the city or locally. Good buys include the hand-made paper, pottery, clothing and gold jewellery whilst local produce abounds including excellent, single estate olive oil.
And What About Eating out?
Siena has a tradition of delicious food including Pici, a form of thick noodle and many sweet delights including Ricciarelli, a marzipan filled pastry and Panforte, the speciality of the city, a heavy cake made from nuts, honey, fruit and spices and available in slightly different forms from individual bakers. Siena also produces delicious ice cream, perfect on a hot summer day.
What About Special Events?
The Palio caps them all. It’s a horse race with ten competitors who race around the square at high speed to claim the prize as the bravest in the city. The race takes place in the evening and the day is taken up with processions and shows of bravado spicing up the proceedings. Each ward of the city supplies a horse and rider and the winning ward lords it over the others for the coming year.
- Whilst almost all of the tourist activity in Siena centres on the Palio, there's also one of the world's most historic and famous motor races; the Mille Miglia. This year it tales place from the 16th to the 20th May and includes a comprehensive programme for visitors whatever their age and interests.