Things to see and do - Siena
Siena, the jewel of Tuscany :
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Siena, the jewel of Tuscany
Siena, the jewel of TuscanyPedestrian, 5 km, 1 day
Immersed and completely preserved in the Tuscan countryside, proud and aware of her beauty, Siena is a separate city, which shouldn’t be visited as a museum but as a living city.Customise this route and add it to My travel book
This square is superb, all pink and white, slightly sloping in the shape of a scallop or a fan. This is one of those "meeting places" with the unsurpassable harmony which is the Italian speciality. It is an unfettered square without any other urban interest other than feeling good or meeting there to make the most of life. It's not a place where you pass by but a place where things pass you by. The things that govern the life of the city: the great proclamations to the people, the preachers, the enclosed field of combat for the Guelphs and the Ghibellines fighting for an ideal of control of the town, the pulpit that St Bernard chose to stigmatise the frivolity of women, the contrade decided each year in the Palio, this horserace which brings honour to all the districts of the town... This square in Siena is among the most accomplished in all these things. It has an unusual shape and a flagstone ring surrounds its brick pavement. The long facade of the Public Palace, also marrying brick and stone, forms the base and from which radiate eight white lines dividing the Campo into nine parts, symbolic of the "government of the Nine", nine people who ran the city from 1287 to 1355 and guided it through its most prosperous times. At the top of the square, the Fountain of Joy was decorated in 1419 in panels by Jacopo della Quercia and contributes to the serene and regal air of the place. A place where you can take time to amble, with the sun setting, trying to extend the magic moment.
This was a huge project, begun at the height of Siena's glory: to build a huge cathedral, larger than that in Florence, their neighbour and rival, and for which the existing building would only make up the transept! But in 1348 the plague decimated the town and the project was abandoned...Of this formidable unfinished undertaking there remains on the right side the structures of the facade of the new building and a part of the grandiose arcades of the nave which now only hold up the sky. But not to worry, the actual cathedral is wonderful enough to hold your attention! The facade is seductive with rich multicoloured marbles; the lower Romanesque part is by Giovanni Pisano who worked there from 1285 to 1296; one century later the upper part was finished in an exuberant Gothic style. The campanile has a Romanesque sobriety. Inside, the alternate horizontal lines of light and dark marble and the multiplicity of pillars which create, as you walk in, an infinity of new perspectives, are characteristic parts of this admirable building. The pavement, made of 56 marble panels, is unique. It was created by 40 or so artists...but you will only see a part of it since it is 60% covered by a moveable floor allowing some parts to "rest". The pulpit by Nicola Pisano, created six years after the one in the baptistry at Pisa and the stalls in the Presbytery and the frescoes by Pinturicchio in the Piccolomini library must all be seen.
St Catherine lived not far from here. This convent church was therefore the ideal place to have her ecstasies and quickly return home before the powerful and harsh setting could put her off. In the chapel "delle volte", above the altar, is the only authentic portrait of Catherine by Andrea Vanni. In the chapel dedicated to her is the tabernacle where her head is preserved and frescoes by Sodoma depicting episodes from her life.
This entirely brick fountain is the oldest in the town and is architecturally interesting. It refreshed the locals right back in 1080 but it was in 1246 that it took on its present form so typical of Siena.
Along with the Via Banchi di Sopra this is the main commercial street of old Siena. It is pedestrianised with flagstones and no pavements and is flanked by remarkable palaces and runs round the Piazza del Campo.
Nearly opposite the Piccolomini palace or Palazzo delle Papesse is this palace with a long slightly incurved Gothic facade like the one on the palace of the People. It houses the Chigiana academy, an illustrious music academy.
Let it be stated from the start: the collections in this art gallery which provide a complete panoramic view of Siena painting between the 13C and the 16C, are fabulous, even if the two grand masters of Siena, Duccio and Simone Martini, are poorly represented there. The collections start with the Primitives, through a series of painted crucifixes, Byzantine inspired in their religious style and colours. Guido da Sienna, the first acknowledged Siena master, has works similarly evoking the Greek manner. The style then evolved to softness and naturalism with Niccolo di Sienna, and thence to the great era of Siena painting with the delicate Madonna of the Franciscans by Duccio. The refinement was reaffirmed in the 14C with Luca di TommS and Bartolo di Fredi (Adoration of the Magi) and finishes with Simone Martini illustrated by an exquisite Virgin and Child. The brothers, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, will undoubtedly be a revelation, the same as the Master of Monte Oliveto with his Assumption... finally among the last Primitives (15C), do not miss the ravishing Humble Virgin, by Giovanni di Paolo. You will then pass onto the 15C with Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Matteo di Giovanni, and you will realise that Siena painting while maintaining its gracefulness began to take on the stylistic touches of Renaissance. The 16C is represented above all by Beccafumi and Sodoma.
Of all the marvels of Siena, the Public Palace is by no means the least and it is one of the most attractive civil monuments in Italy. Sober and elegant, it brings together all the elements of Siena Gothic style and served as a model for a number of the palaces spread around the city. It has a light air despite its impressive volume and is dominated by the elegant Torre del Mangia, 88m high. At its foot is the Chapel of the Square, in the form of a loggia, a recognition by the inhabitants of Siena of their freedom from the curse of the plague in 1352. Having seen the tower and the not-to-be-missed panoramic view over the town, the tangled roofs and the serene undulating Siena countryside, the palace should be visited to see the Balia Room, covered in frescoes depicting the victorious fight of the Siena Pope, Alexander III, against Frederick Barbarossa, the chapel closed by a very attractive wrought iron grille which contains magnificent sculpted stalls, the Mappamondo Room (and although this has disappeared, the frescoes by Simone Martini depicting the Virgin in majesty and the equestrian portrait of Guido Riccio da Fogliano are superb!) and the admirable Peace Room. There between 1335 and 1340 Ambroggio Lorenzetti created the Effects of god and bad government, a fresco of great documentary value. Little more to say except that the effects of bad government are truly terrifying!