If you dream of stepping back to the Middle Ages for a first-hand grasp of an Italian city, then SIENNA it has to be, undoubtedly the jewel of Tuscany.
As one of the greatest artistic centers of Medieval Europe, you will be treated to an incredible display of ancient architectural splendors, elegant paintings of world renowned Sienese School, various artworks and well-preserved buildings which inscribed the city on the Unesco World Heritage list.
Our one day visit to Sienna was simply not enough. I wish we had the chance to stay the night to get a feel of its mysterious dark streets and low-lit alleys, then getting up early the next morning to watch the locals slowly start the day while sipping our capuccino from a caffé in the Piazza del Campo, then be the first on the queue to enter the Duomo so we could explore its magnificent religious artworks and the Palazzo Pubblico for its allegorical frescoes!
Oh well, who knows, maybe we could go back there again at some point. But one thing is certain, another city has just been added to my list of “Most amazing places I have ever visited!
Siena is perched on a hilltop 322 meters high so it is a good idea to conserve your energy for that much-needed foot exploration of the city by taking the elevator. Driving in the historic center is almost an impossible feat so we parked the car on the side of the road 500 meters away from the foot of the hill and it’s free. The elevator ride took about 8 minutes as it is quite a long way up the top, but we didn’t get bored as there are pictures of celebrated Italians and world personalities displayed on each landing with stories on how their lives had greatly influenced and improved the world we live in today.
There are also the occasional art publicity banners such as this one.
The monumental steps leading to the Sienna Cathedral or more popularly known as “Duomo”. The structure on the right is the back entrance to the cathedral.
The Piazza del Campo dominated by the Palazzo Pubblico now housing the Town Hall, with its tower, the Torre del Mangia.
The Torre del Mangia as seen from the courtyard of the Palazzo. Torre del Mangia in English is “Tower of the Eater” which referred to its 14th century guardian who used to spend all his money on food.
When it was built, this tower of 88 meters was the tallest in the whole country. Now it takes second place after Cremona’s Terrazzo.
The saint sculptures on the facade of the Palazzo
The front wall of the Palazzo with its rein rings that used to tie horses in the medieval age. It is still in use today for securing the horses participating in the bi-annual “Palio” and also for holding publicity banners.
A close-up picture of a rein ring.
Also situated in the Piazza del Campo is the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) built in 1419.
One of the marble bas reliefs on the Fonte Gaia
A cafe in the Piazza next to the Fonte Gaia
The symbol of Sienna – the she-wolf suckling the young twins, Romulus and Remus. This statue is located in the courtyard of Palazzo Pubblico
Another she-wolf sculpture in one of the piazzas
A gothic-styled street lamp
Sienna is divided into 17 districts or contrade where each one is represented by an animal. This is the insignia of the contrada of Tartuca (turtle) situated in the southern end of the city. Its residents are mostly sculptors.
Various images of the turtle is shown in the Tartuca district, like this one of a fountain.
This is the contrada of Selva represented by a rhinoceros standing at the bottom of an oak tree hung with hunting tools. Most of the residents are weavers. They live west from Piazza del Campo, the center of the city.
Still in the Selva district with the rhinoceros symbol adorning the top of this noticeboard.
Selva district’s rhinoceros fountain.
A relief of a naked woman peeking out of the window in the Bruco (caterpillar) district
She’s actually looking at an inverted pomegranate with a caterpillar crawling on it.
In the contrada della Giraffa (giraffe) in the north-east, we saw this poster on the door which announced the participation of the district to this year’s Palio. Ten of the 17 contradas of Siena take part in the horserace which has been a tradition dating back to the 16th century.
The contrada della Giraffa won the race last August 2011. The title “contrada imperiale” was bestowed by King Vittorio Emanuele III when it won the palio in 1936, the year the race was dedicated to Italy’s empire in East Africa.
The town is dotted with medieval reliefs. This one, as seen in the inscription, is located in the contrada of Chiocciola (snail)
Territory of the contrada of the Chiocciola (snail). I wonder why a slow-moving creature is chosen here but surprisingly, their motto is: “With slow and deliberate steps, snail leaves the battlefield triumphant.” The residents of this district worked as terracota makers.
Laundry day, seen here in the contrada of Oca (goose). Notice the image of the goose on the street lamp.
A shrine in the Oca district. It is situated to the west of Piazza del Campo and the residents here were mostly dyemakers.
A Sienese car plate.
A church in brick red
The gothic-style Basilica di San Francesco was built in the 13th century out of donations from thieves and usurers for the pardon of their sins.
The cloister of the Basilica and convent. Part of the convent was sold to the University of Siena to house the Faculty of Law and Economics.
Found inside the Basicilia are fagments of sculptures dated between the 14th – 16th century and are now displayed on the walls.
San Bernardo Tolomei
Born in Siena, he founded the Olivetan congregation of Benedictine monks in the 14th Century. When the plague of 1348 hit the town, he was among the first volunteers to come to the aid of his plague-stricken monks, but alas, he himself, along with 82 monks, fell victim of the Plague.
Almost 3/5 of the population of Siena was wiped out by the Plague.
An altar of the Mother of Perpetual Help inside the church
A wooden sculpture
Churches are found in almost every corner in this city. This one, particularly quiet, is the perfect place to have a break…
..and eat our sandwiches in peace
Sometimes three ladies or two would walk past us but it’s okay. Picnicking on little corners in Italy is well-accepted!
As is typical of Catholic Italy, shrines can be found every few meters away. In Sienna, they are mostly about the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus…..
In Siena, there is a strict rule on preserving the city’s medieval age look, and that includes commercial signages.
….like this 5-star hotels are no exception.
I wonder how a McDonald’s letter “M” would look like. I did not notice any in the old town though.
This Roman well inside a shopping arcade has been turned into a table, cool!
The Public Library
Gates to the Sanctuary and house of Santa Caterina, the patron saint of the town
The Sanctuary which houses the miraculous 12th century crucifix from which the saint received her stigmata.
A view of the Sanctuary
The old town of Siena with the Torre del Mangia dominating the scene.
It has a population of 56,672 with some of the residents living in the outskirts. This figure could easily triple up in the summer when tourists from around the world come to visit.
And beyond those houses, the famous Tuscan scenery
But I’m glad we were there on a quieter season, the best time to explore this beautiful city without the crowd
The Cathedral of Sienna as seen from the ramparts of Fontebranda.
The basin of the Fontebranda, the oldest and the most famous of the numerous fountains in Siena. While it used to provide drinking water for the city as well as the running of the tanners’ mills, it is now home to various fishes.
A town fountain
A 3-star hotel in historic Sienna
Walking past the hotel, I noticed this autumn view coming from its courtyard. I took this shot through the glass door.
Found another old fountain on this narrow street (right).
This public telephone booth, at first glance, gives the impression of a public toilet
and speaking of toilet, this sign says:
“Questo muro. Non e gabinetto per cani. I condomini.”
(This wall. It is not a toilet for dogs. Apartment owners)
The only problem is, dogs can’t read.
Souvenir shopping ideas.
Sienna is famous for its ceramic art
Shops are not allowed to change the original look of the town’s facade
but they can make use of the medieval walls to display their wares
such as this Chianti wine.
I am assuming that outside shelves are not allowed hence shopkeepers have to improvise
“Agrumaria” derived from the word agrume referring to all fruits of the citrus genre. Hence this shop specializing in everything citrus.
The Italian gelato
pasta of all shapes and colours…
A cheese shop that is sure to attract the children’s attention, which is a perfect advertising strategy, mind you!
“Pizzicheria” means grocer’s shop. Here you can also buy boar’s meat as shown on the display.
You can also take home a Tuscan landscape painting.
A statue of Savina Petrilli, born in Siena on August 29, 1851, beatified in 1988, was the founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena to meet the needs of girls in need and the poor.
The statue of Sallustio Bandini in piazza Salimbeni.
Born in Siena in 1677, he received a Jesuit education and later took a degree in philosophy and law at the University of Siena. In 1701, shortly after becoming an expert in canon law, he began his ecclesiastical career which led him to hold the office of Archdeacon in 1723. His great love of culture led him to amass a number of books and manuscripts so great as to constitute a veritable library, which in 1759, a year before he died, he decided to donate to the city of Siena. (wikipedia)