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A Visit to Siena – Medieval History, Horse Racing and one of the Most interesting Squares in Europe

Siena is located about 30 miles to the south of Florence. It is the second largest city in Tuscany. Siena is an enchanting medieval city that is saturated with history as well as physical and natural beauty. Walking through the narrow streets of the various contrade (districts) is like stepping back in time and is quite remarkable.

Top Attractions in Siena, Italy

But First…Understanding the Contrade

flags of siena italy

You can’t visit Siena without understanding a little about the contrade. The city center is divided into 17 contrade or wards that still play a major part in the day to day lives of the people of Siena.

Citizens of Siena identify by and take tremendous pride in their contrade. According to a guide that we spoke to, citizenship to the contrade is for life. If a person leaves Siena or even moves to another contrade, they are expected to remain loyal to their original contrade.

Palio di Siena

The rivalry between between the contrade is publicly displayed twice a year in what has to be one of the coolest festivals in all of Europe, the Palio. The Palio di Siena is a horse race that takes place in the primary square of the city, the Piazza del Campo, where the winning contrade gets bragging rights for the entire year.

The race runs in July and August. Make it part of your trip if you are anywhere near Siena during that time.

ESPN put together a really neat video on it which showcases the incredible pageantry of the event.

palio di siena

Piazza del Campo

Piazza del Campo is the heart and soul of Siena as well as the location of the famed Palio di Siena. It also happens to be one of the most interesting “squares” in all of Italy; primary because it is not a square at all.

The Piazza del Campo is a unique seashell or fan shaped plaza that is highlighted by the Palazzo Publico, the town hall. It is really a great experience to simply take in the sights and sounds of Piazza del Campo.

Lindsay in Piazza del Campo

Siena Cathedral (Duomo de Siena)

The Duomo de Siena may not be as famous as its Florentine counterpart, but in our opinion, the Duomo de Siena is The Duomo to see in Italy. The outside facade is beautiful, but the real show stopper is the incredibly ornate marble mosaic floor.

In fact, according to Tuscany Arts, famous artist Giorgio Vasari described the mosiac floor as “the most beautiful, largest and most magnificent floor that was ever made.” The floor was designed by over 40 different artist and was completed between the 14th and 16th century. Unfortunately for guest, it is often covered to protect it from visitors.

When we visited the cathedral, it was open to the public (lucky us) and it was truly amazing. They do open the floor for certain events during the year. Be sure to check the Duomo’s official website to see the floor’s viewing hours as you’re going to want to see it in person if you get the chance.

Even if the floor isn’t completely uncovered, the cathedral is still a must see attraction.

siena duomo

 

 

Inside the Duomo di SIena

The Oldest Operating Bank in the World – Monte dei Paschi di Siena

Monte dei Paschi di Siena has been operating since 1472 without interruption and therefore is considered to be the oldest active bank in the world.

Now, there are branches all over Italy since it is Italy’s third largest bank, but located in the heart of Siena is the original location. The buildings facade features wonderful architecture, and if you are at all interested in history, this is a building you should see.

Monte dei Paschi The worlds oldest bank

The Torre del Mangia

The bell tower of the Piazza del Campo, built next to the Palazzo Publico stands 90 meters high and is visible from all areas of the city. Accoding to Life in Italy, the tower is the same height as the cathedral, smbolic of the equal split between church and state.

Construction of the tower began in 1325. This tower is beautify to look at from the ground, but you can climb the tower to reach incredible views of the piazza, the gorgeous city of Siena and the surrounding Tuscan country side.

There is a cost to be able to climb the tower, and it can take a long time since they only allow a certain number of people at a time, but from all accounts, it is worth it. At the time of this writing, there is no way to reserve tickets to the top. You have to visit the ticket booth directly to purchase a ticket.

Torre del Mangia

Conclusion

Siena has a lot to offer and is sure to leave visitors wishing to come back time and time again. It is a perfect day trip from Florence, but has enough charm and history to be a center point on your trip to Italy.

Want to visit Siena or have you visited in the past? Tell us what you’re most looking forward to or what your favorite part of the city was in the comments!

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Categorized: Italy
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