What to visit in Siena and nearby?
What to see in Siena on your own in 1 day or more? Interesting sights that you schould to visit in the city and nearby, how to get there and where to stay? A brief history of Siena or why this city is definitely worth the attention of travelers?
What is Siena? Geography-savvy people will immediately answer – a small city in Italy. Those who have been there and stayed more than a day will certainly not be limited to one colorless phrase.
After all, Siena is the quintessence of old Italy, literally its heart. Keeper of its history and traditions.
You will say that there are few sights in Siena. But they are like a selection: each is literally a masterpiece!
Wonderful, as if carved from ivory, the Gothic Siena Cathedral, a relatively small, but truly beautiful Duomo. Ancient, so Italian, often completely deserted churches. When you visit them, even a nervous and twitchy person is surrounded by a feeling of incredible peace.
The powerful Torre del Mangia, a tower that was conceived as the tallest in Italy. Amazing interiors and frescoes in the Palazzo Publico dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The squat, awe-inspiring fortress of the Medici is like a sentry guarding the peace of an ancient city.
Hills with vineyards around Siena – this is where the famous Chianti wine is produced – small towns here and there. A wonderful aura of calmness and grandeur, immutability and some kind of solidity of existence.
Truth! Arriving to see Siena even for a day or two, you suddenly and immediately understand what is valuable in this life, and what is transient.
By the way, it is in this city that perhaps the best gelato in Italy is produced and sold. Either they know a special secret, or the atmosphere of the city also affects ice cream! In a word, local gelato is worth having a snack, or even just eating – without much risk of getting fat!
Note that Siena is located in Tuscany. Perhaps the most popular tourist region in Italy.
Alas, at the same time associated in the mind almost exclusively with Florence. Few today know that, for example, Pisa is also stationed there! Known for its leaning tower, but also has other extremely interesting attractions.
Note that other exceptionally beautiful medieval cities are also based in Tuscany. For example, Lucca and Perugia! And also a lot of others, smaller. About each of which we will write in due time.
The Main Attractions of Siena
Not counted in tens. But on the other hand, the safety and general quality of the places allows us to call the city literally an open-air museum.
Let us first mention the Siena Cathedral. Beautiful, probably the best example of Gothic in Italy. If you saw in Venice the Basilica of St. Mark, you should know that Sienese cathedral is a completely different story.
It was built in the 13th century and has not changed much since then. Try it, compare it with the Milan Cathedral, which was built so much that people have already forgotten the date of the bookmark.
The Siena Cathedral Museum houses the famous Maesta Duccio, an altarpiece created by the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna.
Directly from the cathedral, do not forget to go to the Piccolomini Library – its wall frescoes and ceiling plafonds are stunning with sophisticated technology. Created frescoes by Pinturicchio (1454-1513), that is, in the literal translation “little artist”.
Interestingly, Giorgio Vasari, an architect and art historian who had a hand in almost every building in Florence, considered Pinturicchio to be an unremarkable master as a whole. Vasari, who remodeled, for example, the halls of the Palazzo Vecchio, did not exactly rank himself among those.
Piazza del Campo
This square is central in Siena, all local paths converge here. It has impressive dimensions and a concave shape – almost an amphitheatre.
On the paving stones of Piazza del Campo there are always many people sitting and even lying. Apparently, debilitated from the contemplation of the surrounding beauty.
It is on the People’s Square of Siena that on July 2 and August 16 the famous Palio, bareback horse races, are held annually. A wonderful and amazing (!) medieval tradition.
By the way, not just jockeys and horses compete for them, but Sienese contradas. 17 urban areas that for centuries have not needed to find out who is better, on fists or sticks.
The imposing Palazzo Publico with the grandiose Torre del Mangia tower is the main architectural dominant of the square. It was in it that the republican government once sat.
It is noteworthy that the facade of the palace is curved in the shape of the square. And the tower at one time was the highest in Italy – so Siena tried to indicate her place to Florence!
Both buildings date back to the beginning of the 14th century! Tourists can visit the Palazzo and Torre separately. Buying complex and even family tickets will save an impressive amount!
The National Gallery, with paintings mainly by local artists, is housed in another 14th-century palace, the Palazzo Bonsignori. Another massive volume of terracotta color stands out on the square – Palazzo Sansedoni built in the 13th-14th centuries.
The “Source of Joy”, Fonte Gaia, will also attract the attention of anyone. Rectangular pool, decorated in the spirit of the Quattrocento, that is, the early Renaissance (beginning of the 15th century). From the viewpoint of Torre del Mangia, it looks so tiny!
Montepaschi and Fortezza Medici
Another memorable landmark of Siena is Palazzo Salimbieni, once the family home of an influential local family. Then it became the headquarters of a large local bank – Monte dei Paschi.
Credit institution, considered the oldest in the world. And until recently the most influential in Italy. The bank was killed by a passion for investing in residential real estate – the crisis in this area, which occurred at the beginning of the 21st century, turned its assets into “bad”.
Fortezza Medici, also known as the fortress of St. Barbara, is an imposing structure erected by the Medici clan to protect new property. Now it houses the Italian Enoteca, where you can taste the best wines of Italy in a pleasant atmosphere.
By the way, you can get inside the fortification for free. But there is practically nothing to see there – except for the well-preserved central platform.
On which, it is true, military reviews were once held. A park is laid out on the fortress walls, there are also sports simulators for those who profess an active lifestyle. Good views around.
Local churches, even tiny ones, deserve special mention. Why? Because the spirit of faith and hope for the best hovers inside!
Let us mention Santa Maria dei Servi built in the 12th century. And especially the imposing Basilica of San Domenico.
Outside not too remarkable, but absolutely amazing inside. The vaults are especially noteworthy from a monstrous height – you do not expect to find such free volumes inside the church.
San Domenico is located very close to the Medici fortress – just cross the ravine bridge.
Surprisingly beautiful suburban basilica Osservanza, standing on a green hill. It is worth photographing at dawn, when the rising sun paints the brick walls in amazing tones.
Where to Stay
A careful study of local hotels and apartments reveals an interesting detail. It turns out that accommodation in the city center will cost a little more than the outskirts or suburbs. If at all!
Maybe the reason lies in the small size of the rooms or the excessively steep stairs of old houses, but not taking advantage of the offer is simply a sin. Just imagine, you leave the hotel, and after a couple of minutes you caress the cathedral or the main city square with your eyes!
The 3-star Albergo Chiusarelli is located in a 19th-century building next to the city’s bus station. The location is nowhere more central, go out and walk! There is no elevator (three floors), but guests are fed delicious breakfasts. In some reviews, they are even called “chic”.
A 2-minute walk from the Basilica of St. Dominic and 500 meters from Siena Cathedral, Hotel Alma Domus is located. The owners claim that the occupied building is a monastery built in the 13th century.
And the guests admire the views from the windows – in the mornings you can watch the tiled sea of roofs and the striped bell tower of the cathedral. To the bus station – 5-7 minutes on foot, to the station – 20 minutes at a quick pace.
Where to Go from Siena
Kilometers 40-50 south is the city of Montalcino. Famous not only for the well-preserved ancient part and brutal fortress, but also for Brunello wine.
Considered the most expensive in Italy: the simplest bottle will cost at least 35 euros!
However, here you can also buy Rosso di Montalcino. After all, this dry red wine costs approximately 2.5-3 times cheaper.
Getting to Montalcino without a car is difficult. The town is one of the typical Tuscan mountain strongholds, and still looks down on the railways with contempt.
The day tour should also include a visit to the town of Pienza. During the Renaissance, it was literally turned into an ideal city, built up with beautiful buildings. Therefore, UNESCO did not hesitate for long before including Pienza on the World Heritage List.
Another iconic and famous landmark nearby is San Gimignano, also known as the “City of 14 Towers”. It is located about halfway between Siena and Florence. If you travel by train, you should get off at Poggibonsi station.
The core of San Gimignano has been preserved without significant changes since the time of the Borgia. And therefore it is listed as a mandatory item in all tourist guides for Italy.
There can be a lot of tourists on the streets during the season. And, alas, in recent years, a lot of sightseeing buses come here from all over Italy.
If you drive around Tuscany by car, be sure to visit the dilapidated abbey of San Galgano. Fortunately, it is located just 35 km southwest of Siena.
Another historical site, the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, is located 50 km to the south. According to legend, Charlemagne himself founded it! This monastery is active, a beautiful Romanesque church has been preserved.
Recall that Siena is a small city just 75 km south of Florence. In the early and mature Middle Ages, it was the capital of a successful trading republic, which for a long time and successfully competed with a powerful neighbor.
In 1240, Siena opened its own university, only 1.5 centuries later than the first in Italy, Bologna. Until now, many students walk along the streets of Siena. Which, by the way, is extremely refreshing for the overall impression – the Tuscan city is not stuck in past centuries, but lives and develops.
Until the 16th century, the Republic of Siena remained independent. But in 1557 it came under the rule of the Medici dynasty, becoming part of the Grand Duchy of Florence.
It is argued that the relatively rapid fading of the importance of Siena allowed it to turn into a political backwater. But at the same time, it preserved a unique architectural ensemble, which today is protected by UNESCO.
A brief digression into history, of course, gives a misleading impression of the city. A professional guide during a tour of Siena will tell immeasurably more!
How to Get There
Most tourists arrive in Siena by train from Florence. It’s simple – you got on the train at Santa Maria Novella, an hour has not passed – you get off at the Siena train station. Then you need to know the route – the entrance to the travelator, which raises to the upper city, is located on the third floor of the railway station shopping center.
Train timetables can be found on the Italian Railways website.
There are no direct trains from Rome. But from the “Eternal City” it is very convenient to get to Siena by bus. And cheaper, and the bus station is located right in the old town. You will have to spend a little more than 3 hours on the road!
Just keep in mind that it is better to buy Flixbus tickets in advance. And spend less, and the seats on the desired flight are guaranteed to be yours.