Legend has it that Siena was founded by the Aschanius and Senius sons of Remus, founder, along with his brother Romulus, of Rome on three hillsides. According to another legend, the city was founded by a Gallic tribe, the Senoni and, in fact, by, the Imperial age it was a Roman dominion under the name of Sena Julia. In 1147, a burgeoning center of trade and commerce, it abandoned the feudal form of government, becoming a free commune. This marked the beginning of the period of greatest splendor, but also of greatest torment. Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries bitter power struggles went on both on the inside and on the outside. Despite the incessant warring, Siena’s great banking and merchant families prospered throughout Europe. The tide turned in the mid-1200s following the Sienese army’s defeat of the Florentines at Montaperti. Siena’s victory meant a short-lived supremacy of the anti papal forces, while the Pope retaliated not only by excommunicating the whole city, but also by cutting off business relations with the Sienese banks, which worried the population just as much. Consequently, most of Ghibelline Siena swiftly converted into pro-Pope Guelphs, with the end result that the economy began to prosper once more and peace reigned again in Tuscany. Then in the mid-1300s more troubles arose in the wake of the terrible plague epidemic, the Black Death, which struck in 1348, decimating the population and causing political and economic instability. Around the end of the century Siena became a dominion of the Viscontis and then part of the Signoria of Pandolfo Petrucci. In 1555, after a seemingly endless siege, it succumbed to Florence, never really regaining its political independence in the centuries that followed. During the Middle Ages Siena flourished artistically as well as politically. For two centuries during the 13th and 14th, the Sienese school, represented by Duccio di Boninsegna and Simone Martini, and the Lorenzetti brothers, rivaled the Florentine masters as the most important in Italy.
Two celebrated ecclesiastic figures where natives of Siena. One, St. Catherine, lived in the 14th century, while the other, a Pope Pius II was born a Piccolomini in the early 1400s.
Gastronomic treats include cold cuts, olive oil, Chianti wines, and sweet like Panforte and Ricciarelli cookies. Twice a year on July 2 and August 16, the Palio is run in Piazza del Campo. More than just a horse race, it is and unbelievably intense couple of minutes often involving violent falls of horses and/or jockeys. The event requires a whole year of preparation and actually lasts a month with parties, flag acrobatics, parades, and picturesque customs such as blessing of the horses in church. The rivalry among Siena’s 17 contrade, or districts, date back to the Middle Ages.
Among Siena’s numerous cultural organizations, perhaps the most famous is the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, which sponsors summer concerts in the city squares, churches, and theaters.
A walk-through Siena’s web of street is like going back to the Middle Ages. To get the most out of your tour we propose two itineraries.
Sienese life is centered around the Piazza del Campo dominated by the town’s civic center, the Palazzo Pubblico. Across the way, take Vicolo di San Pietro, which leads to the Croce del Travaglio, where many of the main streets intersect. Proceed along Via Banchi di Sopra to Piazza Salimbeni. Just before reaching Piazza Salimbeni, go right on Via dei Rossi to the church of San Francesco. Retrace your steps to the Croce del Travaglio, go left along via Banchi Di Sotto flanked with important buildings such as the 16th century Palazzo dell’Università and Palazzo Piccolomini. Passing the 15th century Logge del Papa, take via del Porrione, Via San Martino and Via dei Servito the church of Santa Maria dei Servi.