The historical medieval center of Siena in Tuscany (Italy) has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site in 1995.
The city has a perfectly preserved and unique gothic appearance and many famous historical places are visited by turists from all over the world. These places don’t need an introduction: keep in mind the list below and just be sure to visit them all.
If you wish to do something special and discover some of Siena’s hidden secrets scroll down a bit!
- Campo Square, the Public Palace (hosting the Civic Museum and the famous Lorenzetti’s frescos “Allegoria del Buono e Cattivo Governo” and the “Mappamondo” room);
- the Mangia Tower (from the tower it’s possible to appreciate a breathtaking panorama and the nine slices of the Campo Square’s shell shape);
- the Cathedral (its distinctive striped columns and walls are made from black and white marble in a nod to Siena’s black and white civic coat of arms; its unique mosaic floor represents the sibyls, scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues);
- the “Facciatone” (the entrance is next to the Duomo, from the top a spectacular view of the city);
- the Baptistry of St. John (the hexagonal baptismal font in bronze, marble was realized in the XV century by the main sculptors of the time, including Donatello);
- S. Maria della Scala (one of the first places in europe dedicated to offering lodging and shelter to pilgrims, the poor and the abandoned children).
Siena’s hidden secrets: must do’s
1- collect a photo of every Contrada‘s coat of arms
Siena is divided in 17 historical areas, the “Contrade” from the middle of the XV century and each of them has its own church where the members, born in the Contrada or sons of one of the members, are baptized.
Ten of this Contrade take part of the famous horse race, the Palio.
The Contrade are: the Eagle, the Snail, the Wave, the Panther, the Forest, the Tortoise, the Owl, the Unicorn, the Shell, the Tower, the Ram, the Caterpillar, the Dragon, the Giraffe, the Porcupine, the Wolf and the Goose.
The streets of each Contrada are marked on their walls with their coat of arms and many other architectural elements representing the same animal.
2 – visit a Contrada‘s museum
It is possible to visit a Contrada museum only if booked in advance sending an email through its website (if you need help I am happy to assit!)
I visited the Contrada della Selva (the Forest), founded in 1506, one of the two Contrada without enemies among the other Contrade and allied with the Turtle and the Snail. They won the Palio in August 2015 and they hold the record of victories during the last 70 years: 42 Palios.
The drappellone (“banner”), or palio, is the trophy that is to be delivered to the contrada that wins the Palio.
3 – spot the Iron Dragons
Many cast iron dragons are scattered about on building facades throughout Siena’s main squares and particularly in the Drago Contrade.
Some of them were used to tie horses, as street lamps or as ornate decoration.
3 – see the Sator Square
On the left side of Cathedral (outside) there is one of the most beautiful and significat example of a Sator square, a latin inscription composed of five words:
SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS
The phrase is a palindrome (it reads the same backwards) and it can be read from top to bottom, from left to right and viceversa.
One likely translation is “The farmer Arepo has [as] works wheels [a plough]”: the farmer uses his plough as his form of work.
The earliest dateable Sator Square was found in the ruins of Pompeii, buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, therefore, its origins may predate the Christian era. Other Square can be found in Italy, France, UK, Portugal.
There have been many attempts to translate and interpret this puzzle but the mistery is still unresolved.
4 – Chill out in the Orto dei Pecci
The Orto dei Pecci is a urban vegetable garden cultivated recreating the tipical Medieval plantations: it comprises an orchard and a small farm with charming goats, ducks, and donkeys.
It is located five minutes far from Campo Square and it is ideal if you want have a walk in a beautiful garden and take pictures of the Mangia tower from a different prospective.
5 – visit the Bottini
Siena has been built on the hills far from any main ater source. The Bottini’s system, built from the XI to the XII century, solved this problem: many kilometers of underground draining galleries have been excaveted in the sandstone and the water from the rainwater or the secondary springs were collected in public artificial wells.
The legends narrate the Bottini are populated by underground creatures: the “homiccioli” and the “fuggisoli”. The first are harmless and they happily dance along the galleries, the others appear as flashes making jokes.
It is possible to visit the Bottini at Fonte Gaia, Fonte Nuova d’Ovile and Fonti di Pescaia but it is necessarty to book in advance (sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org). Near Fonti di Pescaia is located the Water Museum.
6 – walk along Pilgrims’s street (“Via dei Pellegrini“)
The pilgrims, on their way to Rome, used to walk along this street from Campo Square to the Duomo and, after stopping to pray in the Cathedral, they reached Santa Maria della Scala, one of the first hospitals offering them lodging and shelter.