Siena is an old medieval city in the heart of Tuscany, Italy. Although the history of Siena dates back to the Etruscan era at around 900-500BC, the city didn’t gain importance until after Roman rule. Siena flourished when it became independent in the 12th century and the old centre has been well preserved since that time.
Like most medieval towns in Tuscany, Siena is built on top of a hill due to the strategic advantage that it would provide for defending the city. Of course the only place that we could find a car park was at the bottom of this particular hill, meaning that we got to experience first hand what any attackers would have had to deal with if they wanted to get into the city, a climb up a road that seemed to have about a 30% gradient! Stopping to rest my calf muscles half way up, a local elderly woman strolled on past me carrying a basket of groceries. Having no more excuses I instantly made my way to the top and entered onto one of the cobble stoned streets of the old town.
The narrow streets and old buildings made me feel like I had gone back in time, a familiar feeling that seemed to hit me a lot whilst in Italy. Passing by the many side streets that gave glimpses of the magnificent Piazza Del Campo, we made our way toward the Siena Cathedral Complex.
If you want to see all of the complex the best option by far is to purchase an Opa Si Pass, which is an all inclusive ticket that gives you access to the Siena Cathedral, St John’s Baptistry, the crypt under the cathedral, the Museo dell’Opera, the Facciatone (Panoramic Terrace) and San Bernardino Oratory. The ticket only costs 10 Euros which saves you about 50% on the total price if you bought the tickets separately.
The 13th century Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) is architecturally beautiful and the artwork of the interior is stunning, containing pieces by such famous renaissance artists as Michaelangelo, Bernini and Donatello. We spent quite some time wandering through the church, marveling at how magnificent it is from the mosaic floors to the frescoes on the ceilings. One of my favourite rooms is the Piccolomini Library, containing magnificent frescoes and housing some very old choir books.
The Baptistery, located at the back and underneath the cathedral also has some impressive artwork to check out. The crypt underneath the cathedral was apparently never actually used as a crypt, and was abandoned for quite some time. This gives the room a kind of eerie feel to it as the frescoes and walls aren’t as well preserved, making them seem somehow older.
The Museo dell’Opera is the Duomo’s Museum, containing many important treasures that have been removed from the Cathedral. Making your way to the top of the museum gives access to the Facciatone, a panoramic terrace that gives magnificent views out across Siena.
The climb to the top of the Facciatone is not for the faint hearted. Access to the top is by a steep, narrow, winding staircase which could cause some problems for someone who isn’t sure footed or is a bit claustrophobic. If you can manage it though I highly recommend the effort. The views from the top are just incredible, giving you 360 degree views out across all of Siena and beyond. Make sure you have plenty of room on your camera’s memory card! After stumbling up the staircase I was immediately hit by the panorama and began madly clicking away on my camera.
Climbing back down from the Facciatone is more difficult than going up, so be careful and take it slow down the staircase. I had to make sure that I didn’t slip and take my wife out on the way down the tiny steps. Exiting is again through the Museo dell’Opera, so you get to see the Museum twice if you want to.
From the Panoramic terrace I had excellent views of the Piazza del Campo, so we made our way there after exiting the museum. The Piazza del Campo is the main public square in Siena’s historic centre, and one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe. It is always alive with activity and we sat in the piazza with some gelato and watched the world go by. Towering above the square is the beautiful Torre del Mangia, a 100m high clock tower next to the Palazzo Pubblico (Old town hall).
Visiting Siena’s Unesco World Heritage listed historic centre made an excellent day out in Tuscany. The old medieval feel, the friendly people and slow, laid back pace of life makes Siena somewhere I think I could stay for a while when I return to Italy. If you’re travelling to Tuscany, make sure you make your way to Siena!