Traditions, Art and Culture


A city that has conserved all the charm of the Middle Ages, Siena is known for its extraordinary heritage of art, culture and landscape assets – and for its renowned Palio, the popular event that for centuries has pitted Siena’s contrade against one another on a unique racetrack.

What to see in Siena:

The Historic Centre of Siena

The historic centre of Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a concentrate of all the city’s  major attractions. Piazza del Campo, with its unique oval shell shape that makes it one of the world’s most beautiful squares, is the centre’s fulcrum. The arena for the Palio, it is surrounded by majestic medieval palaces; the Palazzo Pubblico with the lofty Torre del Mangia is but one example.

Thanks to the care and custodianship extended by the people of Siena to urban aesthetics and architecture – and to an edict, issued in 1300, that ordered builders to observe aesthetic canons coherent with Palazzo  Pubblico – Piazza del Campo and the surrounding area still form an orderly, harmonious, finely-designed whole. The Palazzo was the seat of political power in Siena and, with Piazza del Campo as regards the Palio and affiliation with a contrada (quarter), neutral ground for city factions. Today, it houses the municipal offices, the Mayor’s office and the Civic Museum with its priceless collection of Sienese art. The Torre del Mangia, Italy’s third-tallest ancient tower, takes its name from Giovanni di Duccio, tower custodian and bell ringer, who was nicknamed Mangiaguadagni (literally, ‘eat-the-profits’) for his ‘prodigal habits’ and wastefulness.

Other not-to-be-missed monuments are the glorious Siena Cathedral, entirely faced in white and Prato Serpentine green marble, and the Baptistery and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, both of which house works by great Italian artists.

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siena e dintorni

Siena and Environs

Siena is not just a historic centre with important monuments and a tangle of picturesque streets and alleyways. Siena is also beautiful parks and gardens, landscape attractions made to order for family jaunts, such as the Orti dei Tolomei, a treasure at the city gates. Lush with olive trees, fruit trees and flowers, the Orti offer a tranquil respite and a well-ordered taste of the Tuscan countryside.

Other sites for exploration near Siena are the pristine and variegated open spaces that represent the best of the typical features of the Tuscan countryside. From the luxuriant green valleys and slopes with their farmhouses and medieval villages – like those that stud the landscapes in the Val d’Elsa, the Val d’Orcia, the Val d’Arbia and in Val di Chiana, the growing areas for such highly-regarded Italian wines as Brunello di Montalcino, to the arid ‘lunar’ clays of the Crete Senesi – a formation called the ‘Accona Desert’ in the Middle Ages.

Siena’s Typical Products

Siena and its province abound in the flavours of local excellences in food and drink, witnesses and examples of the true flavour of Tuscany and the Tuscan lifestyle. No wooden tray of Tuscan antipasto would be complete without Cinta Senese salami, one of Siena’s most highly-valued gastronomic treasures, which takes its name from the white-belted Cinta Senese pig raised only in the Siena area.

Ricciarelli and Panforte instead are the stars among the territory’s typical sweets, today mainly found on Christmas-time tables. Ricciarelli are ‘wrinkly’-surfaced oval biscuits made with almond paste; Panforte is a rich Sienese cake of ancient origin, once prepared by the speziali (‘apothecaries’) with honey, dried fruits, and nuts – and just enough flour to hold it all together! Despite their very different flavours, both sweets are admirably accompanied by Vin Santo dessert wine, another Sienese excellence. Vin Santo is a precious straw or raisin wine, symbol of Tuscan hospitality, made from the dried grapes of the very best selected bunches. Another, quite different wine from Siena, with a worldwide reputation, is Brunello di Montalcino, an elegant, rich red nectar that owes its name to the dark brownish colour of the ripe grapes from which it is pressed. Production is limited and by law must take place entirely within the territory of Montalcino; the result is unique, and a fixture in any fine cellar. The high-quality Brunello is also an extremely long-lived wine and only improves with age: it cannot even be placed on the market before it has aged at least five years!

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