Piazza del Campo
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo is the beating heart of Siena. Originally conceived as a marketplace, the square still remains the focal point of social activity in the city. The square features a number of impressive monuments, including the Torre del Mangia and the Fonte de Gaia, as well as being the site for the renowned Palio races, which take place bi-annually.
Climb the Torre del Mangia
Commanding the Piazza del Campo and rising high above the Public Palace, the Torre del Mangia dates back to the 14th century. Standing at 87 metres tall (or 102 metres if we include the lightning rod), the tower was once one of the tallest secular buildings in medieval Italy. It was built to be the same height as the Siena cathedral in order to reflect the equal power of the church and the state. The climb may tire you out but it’s worth it to experience the unbeatable views of the city and its surrounding countryside when you reach the top.
Admire the frescoes at the Public Palace
The Public Palace of Siena harbours a collection of impressive frescoes that date back to around the 14th century. As they were commissioned by the state rather than the church and featured secular subjects, they were unique at the time. Among the artwork is Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s famous allegorical depiction of the effects of a good and a bad government. Many of the images have been worn by elements and time, but their beauty is still very much intact.
Explore the Contrade
Within the medieval walls, the city is divided into 17 subdivisions called contrade. Each district has its own symbols and flags, and is named after an animal or feature of the natural world, such as the giraffe, the forest and the owl. If you’re lucky enough to visit Siena around the time of the renowned horse race, the palio, the symbols of each contrada will be on display throughout the area. Wander from zone to zone, spotting flags and learning about the allies and rivalries of each to appreciate the social history of Siena.
Take a Tour Through the Bottini
While admiring the renowned Fonte Gaia, few will stop to consider the source of the water that is pumped through it. The Bottini are underground aqueducts, which span around 25 kilometres and supply water to the historical fountains of the city. Nowadays, adventurous tourists and locals can explore these channels in a guided visit. There is an elevated platform running alongside the narrow channels, making it possible to witness how water reaches Fonte Gaia and Fontenuova. Given that for centuries the Bottini were the only water source for the city, they are an important part of the city’s history.
Santa Maria della Scala
The Santa Maria della Scala was one of the first hospitals in Europe and is one of the most important institutions in the history of Siena. While the hospital originally aimed to provide shelter and medical assistance for pilgrims, orphans and the poor, it has now been converted into a vast museum complex. With several ornate chapels and oratories, an archaeological museum, a centre for contemporary arts, and frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Simone Martini, this complex is of interest to all.
All’orto de Pecci
All’orto de Pecci is not just a park; more a vast green oasis where culture and history meet social work and environmentalism. Historically, patients of the psychiatric hospital would work in these fields. Today, the gardens are tended by disadvantaged locals in community projects. The garden’s most important feature is its medieval vegetable patch. The produce is cooked and served in the park’s restaurant, making it a partly self-sufficient park too.
Take the ‘Porta del Cielo’ Tour of the Cathedral
After centuries of restoration, the cathedral’s sky vault – named ‘the gate of heaven’ – is finally open to the public. Daily guided tours enable the public to explore this emblematic temple from a bird’s eye view. Narrow passages wind around both the interior and the exterior of the building, allowing visitors to marvel both at the ornate decor and the Tuscan countryside. A particular highlight of the tour is the point at which you can stand directly beneath the large, circular glass mosaic embedded in the church’s facade and so appreciate the detail of this work of art up close.
Siena Tartufi is a charming little shop nestled in a corner of Piazza del Campo that sells a wide variety of fresh truffles and truffle-based products. The distinctive taste of truffle flavors a number of Tuscan dishes and the knowledgeable shop owner, Alessandro Pellegrini, will not only advise you on your purchase but also allows you to sample products. A visit to this shop is a must for foodies and true truffle enthusiasts.
Have an Ice-Cream at La Vecchia Latteria
Like most places worth visiting in Siena, La Vecchia Latteria has a rich and intriguing history. As the name suggests, this ice-cream shop was once a dairy factory; today the shop remains popular with the locals but now the main attraction is its artisan ice cream. The flavors are created with natural ingredients and include traditional favorites as well as more exotic additions such as green tea and sesame.