Siena, Province of Siena, Tuscany

Siena coat of arms The picturesque city is an important cultural centre and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Historic Centre of Siena) since 1995, and is especially known for its celebrated Palio delle Contrade, a horse race held twice a year - on July 2 and August 16, where each horse and rider represent one of the seventeen "contrade". Siena's university, founded in 1203 and famed for its faculties of law and medicine, is still among the most important Italian universities. Siena is also the home of Siena Jazz School, which hosts the summer Jazz Concert.


  • Altitude: 322 m a.s.l
  • Population: about 54,000 inhabitants
  • Zip/postal code: 53100, 53010
  • Dialing Area Code: +39 0577
  • Patron Saint: St. Ansanus, celebrated on 1 December
  • Frazioni & Localities: Isola d'Arbia, San Giovanni, San Martino, Sant'Andrea a Montecchio, Taverne d'Arbia, Volte Basse.


According to legend, Siena was founded by Senius, son of Remus, who was in turn the brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Statues and other artwork depicting a she-wolf suckling the young twins Romulus and Remus can be seen all over the city of Siena.

Siena was an Etruscan settlement and a small Roman town, the seat of a Christian bishop by the 5th century, but its importance began in the early 12th century, when a self-governing commune replaced the earlier aristocratic government. Siena's republic, struggling internally between nobles and the popular party, usually worked in political opposition to its great rival, Florence, and was in the 13th century predominantly Ghibelline in opposition to Florence's Guelph position.

Siena rivalled Florence in the arts through the 13th and 14th centuries: the important late medieval painter Duccio (1253-1319) was a Senese but worked across the peninsula. Siena was devastated by the Black Plague of 1348 and never recovered its earlier glory, losing out to Florence in inter-urban rivalry. Siena retained its independence in Tuscany until 1557.

What to see

  • The Museum of the Opera del Duomo, which contains the famous "Maestà" (1308-11) (1308-1311) by Duccio di Boninsegna.
  • The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the town main square, famous for hosting the Palio, houses the Palazzo Pubblico, and the Torre del Mangia.
  • The Palazzo Pubblico (townhall), hosting the mural of "Good Government" by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, a magnificent example of late-Medieval/early Renaissance art as well as a representation of the utopia of urban society as conceived during that period.
  • Duomo di SienaSiena's cathedral, the Duomo with its typical belltower, begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian gothic architecture. Its main façade was completed in 1380. Inside is the famous Gothic octagonal pulpit by Nicola Pisano (1266-1268) supported on lions, and the labyrinth inlaid in the flooring, traversed by penitents on their knees. Beneath the Duomo, in the baptistry is the baptismal font with bas-reliefs by Donatello, Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and other 15th-century sculptors.
  • Below: the churches of San Giovanni (left) and San Francesco (right).
Church of San Giovanni Church of San Francesco

The Palio

The Palio di Siena is an event that attracts visitors and spectators from around the world. The seventeen contrade currently represented in the yearly Palio are: Aquila (Eagle), Bruco (Caterpillar), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (Little Owl), Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Crested Porcupine), Leocorno (Unicorn), Lupa (She-Wolf), Nicchio (Seashell), Oca (Goose), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Panther), Selva (Forest), Tartuca (Tortoise), Torre (Tower), Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram).

Qualifications admit ten horses and riders. The Palio held on July 2 is called Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, while the session on August 16 is named Palio dell'Assunta. Before the race there is a pageant called Corteo Storico. In the race jockeys ride bareback, circle the Piazza del Campo three times, which usually lasts about 90 seconds.

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Provinces of Tuscany
Toscana region
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