Siena, lying right in the heart of Tuscany on hilly ground, and surrounded by hills, is certainly one of the few most beautiful medieval cities in Italy. It owes part of its fortunes and character to the Via Francigena, which crossed it along its north-south axis and used to connect Rome to Northern Europe. Thousands of pilgrims passing through the area caused the birth of “borghi” and monasteries, and the economy of Siena was boosted, producing the great artistic and cultural flowering of the Renaissance.
Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped square that is the venue of the emotional Palio, was and is the heart of Siena. Declared part of humankind’s cultural heritage by UNESCO, it hosts the wonderful symbols of Siena’s medieval times and of its already glorious past. The Palio among the Contradas is a thrilling horse race taking place twice a year, in July and August, absolutely not to be missed because of the unique atmosphere of excitement pervading the whole city. The Campo is dominated by the reddish Palazzo Pubblico, once the Seat of the Signoria (Government), and now of the Municipality and of the remarkable Civic Museum. The high Tower, called the Torre del Mangia, is accessible through the internal courtyard and through its 500 steps can be climbed up to the top, from which one enjoys a splendid view of the whole city. Absolutely not to be missed also the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, one of the most important churches in Italy in mixed Romanic-Gothic style, with an unmistakeable facade in white and black stripes of marble, and inside, the Piccolomini Library, and, among other treasures, a great cycle of frescos by Pinturicchio. Behind the Cathedral stands the Baptistery of Saint John, with a precious christening font by Jacopo della Quercia. It is a joy to walk through the large medieval centre and beyond, among splendid palaces from the middle Ages and the Renaissance, such as Palazzo Palazzo Tolomei, the oldest one, and Palazzo Salimbeni, originated in the fourteenth century, to discover the most elegant and noble aspects of Siena.
But there is more beyond art and culture and elegance, there is also a unique gastronomy. In taverns and historical cafes and fine restaurants you can find the tasty Ricciarelli (and Panforte), the sweet symbols of the city, and salami, cold cuts, cheeses, soups and game dishes, all to be accompanied by the great Siena wines.