Siena’s Gothic monuments have been left largely unchanged for centuries. Consequently, it remains a medieval marvel! It’s charming districts conceal countless masterpieces from all sectors of the arts. If you’re only in Tuscany for a few days, Siena should definitely be on your list. We’ve narrowed Siena down to it’s must-see sights. We’ve also thrown in a couple off-the-beaten-track experiences to give your visit an edge!
Siena in a nutshell
Siena is spread across three hills, with its historic centre – the Piazza del Campo – at its heart. The Piazza del Campo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. It’s also the venue for the world-famous Il Palio. This is a horse race around the piazza by bareback jockeys from the city’s contrade (districts).
Don’t forget to visit the Torre del Mangia while you’re there! It’s next to the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall). The tower was designed to be the same height at the Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral). This symbolised the equal footing of the church and state. Once you’ve conquered the 400 steps leading to the top, you can admire a stunning panoramic view of the city.
Most of Siena’s main attractions fall between the Piazza del Campo and Piazza del Duomo. The latter hosts the Complesso Museale di Santa Maria della Scala. This museum complex was once a hospice for pilgrims. Presently, it’s home to over a millennium of art, artefacts and ruins. The museum also boasts the relic of St. Mary’s girdle! The Duomo di Siena (a.k.a. Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta) is also situated on the Piazza del Duomo. Here, you can visit the famous Piccolomini Library and works by Pisano, Donatello, and Michelangelo.
Siena off the beaten track
See the world’s oldest bank
The Banca Monte dei Paschi on Via dei Montanini, started as a Mount of Piety. What’s that, you ask? Well, during the Renaissance, Italy’s Catholic churches came up with a way to reform money lending. The church would loan money to those in need at lower rates than local money lenders. Think of it as a form of organised charity. The Banca Monte dei Paschi was founded in 1472, making it 546 years old!
Visit St. Catherine’s relics
The patron saint of Siena, St. Catherine, spent many of her years in the Basilica San Domenico. Although the basilica houses quite a few of her relics, the most important is the Sacred Head. That’s right. St. Catherine’s head. Though the relic is unsettling, it’s a treasured piece of history. The Blessed Raymond of Capua stole the relic from Rome in 1383.