Siena is a city where no stone has shifted through the centuries, where you breathe in an atmosphere that you absolutely can'tfind anywhere else: its population has preserved the traditions of its ancestors, including those associated with the Palio celebrations, which take place again and again with unshakeable force and enthusiasm.
Siena, like other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c. 900-400 BC) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. The Etruscans were a tribe of advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land, and their custom of building their settlements in well-defended hill forts. A Roman town called Saena Julia was founded at the site in the time of the Emperor Augustus. Some archaeologists assert that Siena was controlled for a period by a Gaulish tribe called the Senones.
It was at the height of its importance during the medieval period, first under the Lombards and then later under Carolingian rule. After a long period of Episcopal dominion (from the 9th until the 11th century), the city reached its utmost splendor after it gained its independence (1147), adopting an expansionist policy in its interactions with nearby territories. A confrontation with Florence, naturally, ended up being inevitable, and the two cities waged a war that went on until 1555, when, after a very long siege, the Florentines conquered Siena, which meant the latter lost its independence and became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, sharing the lot up until the unification of Italy in 1861.
According to local legend, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus and thus nephews of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Supposedly after their father's murder by Romulus, they fled Rome, taking with them the statue of the she-wolf suckling the infants (Capitoline Wolf), thus appropriating that symbol for the town. Additionally they rode white and black horses, giving rise to the Balzana, or coat of arms of Siena with a white band atop a dark band. Some claim the name Siena derives from Senius. Other etymologies derive the name from the Etruscan family name Saina or the Roman family name Saenii.
The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international arrivals in 2008. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year.
It is an international culture capital with a 750 year "young" university: it also hosts prestigious institutions including the Chigiana Musical Academy, the Università per Stranieri (University for Foreigners), the Academy of Fisiocritics and the Accademia degli Intronati.
This city thrives due to tourism and has a lot to offer its visitors. The major sights to see within this city include the Piazza del Campo (Campo Square), which is the city's most famous and Medieval piazza. It is known for its unique shell-shaped structure and is home to some very fine monuments and buildings.
The Piazza del Campo includes the Palazzo Pubblico (The City Hall), where famous artistic frescoes are displayed, and the Torre del Mangia (Mangia Tower), which has its entrance from inside the Palazzo Pubblico.
Climbing up more than 300 steps to the top of this tower can give you a panoramic view of the entire city, which is truly a sight to behold if you are unafraid of heights. The Museo Civico (Civic Museum) is also a part of the Palazzo Pubblico, and displays the work of many Sienese artists.
The Duomo or the Cathedral is famous for its unique construction featuring Romanesque-Gothic architecture. It is also located in the Campo Square and hosts the Libreria Piccolomini (Piccolomini Library), where some unique manuscripts have been put on display. Inside this library are to be seen the frescoes that decorate the walls and even the roof of the entire room.
The Cathedral also includes the Battistero (The Baptistery) and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo or Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana, where works of famous Italian artists, like Bartolo and Lorenzetti, are put on display.
Moreover, it is within this piazza that we can find the Fonte Gaia (Gaia Fountain), also known as the Fountain of Joy. This square is also the location for the renowned Palio (Horserace) that takes place twice each year in the summer.
One place worth visiting is the Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) located in the Palazzo Buonsignori and Palazzo Brigidi at via San Pietro. It is an art museum that contains various pieces of Sienese Medieval art along with becoming host to the numerous paintings that were once kept at the Accademia di belle arti di Siena (Academy of Fine Arts in Siena)
Aside from the museums and buildings, the city of Siena also contains many churches and places of religious significance, such as the Chiesa di San Domenico (Church of Saint Dominic), famous due to its massive architecture and the Holy Head of Saint Catherine; Complesso Museale Santa Maria della Scala (Museum Complex of Santa Maria della Scala), which is now known as the National Archaeological Museum of Siena; and Casa di Santa Caterina (House of St. Catherine, the patron saint of Europe).
With regard to the events held within Siena, the Palio is the most famous one, held in the Campo Square each year on the 2nd of July, and the 16th of August. This horserace has more to do with the traditions it upholds rather than the fun it provides. Being very dangerous for both riders as well as their horses, it contains ten contenders in all and is an event that is attended by all the Sienese people to show their loyalty to their heritage. The entire city is decorated with flags, lights and banners to celebrate the Palio.
For music lovers, classical concerts are held at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana (Chigi Music Academy) and other locations throughout the city during the Festival Settimana Musicale Senese (Sienese Music Week Festival), which is held during the summer each year.
OPERAS IN MONTERIGGIONI CASTLE
In summer time concerts are organized in magical scenaries performed open air at Monteriggioni Castle, a special setting for Operas created by masters like Verdi and Puccini, and performed by Opera Festival Monteriggioni.
ASSOCIAZIONE SIENA JAZZ
In July/August the Siena Jazz Association organises many open-air concerts. In winter its activities are based on particular events and various professional courses.
OUTDOOR CINEMA & THEATER
During the summer, the program "Cinema in Fortezza" shows outdoor movies at the Fortezza Medici in June and July. During the month of August, films are shown at some of the parks in Siena. A different movie is featured each night, under the stars. Also, outdoor theater performances by small community groups are sometimes offered.
SAGRES & FESTIVALS: LE SAGRE E LE FESTE
These small celebrations in communities in and surrounding Siena and also held in the contrade of Siena are usually held during Spring, Summer and Fall. The Sagra celebrates a particular food product or type of local specialty. Festivals range from "Festa dell'Uva"(Chianciano Terme), to "Sagra della Bruschetta"(Gaiole in Chianti), to "Sagra del Fungo".
"Treno Natura" is a relaxed train trip through the countryside south of Siena. From spring to autumn, these old-style trains depart on Sundays for the day through the Val d'Arbia, Val d'Orcia and La Crete. For those of you who are interested in exploring the magnificent Siena countryside in all its grandeur and tranquillity, take a ride on the Natura Train. This seasonal adventure on a steam powered train takes you back to "another time" with its winding paths through the Sienese countryside. The trip begins in Siena and stops in Asciano and Monte Antico before returning to Siena
There's an extensive city market every Wednesday between 8am and 1pm, filling the streets around the Fortezza and La Lizza park. An antique market takes place in Piazza del Mercato on the 3rd Sunday of every month, except in August.
Two sample festivals during the year are: Santa Lucia, December 13, Pian dei Mantellini and San Giuseppe, March 19.