Welcome to Siena, a city with a colour of its own. Architecturally and artistically one of Tuscany’s richest cities. Siena and its gentle surroundings seem caught in an era both lived and lively. Past and present are everywhere entwined this relaxed and courteous city still generous to pilgrims who would stay awhile. Consider some of our favorite things while you are visiting.
1. Visit a Contrada museum
To best understand Siena's famous Palio horserace and the important role it plays in the fabric of the community, make a visit to any one of the 17 Contrada museums. There you will find the colourful collection of the Palio banners won and treasured by the contrada over the centuries as well as costumes and memorabilia. While the museums are always open on the days the race is run, 2 July and 16 August, and on Italy’s national holiday, 2 June, it is also possible to arrange a group tour of a museum with a guide or contact an individual contrada to request permission. If you are staying in a house near Siena, the Sienese owner or caretaker may well be able to get you into his own contrada museum. A list of Siena's contradas.
2. Ride a steam train through the Crete Senese
For mid-season visitors to Tuscany, one way of seeing the incredible Crete Senese, the rolling clay hills outside Siena, is to take the round trip ride on the Treno Natura from Siena, following the 19thcentury line. Aboard an old-fashioned passenger or a steam train and moving at a slower pace, it is possible to enjoy views and perspectives one cannot find in a car speeding along the highway. Many outings are paired with opportunities of exploring sites or attending events along the itinerary and with children under 10 riding for free, this is an excellent and educational family outing. Have a look at the Treno Natura 2018 outings (in Italian) and a description of the Trena Natura stops (in English).
3. Enjoy a concert in an outdoor venue - San Galgano
The San Galgano Abbey, after a 400-year run of medieval importance, became the splendid ruin it is today. Built by a young Tuscan knight, whose round hermitage nearby will fascinate young guests with its sword in the stone legend, the Gothic structure near Chiusdino is easy to spot. Though roofs and frescos of the cathedral are missing, its elegant structure is wondrous and its acoustics are such that concerts and opera performances are held there through the summer. An unforgettable venue.
4. Mingle with the crowds on Market day Wednesday
Just about every town and village in Italy has a day when travelling vendors come to town and turn its piazzas and parking lots into bustling marketplaces. Siena is no exception and every Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. the ancient Medici fortress is surrounded by stands selling clothing, shoes, ceramics, housewares, fabrics, food and much more. Come shop with the natives and then repair to the nearest coffee bar or restaurant to lunch and delight in your bargains.
5. Explore the Montagnola woods and the Museo del Bosco
The Montagnola Senese, the iron-rich hills west of Siena, is a woodland covered in oak, chestnut, cypress and holm oak trees, with an undergrowth of ferns, holly, mistletoe and more. A walk through these woods finds mushrooms and wild strawberries underfoot and nearby carpets of primroses and cyclamen bordered by broom of varying hues. Though it is still home to various forest-dwelling animals, it was once the livelihood of woodsmen who burned charcoal and cut wood. Their life and the fascination of the woods can be explored with the whole family in the Museo del BoscoWoods Museum in Orgia or by walking from Orgia up along the well-marked trails to the small San Bartolomeo church nestled amongst the trees. Here's a preview of what you might find in the Museum of the Woods.
6. Discover the fresco that turned art history on its head
'Lost' fresco in the crypt of the Siena cathedral, photo credit Sailko
The artist of note in Siena is Duccio di Buoninsegna, the great painter of the Middle Ages whose brilliant wood panel works and almond-eyed Madonnas gave birth in the late 13thcentury to the Sienese school. He is credited with introducing delicacy and colorful precision to works, softening the Byzantine figures and introducing the sense of three dimension, naturalism and architecture that lead to Renaissance perspective. Yet in 1999 frescos that had been ‘lost’ for 500 years in an abandoned crypt came to light and revealed artists who may have preceded Duccio and introduced these qualities to the great artist. Come see the brilliant frescos, unaltered by time, and judge for yourself. In the meantime, learn more about the Crypt of the Siena Cathedral.