Siena, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy
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.
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.
What to see
- Siena'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.
- 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.
- Below: the churches of San Giovanni (left) and San Francesco (right).