Walking through the narrow streets of Siena it is easy to see why Tuscany is one of the most popular destinations in Italy. The ancient town encompasses all that is beautiful about Italy. The Piazza del Campo which is the centre of everything is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The town was first settled between c.900BC to 400Bc by an Etruscan tribe known as the Saina. The Romans founded a town called Saenna Julia on the same site years later. The town’s emblem, Romulus and Remus as infants suckling from the she-wolf, reflexes its strong Roman history. According to legend, it was the Senius, son of Remus, who founded the town. Statues of the she-wolf and the infants can be found everywhere you look. Siena was once an isolated town near no major roads, it wasn’t until the invasions by the Lombards that Siena experienced greater exposure to the outside world. Roads were re-routed due to Byzantine raids along the old Roman roads opening up trade to the town.
It is believed because of the town’s isolation Christianity took much longer to reach the people, 4th century AD. It wasn’t long before Siena became a prosperous trading post. The city came under the rule of the Gauls in the 5th century. In the 13th century the Sienese defeated the Florentines at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260. Prior to the battle, Siena was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and entrusted to her possession. The legend has it that when the Sienese began their attack a thick cloud descended onto the battlefield aiding their victory. Their victory was short-lived the Florentine Guelphs exacted their revenge by occupying the city in 1269. In 1348 the plague devastated the city killing over two-thirds of its population. Nearing the end of the 14th century the city came under the control of the Visconti family, followed in the 15th century by the autocratic leader Pandolfo Petrucci. Siena’s prosperity which never recovered from the plague suffered a further blow in 1555 when the city was conquered by Roman Emperor Charles V. Two years later Cosimo de’ Medici placed Siena into the Duchy of Tuscany and barred the Sienese from operating banks. As fate would have it today the Siena bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, is the oldest continually running bank in the world.
Things You May Not Know About Siena
Siena was devastated by the Black Plague of 1348. The plague killed over 65,000 people reducing the city’s population to a mere 35,000.
Siena is famous for the Palio a traditional horse race that is conducted throughout the streets of the city twice each year. The first race (Palio di Provenzano) is held on July 2, which is both the Feast of the Visitation and the date of a local festival in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano (a painting which was supposed to have miraculous powers). The second race is held on August 16 (Palio dell’Assunta), the day after the Feast of the Assumption, and also dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In August 2005 the Palio race was won by the contrade (city ward) of the Torre . They hadn’t won the event in 45 years.
Prior to each Palio, Siena hosts a parade known as Corteo Storico.
The Monte dei Paschi di Siena is the world’s oldest bank.
It is illegal to be a prostitute in Siena if your name is Mary.
It is rumored that the statue of Pope Joan (only female Pope) once appeared amongst the many statues of the popes inside the Siena Duomo (Cathedral).
The Torre del Mangia (bell tower)located in the Piazza del Campo is the second-highest in Italy. The tower is 320 foot high and has 505 very narrow steps which lead to a magnificent view of the countryside.