SIENA

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VISIT SIENA INFORMATION AND SMALL GUIDE

 

"Siena, a mysterious city because it was made like a snail, with its streets twisted on top of each other, awaits us under the towers and a huge moon". Guido Piovene Travel to Italy 1957

Siena is one of the most visited and best known Italian cities in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the centre of Tuscany, originally Etruscan center, passing between Volterra and Arezzo, became Roman, then descending to the rank of minor city, had more luck under the Lombard rule as the only transit city on the Via Francigena between Siena and Viterbo.

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Torre del Mangia a SienaDuring this period it grew in size and expanded economically through the commercial activities of its products. In this way, in 1200, banking activities took place, through the most important families of the city and by the bankers of the Apostolic Curia. The most important places for the transactions were along the urban stretch of Via Francigena and Piazza del Campo, the only large square in the city, which still has a particular charm. After the surrender in Florence in 1559, Siena was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, but the Medici, after having built a fortress there, abandoned it for the next two centuries, leading Siena to a strong economic and demographic crisis. Since the arrival of the railway in the city in 1850, Siena came back to life, giving strength to the ancient University where they enrolled from all over Europe, opening up an important pharmaceutical industry and restoring banking activity.

Siena was founded by the Romans on the site of a previous Etruscan settlement, and under Octavian Augustus they formed a military colony called Saena Julia. The medieval Commune drew the sign (the she-wolf breast-feeding the twins) from this ancient origin that, together with the "balzana" (black and white shield), was the heraldic emblem of the city. The Roman Siena had a rather limited development, mainly due to the distance of the city from the main consular roads (Aurelia and Cassia) that originally passed along the coast and along the Val di Chiana. For the same reasons, Christianity spread to Sienese territory only towards the beginning of the fourth century.

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After the first barbarian invasions in Italy and after the Greek-Gothic war (Byzantine Empire against the Goths), Siena underwent an important turning point with the Lombard conquest. The Lombards settled in good numbers in the city and promoted a lively territorial expansion to the detriment of nearby Arezzo. The road network underwent a shift and the Aurelia and Cassia that crossed regions exposed to Byzantine raids decayed, taking advantage of the Via Francigena that connected the northern Lombard domains with Rome, passing through Siena. In 774, the Lombard kingdom surrendered to Charlemagne and Siena was invaded by frank officials who joined the Lombard families, originating the oldest Sienese nobility, founder of abbeys and castles throughout the Sienese territory. The links between the abbeys and the great noble family founders reduced to a minimum the prospects of Siena, where the two traditional organs of civil and religious life were located: the count and the bishop.

The feudal power went down and at the death of Countess Matilde di Canossa (1115), the Marca di Tuscia, which under the house of Canossa included much of today's Tuscany, was divided into a series of embryonic municipal structures. The Municipality of Siena, dangerously bordering on its territory to the Guelph Florence (that is, in favour of the emperor), its enemy, declared itself Ghibelline (that is, in favour of the prerogatives of the papacy). At the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, Siena had a remarkable urban expansion and at the ancient civitas of the early Middle Ages it was enlarged with the two villages formed to the north and east along the Via Francigena, giving rise to the three "thirds" of Cities, Camollia and San Martino. The economic fortunes of the city also progressed thanks to the credit and foreign exchange activities that, exercised on the main European markets (Champagne, Flanders and England), had in the company of the Buonsignori the largest European banking entity of the thirteenth century. Also in 1200 the great Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala was established, founded by the canons of the cathedral even before the year 1000. The bureau of the Biccherna (financial administration) and the General Council of Campana were also consolidated.

Duomo di SienaAt the beginning of 1200 the Podestarile regime succeeded the consular regime and Siena became in Tuscany the main supporter of the successor to Federico II, Manfredi, king of Sicily. The war against Florence culminated in the famous Battle of Monteaperti, where Siena triumphed over Florence with a massacre of Guelphs (September 4,1260). As in the Municipalities of central and northern Italy, the Podestarile regime in Siena entered into crisis due to the flourishing, alongside the patrician classes, of the bourgeoisie that required its representation in the municipal government. Beginning in 1287, the Nine regime settled in Siena, which had a long duration and was relatively quiet. Its representatives, mostly belonging to the rich city bourgeoisie, alternated in office every two months. In this period, we witnessed the emergence of the great families of Salimbeni, Tolomei, Sansedoni, Buonsignori, Piccolomini and Gallerani, as well as a whole flowering of great names in the artistic field (Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, Tino da Camaino and many others). It was at this time that the construction of the Palazzo Pubblico began (with so many wonders including the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sala della Pace) the project for the enlargement of the Cathedral of Siena and the construction of the last Cerchia di Mura (still existing). In the period of maximum political and economic expension Siena gave the Church a beautiful 4 popes, all very important: Alexander III, Pius II, Pius III, and Alexander VII.

Fortezza medicea SienaIn 1348 Siena, like most of Europe, was hit by the terrible plague or "black death" that caused a resumption of political instability. When the Nine regime was overthrown in 1355, the city government passed to the so-called "Monti" or groupings of Magnate and bourgeois families. Caterina Benincasa, a typical representative of the medieval religious life of Siena, was active in this period. To better oppose Florence, Siena in the last decade of 1300 under the rule of Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan, but at his death (1404) resumed its turbulent municipal life. Other great Sienese painters date back to the 15th century, while the sculpture shows the renaissance Jacopo della Quercia and the humanist Pope Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini) who promotes the activity of Florentine artists such as Bernardo Rossellino in Siena. At the end of 1400 Siena had to accept the alliance with Charles V of Spain, who began to build a fortress to host the Spanish garrison, unleashing a violent popular reaction that led to the breaking of the alliance (1552) with Charles V, who then accepted the support of Florence Cosimo I dè Medici. Siena allied itself with the French but in the end, besieged by the Florentine and Spanish army commanded by the ruthless leader Medeghino, it had to capitulate and in April 1555 it ceded its weapons. The city became the possession of the King of Spain Philip II, who enfeoffed it to Cosimo I de Medici.

Siena Medici kept alive the memory of the past freedom and the partisan spirit of its inhabitants, since it could no longer influence the political trend, was nourished by a passion for the "districts". The banking tradition of the city, as private became public and the evolution of the ancient Monte di Pietà, founded in 1472, which took the name of Monte dei Paschi in 1624, was promoted. With the advent of the Habsburg-Lorraine (1779), the last vestiges of the Republic disappeared and the city became an integral part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. His marked spiritual individuality is underlined today, however, by his attachment to the old districts and the Palio, the most evident manifestation of the lively character of its inhabitants.

Today's Siena is admired from all over Italy for being one of the cities with the highest quality of life in the country, a center of culture and research, known throughout the world. The many tourists who visit it are able to enjoy a unique scenery, made up of a multitude of monuments, many testimonies anchored in history. Moreover, both Sienese and their guests can benefit from excellent local gastronomy, offering for example the legendary "pici", a kind of large hand-made spaghetti seasoned with rabbit or wild boar sauces as well as typical dishes of meat, cheese and vegetables from the surrounding countryside. Sienese is also an area renowned for its viticulture that produces wines of international prestige. Finally, the desserts: ricciarelli, panforte and panpepato, made with ancient recipes, scented with spices that bring back in time, to the Renaissance cuisine. In short, good Siena!

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