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Within a day’s steady drive away from our base in the Roannais, Rhône-Alpes you can be walking through the Piazzo de Campo in the wonderful, medieval city of Siena (spelt Sienna in English) in the heart of the Chianti region of Italy.
Stunning and beautiful with medieval and ancient history oozing out of its fascinating architectural landscape, Siena is simply a ‘dream’ of a place to visit for a few days.
The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Italy, with almost 200,000 international visitors per year.
Siena is particularly famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the historical ‘Palio’, a horse race held twice yearly.
The Palio di Siena is a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August.
The event is attended by large crowds, and is widely televised. Seventeen Contrade (which are city neighbourhoods originally formed as battalions for the city’s defence) vie for the trophy: a painted banner, or Palio bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For each race a new Palio is commissioned by well-known artists and Palios won over many years can often be seen in the local Contrade museum. During each Palio period, the city is decked out in lamps and flags bearing the Contrade colours.
Siena’s cathedral (Duomo), begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.
Its main façade was completed in 1380. It is unusual for a cathedral in that its axis runs north-south. This is because it was originally intended to be the largest cathedral in the world, with a north-south transept and an east-west nave, as is usual.
After the completion of the transept and the building of the east wall (which still exists and may be climbed by the public via an internal staircase) the money ran out and the rest of the cathedral was abandoned.
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. Within the Sacristy are some perfectly preserved renaissance frescos by Domenico Ghirlandaio, and, beneath the Duomo, in the baptistry is the baptismal font with bas-reliefs by Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and other 15th century sculptors.
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the town square, which houses the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, is another architectural treasure, and is famous for hosting the Palio horse race.
Fantastic architecture, history, culture, plus the Italian sunshine and conviviality of the locals, and a myriad of excellent restaurants serving wonderful food – what more do you want!!