Imagine a day spent in a medieval city situated between three river valleys, perched atop gentle rolling hills. The ramparts greet you with the inscription “Siena opens its heart to you.” What a beautiful heart it is, and what a wonderful place to conclude our tour of Tuscany.

Siena was settled by the Etruscans between 900 to 400 B.C. The face of Tuscany was forever changed by the Etruscians, who used irrigation to reclaim unfarmable land, and built settlements in well-defended forthills.

According to legend, Siena was founded by Senius, son of Remus (brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named). Romulus and Remus were said to be twin sons of Mars and a mortal woman who was a Vestal Virgin. She abandoned the boys in a river, where they were found and suckled by a she-wolf. There is artwork depicting the she-wolf suckling the twins all around the city of Siena.

Siena prospered as a trade post, where streams of pilgrims going to and from Rome added to her income.

In 1260 Siena successfully defeated Florence though vastly outnumbered after dedicating itself to the Virgin Mary. During the battle of Montaperti a white cloud is said to have descended on the battlefield, giving cover to the Siena army aiding in their attack. To this day at many sporting events Senese fans will shout “Remember Montaperti” toward their Florentine competitors.

The Piazza del Campo was a marketplace prior to the 13th century. It was paved in 1349. It was and continues to be the principal public space in Siena. Red brick paves the Piazza in a fishbone pattern, with nine lines (symbolic of the rule of The Nine who governed Siena at the height of its splendor between 1292-1355) radiating from the central water drain. The Piazza is one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.

Under the rule of The Nine, miles and miles of tunnels were built to bring water in aqueducts to fountains, where it then drained into the surrounding fields. The Fountain of Joy was completed in 1419 and is the endpoint of the system of conduits bringing water to the city center. The fountain is adorned with bas-reliefs depicting Good Government under the patronage of the Madonna.

The Monte dei Paschi, a bank, was founded in Siena in 1472 and is today the oldest active bank in the world. Siena’s university was founded in 1203 and is still famous for medicine and law.

Siena rivaled Florence during the Renaissance, and The Cathedral of Siena is one of the most magnificent in Europe. Next week my entire column will be dedicated to describing it for you in detail. Think Michelangelo, Donatello, Pisano, Bernine and artistry that is beyond compare.

Until next week, I wish you gorgeous visions of Tuscany.

Trending Video

Recommended for you