Siena (World Heritage)

With its medieval flair and the unique Gothic buildings on the Piazza del Campo, Siena is a masterpiece of medieval urban planning and is now a popular tourist destination. The Corsa del Palio, a horse race of medieval origin, takes place annually on the shell-shaped piazza. The piazza, with the cathedral made of black and white marble, is one of the main attractions of the city.

Siena: facts

Official title: Historic center of Siena
Cultural monument: Piazza del Campo the center of the city; there the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) with rich frescoes by Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Palazzo Sansedoni and Palazzo Chigi-Saracini; the cathedral of Santa Maria, built of white, red and green marble, as a major work of the Italian Gothic, the baptistery with polygonal baptismal font; Pinacoteca Nationale in the Palazzo Buonsignori; the Campo in July and August the venue for the Palio
Continent: Europe
Country: Italy, Tuscany
Location: Siena, south of Florence
Appointment: 1995
Meaning: for centuries a »guarded Gothic dream« and a masterpiece of medieval town planning that takes the surrounding landscape into account

Siena: history

12-14 Century Construction of the cathedral with baptistery
1240 Foundation of the university
1267 octagonal marble pulpit of the cathedral
1289-1309 Construction of the Palazzo Pubblico with the 102 m high Torre del Mangia
1359 Evidence of the Ufficiali dell’Ornata, a medieval building code
14./15. Century Construction of the Capella di Piazza
1469 Construction of the Palazzo Piccolomini
1555 Surrender after the siege by the Florentines
1559 Siena finally falls to the Duchy of Florence

A Gothic biotope made of red brick

“How can the wretched Sienese dare to go into the field against us?” A Florentine military commander was indignant in 1260 at the unexpected attack at Montaperti, which this time ended with a bitter defeat for Florence. A dream of independence and grandeur came true for Siena, which lasted until the mid-14th century, when four-fifths of the city’s residents fell victim to the plague.

The city soon experienced a renewed cultural and economic rise, albeit with varying degrees of success and under great social tension. But a successful nine-month siege shattered Siena’s ambitions. The city had to bow to its arch rival and was incorporated into the Duchy of Florence in the second half of the 16th century. According to dentistrymyth, the economic importance was gone; an excessive ambition was broken before it could cause great damage to urban development.

The magnificent cathedral with its much too large-looking dome and the facade, which does not need to hide from similar ones in Orvieto and Florence, was only to become the transept of a colossal building. A standing wall, which can be climbed as a lookout post, serves as a reminder to keep the right measure. And this is actually the first Tuscan virtue to this day.

Siena is a city of human proportions, a Gothic biotope made of red brick, rich and narrow, dignified and provincial, but never oppressive. And a world of its own that maintains its balance, but is also cosmopolitan – a small cosmos of promenades, churches and sites of lively culture. The fact that many curious strangers want and should admire the brittle world beauty brings the Sienese close to their inherited discreet pride.

The townspeople, who are self-sufficient and do not allow themselves to be disturbed by the omnipresent hustle and bustle, walk leisurely across the “Banchi di Sopra”, the short connection between the two centers of power, the town hall and the bank. One is the Palazzo Pubblico, in which Ambrogio Lorenzetti has painted on the wall in his huge fresco »The Effects of Good Government for Town and Country«, which is what people are trying to achieve here. The other center of power is embodied by the “Monte dei Paschi di Siena” bank, with its historic headquarters in Piazza Salimbeni, not only financial management, but also the hub for urban welfare and cultural promotion.

Just a Y: The natural shape of the city is simple. Where the three ridges meet, the town square emerged as a matter of course, the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo with the slender town hall tower, whose shadow moves like the pointer of a sundial over the impeccable facades of the surrounding palazzi. There is no building sin to be found there, as extremely precise building regulations have been in place since the 14th century.

Open-air living room, sun lounger for exhausted educated citizens, playground for pigeons – the »Campo« is good for everyone and everything, but not really for wild horse races. But twice a year, amid furious protests from animal rights activists, the most daring riders gallop along the edge of the “shell”. The famous “Palio”, for which the sensitive bricks on the floor of the square are covered with sand, is the highlights of the year on July 2nd and August 16th. It releases more emotions than elsewhere put together patronage festivals, carnivals and football championships.

The small Sienese world theater on the three Y-arms of the city plan is organized in 17 districts that compete at the Palio. These “contrades” keep their tradition and have the racehorses blessed in their churches. With magical incantations, victory is to be enforced and the mistrust overcome that one’s own rider could make agreements with the opponents – the mysterious, contradictory side of a city whose coat of arms is half white and half black.

Siena (World Heritage)