Fun things to do in Siena

  • Palazzo Sansedoni, May 2009
    Palazzo Sansedoni, May 2009
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    Duomo facade
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    Piazza del Campo

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    If you want to see one of the most impressive piazza's in Italy, then head to Siena's Piazza del Campo. This shell-shaped square is the heart of the city - its unusual shape and sloping sides make it a very intriguing place, surrounded by grand buildings and tourist-filled cafes.

    The square was constructed in the 1340's, and in medieval times was the location for all civic events - from bullfights to horse racing to executions.

    On the upper side of the piazza there is the rectangular Fonte Gaia - the Fountain of Joy - which gurgled its first waters in 1346. The fountain surrounds & carvings that you see today are 19th century replicas of the originals that have been severely weathered (and are now displayed in the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala.

    The main building on the square is the Palazzo Pubblico, which is the seat of the Sienese Government, and home to the Museo Civico. Next to this is the stunning, 102 metre high Torre del Mangia.

    The square is still home to civic events, such as the twice annual Palio horse race, which dates back to 1310, and various other parades which see the Sienese don traditional dress and fill the square with music and colour.

    Piazza del Campo with Palazzo shadow Fonte Gaia Palazzo Pubblico View over Piazza (Sep 2002) Piazza del Campo (Sep 2002)
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    Torre del Mangia

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    My favourite thing in Piazza del Campo is the Torre del Mangia. Connected to the Palazzo Pubblico, this 102 metre high tower is stunning!

    The tower was built in 1334, and there are 400 steps from bottom to top. I would highly recommend a climb to the top - the views over the piazza and the town are fabulous, and this was certainly one of the highlights of my first visit to Siena.

    Once at the top you can climb up a little further so you are standing right under the big bell....not recommended if it is chiming time!!

    Entry to the tower is from inside the Palazzo Pubblico (just to the left of the main door), however you need to purchase your ticket first from the ticket office on the 1st floor.

    Only 30 people are allowed to climb the tower at a time, so if you are there at a busy time of year it may be worth seeing if you can book your tower climb time so you don't miss out if your time is limited, or you may have to queue for a while. The tower is closed when it is raining for safety reasons.

    In Sep 2006 it cost 6 euro to climb the tower, or 10 euro if you bought a combined tower/Museo Civico ticket.

    Torre del Mangia me checking out the bell (Sep 2002) view from part way up the tower (Sep 2002) Torre del Mangia & Palazzo Pubblico View from the top (Sep 2002)
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    Palazzo Pubblico and Museo Civico

    by sue_stone Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Located on the lower side of Piazza del Campo is the Palazzo Pubblico (aka Palazzo Comunale or Town Hall). This monumental gothic building was constructed in the late 13th century, as the seat of the Sienese government.

    These days it is still home to the cities authorities, and also contains the Museo Civico. The museum consists of a very impressive and colourful series of frescoes depicting medieval life. The painting are spread through a series of rooms and grand halls.

    Entry into the ground floor courtyard of the Palazzo Pubblico is free. Entry to the museum is around 6 euro, or you can buy a combined ticket for the museum and the Torre del Mangia for 10 euro (Sep 2006). There are also other combined tickets available including admittance to other nearby attractions (more information available from the museum ticket office or the below website).

    Palazzo Pubblico Palazzo Pubblico inner courtyard Palazzo Pubblico
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    Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    Located close to the Cathedral, and actually housed in its abandoned right nave is the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (aka Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana). This museum is home to much of the Duomo's art collection.

    Here you can see the original sculptures from the façade, along with some manuscripts and a rich collection of tapestries. The most famous exhibit is the Maesta, which is a double-sided work of art which was painted on wood for the Cathedral's high altar, back in 1344, and which took 3 years to complete.

    Your admission also entitles you to check out the Panorama del Facciatone. Follow the signs to the narrow spiral staircase which winds its way up 131 steps to the top of the old abandoned Cathedral façade. It is not too far to climb and well worth it as the views are excellent.

    Admission was 6 euro in Sep 2006.

    Panorama del Facciatone Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
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    Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    The Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala was once the city's hospital, and was one of the first in Europe. It was actually still actively treating patients until the 1980's.

    Located just across the square from the Duomo, these days the building has been turned into a museum complex. When you enter the building, have a look on the left hand side at the lovely little Chiesa della Santissima Annuziata, which dates back to the 13th century.

    The old hospital is filled with frescoes which tells stories of hospital life centuries ago. You can also see the original fountain from Piazza del Campo - the Fonte Gaia (the one you see in the square today is a replica).

    At the very bottom of the building is the Museo Archeologico, which is filled with artefacts that were found during various excavations around Siena over the years.

    You can pop into the lobby area and visit the church free of charge. Admission to the museums is 6 euro or 5.50 euro if you pre-book (Nov 2006).

    Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala Chiesa della Santissima Annuziata
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    Basilica di San Domenico

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    The Basilica di San Domenico is a large 13th century church which sits on the edge of the valley, on the opposite side to the Duomo. This enormous brick church isn't the most attractive looking, but it is still impressive due to its size.

    The interior is barn like - a large hall, fairly plainly decorated and seemingly pretty empty. The main attraction inside is the Capella di Santa Caterina, dedicated to St Catherine, who apparently preformed some of her miracles here. You can see frescoes depicting her life and more interestingly you can also see her preserved head in a glass case!

    Free admission.

    Basilica di San Domenico Inside Basilica di San Domenico Basilica di San Domenico over the valley
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    Santuario e Casa di Santa Caterina

    by sue_stone Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The Santuario e Casa di Santa Caterina is the home of St Catherine, which was turned into a sanctuary in the 15th century.

    This is the place where Catherine lived with her parents and some say 24 siblings (poor mother!!). When her parents tried to marry her off in her teens she ran off and joined the Dominican order, and ended up living like a hermit for 3 years in her own home. She lived in a cell-like room with a stone pillow, and used to whip herself. The she received her stigmata and began working on (successfully) convincing the Pope to return to Rome (from Avignon), and working towards peace across Italy.

    At the sanctuary you can see the Oratorio del Crocifisso, in front of which St Catherine was said to have received the stigmata. You can also see the old kitchen (transformed into an oratory), and even visit her old cell which is now covered with frescoes depicting important events in her life. There is also a little church with some colourful frescoes.

    Admission is free.

    Santuario e Casa di Santa Caterina Little church Santuario e Casa di Santa Caterina
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    Palazzo Salimbeni

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    Located on the small Piazza Salimbeni is the Gothic Palazzo Salimbeni. This impressive building is home to the headquarters of the Sienese bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which was founded in 1472, and is quite possibly the oldest bank in the world.

    The bank originally started out charging shepherds to graze their sheep on nearby pastures, and the money was then used to make loans. Today most Sienese still bank here.

    The bank has a fine collection of paintings and other works of art which are viewable by appointment only. The bank also sponsors events in the city and donates money towards building restoration in Siena.

    Palazzo Salimbeni Palazzo Salimbeni Palazzo Salimbeni
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    Piazza Tolomei

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    Another of Siena's lovely piazza's is Piazza Tolomei. It is dominated by the 13th century Palazzo Tolomei, which was once the residence of the noble Tolomei family.

    Also in the piazza is the Church of San Cristoforo. Originally Romanesque, it was completely remodelled in the 18th century after being damaged by an earthquake. The church has an impressive wooden crucifix and a marble-sculptured high altar.

    My favourite thing in the square is the tall statue/column which is topped with the famous Sienese she-wolf suckling human twins, which dates back to 1610.

    Sienese she-wolf Palazzo Tolomei Church of San Cristoforo Church of San Cristoforo
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    Basilica di San Francesco

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    The Basilica di San Francesco is a late Gothic church which was constructed in the 14th & 15th centuries. Located on Piazza San Francesco, it has had a troubled past - it was badly damaged by fire in the mid-17th century. It was then used as an army barracks for a number of years, before being reconstructed on the last 19th century.

    The tall façade hides an equally lofty interior, consisting of a vast single nave. Inside it is pretty dark, with striped marble walls and not that much decoration apart from a few frescoes and some nice stained glass windows.

    Located next door to the church is the Oratorio di San Bernardino, which houses a small museum of religious art and also some stunning frescoes.

    Admission is free to the church.

    Basilica di San Francesco Basilica di San Francesco Basilica di San Francesco
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    Basilica di Santa Maria in Provenzano

    by sue_stone Written Nov 7, 2006

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    We were wandering a little off the beaten path and came across a nice little piazza which was home to the lovely looking Basilica di Santa Maria in Provenzano.

    This white marble church looked stunning against the bright blue sky when we came across it, and we couldn't resist popping inside to have a look. It was nice and bright inside, with a small dome and some amazing frescoes which looked like there were in 3D, leaping off the wall.

    I have later learnt that the church was built in 1595 to house a pottery image of the Madonna, which was said to have been responsible for some miracles in 1594.

    Piazza Provenzano is also important as it is where the winning jockeys ride to after completing the Palio horse race, which is held twice yearly in Piazza del Campo.

    Basilica di Santa Maria in Provenzano Basilica di Santa Maria in Provenzano Basilica di Santa Maria in Provenzano Building in Piazza Provenzano
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    Beautiful stained glass: San Francesco

    by Trekki Updated Dec 10, 2010

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    From the outside, chiesa San Francesco looks like so many gothic churches I have seen in for example Venezia: red bricks and rather plain. Inside it is also more on the plain side, with one single nave and no benches in the main part. This makes the church appearing bigger than it actually is. I didn’t specifically looked at the frescoes because I was so fascinated by the stained glass windows with scenes of life of San Francesco. They are set in pairs (doubles) and the scenes are covering both windows each. Interesting concept. Have a look through the little door on the northern side in the big nave (to the left with entrance door in the back): that’s the garden of the monks who live here.

    Admission is free. I don’t remember the exact opening hours, but I think it is open from approx. 9:00 – 12:00 and from 15:15 (or 15:30) – 19:00. Definitely closed during the typical long Italian lunchtime.

    Directions:
    At the end of Via dei Rossi (in the north-eastern part of Siena).

    Chiesa San Francesco on Google Maps.

    Siena, San Francesco window Siena, San Francesco window Siena, San Francesco
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    Contrada della Selva

    by belgianchocolate Written Mar 27, 2004

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    The neighbours of the 'contrada Della Pantera' is the 'contrada della Selva'

    Or the 'neighbourhood of the wood'.
    Their shield shows a rhinoceros with an oak and a deep gold sun.
    As far as I know something about animals it surprized me it was an Indian rinoceros.

    We walked up to the ' Piazetta della Selva' by the 'Via di fosso Di San Ansana' were you can see how they were able to build on these steep hills. Amazing thick brick walls.

    The piazetta is rather picturesque and the headquarters of the 'contrada' and their nice church are here. They own them since 1818.

    If you want to see how the city is divided into contrada have a look here.

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    Time for some drinks...

    by belgianchocolate Updated Mar 28, 2004

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    I must admit we lost completely track of time and din't had anything since breakfast.
    We just kept on walking. We walked down the 'via franciosa' where we saw this terrace with a great vieuw.
    I must admit we got a bit lost and disorientated here. I took us quit some time to figure out wich building we were looking at.....

    Well the drinks were quit expensive. I forgot you get this tiny weeny coffee if you ask one that is way too strong for my Belgian tongue.Seems like we had to pay for the vieuw also , as if they build it themselve.
    Who cares , it is nice to sit down sometimes (for just a moment , we couldn't helped feeling we were waisting time). It's better to get broke than get dehydrated. hihi.

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    Hospital history: Santa Maria della Scala

    by Trekki Updated Aug 12, 2013

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    Besides the exhibits and frescoes inside Palazzo Pubblico, the old hospital was my most favourite museum in Siena. Like Palazzo Pubblico it is more of a “suggestive” museum than one crammed with exhibits. Many of the old and newer frescoes have been restored and more work is in progress. Although today only a portion of it is open to the public, the whole complex is huge. I didn’t realise this before I looked up the website and saw the aerial intro photo and drawing. And only during my visit I actually learned that it was one of the first hospitals in Europe, founded approximately 9th century and in operation until end of last century. Some old signs still demonstrate this, like a marble sign “Clinica Oculista” (eye clinic). When it was founded it was a place for pilgrims (the duomo is just across the street), for the poor and for abandoned children. Pilgrims, because Siena is along the route of Via Francigena. And taking care of abandoned children and poor people because this was what hospitals once had been, when the rich had their private doctors anyhow. A lot of signs of these past time tasks are visible today, especially in the Sala del Pellegrinaio (hall of the pilgrims). This huge hall has frescoes which show the history of this hospital, from the early dream to the daily work, such as healing ill people, giving out food and taking care of abandoned children. Old photographs make visible how this room was used as a hospital room with approx. 50 beds. I also liked the Sagrestia Vecchia (old sacristy) of with religious frescoes of 1444. I think it was because a lot of the paintings are gone, many only half restored. This gives room to imagination and lets one appreciate the artists of the past. Yes, maybe this is indeed what I feel in rooms like that: art is not restored to the fullest but like footprints of the artists. But the most striking part of the old hospital for me was the Oratorio di Santa Caterina della Notte one floor below, a small complex with chapel and additional small rooms. These rooms have a very special atmosphere. Already in the small aisle just in front of the chapel is a skull and gave me the impression of an old pathology. Inside, the chapel seems to have been restored in a way that you would believe the monks are just out for a lunch break and will be back soon. Rosaries and wooden belts hang on the wall, a candelabra stands somewhere with almost burnt down candles, prayer books lie on the benches.

    I found the old hospital fascinating. Especially since while walking through it I realised that ignorant me didn’t gave a thought about what hospitals originally meant and how they have developed from the past idea and what our forefathers already knew about medicine and healing, long before they evolved as gods in white. Take time to walk through the rooms. And look. Many things of the old hospital are still there, like the already mentioned sign of the eye clinic or like old door handles with the symbol of this hospital (photo 2, the symbol, not the door handle). Oh, and I should say that the huge window of the former entrance hall give a good opportunity to take reflection photos of the duomo (see photo 4).

    Not being a native English speaker, I only realised now (writing about the old hospital and the impressions it left on me), that the English term "hospitality" seems to derive from the old idea of a hospital offering a place to stay and food for the ones who come for a visit. These days pilgrims, today guests.

    Thank you, dear Francesca (one of my teachers) to inspire me to visit this old hospital! I am so glad I did.

    Opening hours:
    October 16 – March 16: daily, 10:30 – 16:30,
    March 17 – October 15: daily, 10:30 – 18:30.

    Admission fee:
    6 Euro (as of November 2010). Free entrance for children under 11, for inhabitants of Siena and for disabled people.

    Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala on Google Maps.

    © Ingrid D., December 2010 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)

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