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Guided visits in Siena and its province PDF Print E-mail

Here follows the list of a few guided visits which should not be missed:

Visiting Palazzo Pubblico, which is the largest gothic building in Italy, is like attending a Civics class, although you are simply walking through Sala del Risorgimento, Sala del Concistoro with Domenico Beccafumi’s pure and transparent colours, Anticappella with Taddeo di Bartolo’s frescoes, Sala del Mappamondo with Simone Martini’s paintings and Sala della Pace with Allegoria del Buono e del Cattivo Governo painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between 1338 and 1340. Actually, you feel that you are being guided by the people looking at you from the walls and reminding you of civic and political virtues, of respect for the weak, of good government which can only be inspired by the theological and cardinal virtues and based on justice and concord which guarantee safety.

All those masterpieces were commissioned by a politically determined and culture conscious ruling class: the palace was built between 1296 and 1310, or it was perhaps finished by 1305, because they thought that as the official representatives of the Republic of Siena they were entitled to reside in a public palace rather than in a building owned by the Church or by any nobleman as it had happened in the past. Their ideas were most clear since the beginning: in 1297 they forbade wooden balconies and roofs on the buildings facing the main square; instead, they imposed stone or marble mullioned windows, just like the ones projected for Palazzo Pubblico … to put it differently, they decided that all the buildings bordering the public square should have the same architectural dignity. This is just unique in the history of Italian Communes!

Piazza del Campo was ready by 1352: there were the Palazzo Pubblico, Torre del Mangia, the Piazza Chapel, a fountain, although different from Jacopo della Quercia’s, and it had already been paved too.

Also Santa Maria della Scala gives a great contribution to the civic identity of Siena: it was founded in 898 as the first hospital in Europe and was probably one of the most beautiful 15th c. hospitals considering that the walls of its wards were frescoed by the best Sienese painters of the time.

Finally, from macro to micro: I suggest visiting Museo delle Biccherne which well expresses the civic passion and art consciousness of Siena ruling classes. You will find more than one hundred wooden covers of the medieval financial books of the Republic (Biccherna was the name of the Sienese financial institution from 12th c. on). They are often small masterpieces made by artists such as Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Giovanni di Paolo, Lorenzo di Pietro, Benvenuto di Giovanni, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Domenico Beccafumi, Francesco Vanni.

Siena is crowded with saints! You find them everywhere: Saint Bernard Tolomei looks at you from the façade of Saint Cristopher’s and so do Saint Ansano, Savino and Vittore, its patron saints, from Loggia della Mercanzia. Pity Saint Crescenzio is no longer with them: he is the fourth patron saint who, according to a legend, happened to lean forward too much in order to see a precession .. therefore he tumbled off his pedestal and broke into small pieces!

In Siena the Blessed are a good number too but, apart from the direct and very special relationship the Sienese people feel they have with the Madonna, the most important saints in Siena are Saint Catherine and Saint Bernardino, although they are no patron saints.

A lot is left of what was related to Saint Catherine: her sacred relics (her head and right thumb) in St Dominic’s together with the place (Cappella delle Volte) in which her miracles took place and where you can find her portrait too; her house and the painted Cross in front of which she received her stigmata, and Fontebranda where she used to fetch the water. In Siena you can go the same way she used to in order to get to the hospital: Via della Galluzza, Via di Diacceto, Piazza San Giovanni and up the staircase leading to the Duomo, where once the Devil attacked her so that she fell on the steps and broke her teeth. Finally, Oratorio di Santa Caterina della Notte inside Santa Maria della Scala where she used to sleep on a stone after taking care of the ill.

Saint Bernardino was a humble Minore Osservante friar who refused three times to be appointed bishop, who died in 1444 and was canonized six years later. He was a tremendous preacher: in Siena there is the street where he preached his first sermon while standing on a stone (Via del Sasso di San Bernardino) and also a plate on the pavement just in front of Palazzo Pubblico, where a pulpit was placed to let him preach in 1427, as shown in Sano di Pietro’s painting at Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Another of his paintings shows him preaching in front of Saint Francis’: this is an important church both for its masterpieces and the 223 Sacred Hosts which, after being consecrated on 14th August 1730, were stolen and later found out; since they are still the same from a physical and chemical point of view, they are Siena permanent Eucharistic miracle.

Beside the church there is the Diocesan Museum with Oratorio di San Bernardino, a chapel decorated by the most famous 16th c. Sienese painters; you should not ignore the rest of the museum because there are beautiful works of art, such as Madonna del Latte by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

While walking back to Piazza del Campo you can stop at Collegiata di Santa Maria in Provenzano which was built after the miracles attributed to its sacred image from 2nd July 1594 on. The Palio run on that date is dedicated to that Madonna: the Palio, which is also the name of the precious painted cloth the Contrade run for, is left in this church for some time before the race and afterwards taken back into it for the thanksgiving. Saint Bernardino’s symbol (JHS – Jesus hominum salvator – inside a 12 rayed sun) is everywhere in Siena: you can find it on the door lintel of many houses which it was supposed to protect and also on the façade of Palazzo Pubblico where it was put in 1425 for the same reason.


In Siena civic dignity has always been linked to a deep, religious feeling.

The Duomo is a perfect synthesis of civic, religious and artistic values although the first ones perhaps prevail over the others as the Duomo was meant to become the symbol of the town: it was widened more than once, even trying to make it the transept of a far larger church of which you can have an idea if you stand in the middle of Piazza Jacopo della Quercia or if you reach the top of Facciatone from which you can have an impressive view of Siena.

The nave and the isles were finished by 1215; in the 1260’s the dome and Nicola Pisano’s pulpit were made and afterwards Giovanni Pisano was busy on the façade while Duccio di Buoninsegna was working on his beautiful stained glass window. In the Duomo there are many masterpieces such as the works of a good number of the best Italian sculptors (Antonio Federighi, Michelangelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Donatello, Tino di Camaino, Lorenzo di Pietro), or the inlaid stalls by Fra’ Giovanni da Verona and, last but not least, Pinturicchio’s refined and vibrant frescoes in Biblioteca Piccolomini.

Anyway, what I find most special inside the Duomo, is the incredible “carpet” which Sienese artists made between 1396 and 1547. After giving up the attempt to build a giant church, Siena focused a new special target in order to show the qualities and power of the Sienese Republic: the floor of the Duomo is formed by 56 scenes made of tarsias, scratched marbles and mosaics, showing stories of both Testaments in the effort to help the believer reach the main altar while reflecting on religious and philosophical themes. It is just unique!

So is the Crypt under the Duomo, which was discovered in the early 2000 and shows frescoes dating back to 1280’s. Visiting it is like entering an ancient tomb for the first time: its colours are so bright! And under the Crypt … the Baptistery with a font which was made by the best 15th c. Italian sculptors: Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and Donatello.

Once out in Piazza San Giovanni you may feel that you are just in front of
a “pyramid” of unique masterpieces!

You can also find a lot of culture at Pienza, formerly called Corsignano, where the Piccolomini family had large properties. Enea Silvio Piccolomini was born there in 1405 and, after a successful diplomatic career, he became a priest who was very soon appointed bishop, later cardinal and finally Pope as Pious II in 1458. He was a humanist and a writer who has left us his autobiography, I Commentarii, with a lot of information about the restoration works which were carried out in his native town in order to make the first Italian Renaissance square with the help of a famous architect: Bernardo Gambarelli, nicknamed il Rossellino.

Piazza Pio II is just magic: if you look at the cathedral you may have the feeling that it is proceeding towards you; if you turn against it, the square seems even larger with its perfect perspective. The Piccolomini Palace and all the other buildings around it give their contribution to its perfect balance and harmony which are also the qualities of the spacious cathedral where the gold of the five altar-pieces glitters in the sunset light.

At Pienza you can visit the palace built by Rossellino whom the Pope asked to make it “interact” with the landscape: in fact, at the back there are three loggias and the hanging garden, one of the first examples of this kind in Europe.

Also the Diocesan Museum has a lot to do with Pious II: apart from the precious liturgical objects he left to the Cathedral, there is his beautifully embroidered 14th c. cope which was made in England. Moreover, there are refined gilded silver works, wooden statues and paintings by 14th and 15th c. most famous Sienese artists; among them there is what I consider Pietro Lorenzetti’s best Madonna col Bambino: the Holy Child looks as if clinging to a real mother who seems to be his only horizon. You should not miss the semi-detached houses which the Pope wanted for the people who had lost their old ones around the square because of the restoration work.

I suggest the morning walk which famous poet Mario Luzi used to go for starting from the public gardens, because the view is far wider and more beautiful than you may expect. Alternatively, you could walk down as far as Pieve di Corsignano which is full of mysterious and primitive sculptures, crawling snakes included. Finally, on a sunny summer evening I suggest walking through the alley overlooking Val d’Orcia, next to Via dell’Amore, del Bacio and del Buio …

Bacchus is particularly tempting in Montepulciano where you feel like “entering the bowels of the earth” whenever you see the sign of a Vino Nobile vault: it is too interesting, amusing and … tasty! Therefore, it is not by chance that Montepulciano main event is the Bravìo delle Botti: on the last Sunday in August the players of the eight “contrade” make an 80 kg cask roll up the hill for 1,800 m.! It was originally played on horseback but it was abolished in 17th c. for reasons of public order. On the day of the event Montepulciano is busy from early in the morning till late at night when the contrada which has won the bravium, a precious cloth showing Saint John the Baptist, is celebrated with the necessary quantity of Vino Nobile!

Montepulciano, which is of Etruscan origins, has always taken advantage of its location in fertile Valdichiana and this was the reason why it was continuously contested by Siena and Florence till when the latter prevailed in 1511. It is a town showing culture and ancient richness: antiquarian Pietro Bucelli’s palace is decorated with Etruscan tombstones, monumental Palazzo Cervini belonged to Pope Marcello II, Palazzo Contucci was started by Antonio da Sangallo il Vecchio and Palazzo Avignonesi was finished by architect Vignola. Humanist poet Angelo Ambrogini, nicknamed il Poliziano, was born there and so was cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, a Doctor of the Church.

Great sculptors have left beautiful works of art: Michelozzo and Donatello in Saint Augustine’s, Michelozzo in the Cathedral too while Antonio da Sangallo il Vecchio built snow-white San Biagio which is one of the most beautiful Renaissance churches in Italy.

If you visit the Museo Civico you will discover rare Etruscan objects, shining Della Robbia glazed terracottas and Pinacoteca Crociani, a most interesting picture gallery.

Their landscapes are different and so are the monuments and the colour of the earth, but they all have an important detail in common: they will always offer you something unexpected!

You will go to Valdichiana and will find Cetona, Monticchiello, Castel Muzio and Petroio. You will go to the Crete to see Asciano and will also find San Giovanni d’Asso and Bosco della Ragnaia. You will go to Val di Merse and, apart from Murlo and San Galgano, you will find Montesiepi too. You will go to Chianti and, together with Radda, Greve, Castellina and Brolio, you will find Badia a Coltibuono and San Gusmè. You will go to Val d’Orcia to see San Quirico and will also find Rocca d’Orcia and Vivo d’Orcia. You will go to Val d’Elsa to visit San Gimignano and will find Colle Val d’Elsa and Casole d’Elsa as well. You will reach the top of Mount Amiata to enjoy a most wide view and will find out that you can also visit the old mine galleries …

enjoyable surprises are always at hand in the Sienese land!

Just let me know what your interests are and I will tailor your tour to them by enriching it also with unexpected, lovely gems which most tourists ignore!