Historic Centre of Siena - History and Facts | History Hit

Historic Centre of Siena

Teet Ottin

25 Jan 2023
Image Credit: kavalenkava / Shutterstock.com

About Historic Centre of Siena

Famous for its beautifully preserved medieval city centre, Siena is one of the finest places to visit in Italy. Founded by the Romans before rising to become a major rival to Florence following the fall of the Empire, Siena was undoubtedly one of the most important cities in Europe. The historic centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

The history of Siena

Based on legend, the city was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus. Archaeological evidence shows that the site was the home of an Etruscan settlement, before the Roman colony of Sena Julia was established. Siena would prosper during the Lombard rule in the Early Middle Ages, becoming a new trading centre.

The city became a self governing entity by the 12th century, engaging in fierce rivalry with its neighbour Florence. Siena became an important banking centre in the following century, with the oldest continuously operating bank, the Monte dei Paschi bank, located in the city since 1472. The city was not only a financial centre, but also an educational centre too, with the University of Siena founded in the 12th century, making it one of the oldest ones in Europe.

The 14th century would see a period of decline for the Italian city, with plagues, economic downturn and wars destabilising Siena, though this did not stop the construction of new beautiful churches and palaces.

Over the next centuries the city would only play a minor role in geopolitics, becoming a part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

The Historic Centre of Siena today

The city is exceptionally well preserved, with most buildings originating during the later Medieval period, built in the then popular Gothic style. The fortified city wall and gates surrounding Siena are standing to this day.

Siena Cathedral, created between 1215 and 1263, is one of the most famous sites of the old town. Some of Italy’s finest artists worked on the structure, including Donatello, Bernini, Giovanni Pisano and Pinturicchio. The cathedral facade is incredibly ornate, considered by many to be one the most impressive in all of Italy.

The Piazza del Campo is the main square of the city, surrounded by some truly magnificent medieval buildings. The most striking is the Palazzo Pubblico with its tall Torre del Mangia. The palazzo was the seat of Siena’s government, with its adjacent bell tower being the second tallest in Italy.

Twice a year the old town becomes the site of the famous Palio di Siena, a horse race held on 2 July and 16 August each year. The race is preceded by the Corteo Storico, which is a historical costume parade.

Getting to the Historic Centre of Siena

The closest airport is Florence airport, which has good bus and train connections to Siena. From Florence, take the shuttle bus from the airport to the Santa Maria Novella station from where the trains to Siena leave.

The Siena train station is located at the bottom of a hill, outside of the historic centre. From the station, take the bus to Piazza del Sale/Viale Garibaldi or Viale Tozzi/Piazza Gramsci. The bus station in Florence can be found near the SMN train station, with two different buses departing to Siena – Rapida (the fast bus) and Ordinaria (ordinary or slower bus).