When I think about Italy, in my mind I always see a truly magical country. Every region has its own, unique character and Tuscany is one of them, often considered as the most beautiful. There is an element of truth in this commonly shared opinion – in the summer, Tuscany smells with the compelling aroma of thousands of cypress trees and fresh olive oil.
Siena – formerly modest, Etruscan settlement, which evolved during many ages into one of the richest European cities – is located in the middle of the country shaped by gentle hills, under the sky which is nearly always blue and clear. In XIIIth and XIVth century, the city became a home for modern capitalism, and bankers of Siena were granting loans for nearly half of European courts. This fascinating city also gave birth to many of the greatest art pieces of renaissance, rivaling with the Florence (this rivalry finally has a tragic result – war in which Florence conquered Siena).
One of the greatest examples of the rivalry between Florence and Siena is the cathedral church – Duomo di Siena - which originally was designed and built between 1215 and 1263 on the site of earlier structure. The architecture of the cathedral is majority in gothic style, except of spectacular dome and lantern – this last one was designed by the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Whole church is built with use of black and white (these colours are symbols of Siena, also used in the city’s coat of arms) marble in alternate stripes.
Well, to be honest – when I realized how beautiful the interior of the cathedral is, suddenly, I understood completely the reasons of the siege of the city. Siena wasn’t as proud as Florence is, that’s for sure – and, what’s more important, Siena had marble. The one and only way for Florence to end the fear of Siena’s cultural domination was to conquer the city and loot its marble (the cathedral church in Florence is built in majority with pillaged stone).
One of the most known traditions of Siena is Palio, natively called Palio di Siena or il Palio with medieval origins. A horse race is held two times in a year, raiders are representing ten of seventeen contrade (districts of Siena), dressed in matching colours with heraldic signs. The Palio held on 2nd of July is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, who has a church in Siena. The Palio held on 16th of August is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.
If you visit Italy, you have to put Siena on your list of places worth seeing. One blog post is too small space to tell about every single beautiful thing which can be found in this city, from its culinary traditions, history, habits, art pieces and architecture pearls for the beauty of simple life and enjoying the great evenings during the summer. It would be great too if you decide to visit both cities, which still rival each other – Florence and Siena – you will have then a unique possibility to compare two of the most unique achievements of Italian culture of renaissance age.