Nestled amongst the rolling hills of beautiful Tuscany is the glorious but mysterious Siena. More under-the-radar than Florence – yet still offering a spectacular travel experience – historic Siena is so perfectly preserved it transports you immediately back to the intriguing gothic medieval period. Throw in some superb restaurants, bustling squares, cathedrals adorned with exquisite art and a labyrinth of cobbled backstreets and you have yourself a gorgeous and authentic Tuscan experience. Our guest blogger Eppie Shepherd from Eppie.me.uk writes about her day trip to this wonderful Italian city…
In the heart of central Tuscany is the small distinguished city of Siena, a museum of medieval architecture and monuments. Despite its intimate size, the city’s dramatic posture and historical spectacles rival its grand Renaissance neighbours. After spending time in the beautiful city of Florence, I caught a bus to Siena to explore its vibrant streets before making my way up to Northern Italy.
As I took my first steps into the city, the contrast of the toffee coloured brickwork compared to the surrounding capital’s elaborate, detailed structures was pleasantly refreshing. This was the Tuscany I had dreamed of.
The city’s most prominent sight has to be the Piazza del Campo, a central medieval square that is home to one of Italy’s most dramatic events. ‘Il Campo’, as the Sienese call it, is the scene of the Palio horse race, a bi-annual festival that has seen ten of the city’s seventeen districts compete since the 1600s. The event is a serious affair about pride and identity,with even those bound by marriage separating for a few days before should they belong to different districts.
As I walked among the square, it was hard to imagine that a place so peaceful, filled with picnicking families and couples sipping on an Aperol Spritz, could host such a theatrical event.
Around every corner, shadowed narrow paths led to courtyards and churches whilst the scent of cured meat and strong cheese escaped from every other doorway. Stopping in one of the many family run shops, I pointed at the strips of pink ham and a freshly baked ciabatta behind the counter, miming my joy at their delightful range of local delicacies.
Siena is also home to one of Italy’s most beautiful cathedrals, and in my opinion, the most astonishing. The grand Duomo is an awe-inspiring structure, made up of striking sculptures, a striped bell tower and fascinating interiors. The cathedral’s facade is unquestionably stunning – a true masterpiece of red, white and green marble.
Since its beginning in 1215, the Duomo di Siena has collected works from an impressive collection of Italian artists including Michelangelo, Donatello and Pinturicchio. Once you are able to pull yourself away from the overwhelming exterior, the sight inside will continue to amaze. Stripes continue along the walls and towering pillars whilst an intricate floor displays biblical scenes across a huge number of panels. Perhaps the most beautiful is the star painted vault ceiling. Gazing up at the blue sky inside the cathedral, I couldn’t help but feel quite emotional.
A corridor to the left takes you into an intricately decorated space. The Libreria Piccolomini is an overwhelmingly grand treasure, painted floor to ceiling with coloured frescoes outlined in shimmering gold. Once a great library, the intimate hall now holds the Tre Grazie, a Roman marble copy of an original Greek statue.
To appreciate the Duomo from a distance, you must wander up one of the Siena’s steep hills where the marble exterior contrasts with the rest of the city’s deep sandy streets.
Strolling up the vertical streets, there are many delightful historic churches to discover. You could truly spend a day in Siena just exploring the tall, narrow paths that contain so much local produce and culture. I would love to go back to Siena, to venture further into the cobbled labyrinth and once more get a taste of traditional Tuscany.
All words and images by Eppie Shepherd. Eppie runs a London lifestyle and travel blog called Eppie.me.uk. She’s also a casual artist and video editor with a love for travel writing. Find her on Twitter @EppieShepherd