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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Italian Sights: Siena

Piazza del CampoImage by Eco . via Flickr
Author: Tatyana Kogut.

Siena reminds of a garden. Its a wonderful city standing on three scenic hills, with unforgettable views over the city suburbs opened up from their tops. You will like its narrow roadways, parks and ancient architecture. Thanks to this little city Italy got highly reputed for its wonderful medieval architecture. The centre of Siena is like a scenery erected specially for some historic movie. Unlike the other Italian cities, Siena has little Renaissance buildings. Most of its constructions follow strict gothic rules - this adds a dark charm to Siena’s image.

The whole city, with Piazza del Campo as its centre, is a piece of art, especially when we speak about its natural surroundings. In 13th and 14th centuries Siena was one of the most prosperous and significant European cities. Lots of beautiful buildings were erected in the 14th century, St. Catherine of Siena, Palazzo Pubblico and Campo among them. The Black Death of 1348 stroke a shattering blow at it – almost one fourth of its population died. Followed by political mess, the plaque was the beginning of the dramatic decline in Siena’s life. The city turned into a rural market centre, and it was only tourism that brought it back to prosperity and popularity. The decline is the reason why we see Siena unchanged – this is one of the few Tuscan cities filled with the spirit and atmosphere of the medieval times.

In the 13th century Siena was divided into three parts, and then into 17 more neighborhoods – contrades, which could be compared to small towns, each with its own flag and emblem. Inhabitants of these neigbourhoods compete at Palio di Siena – a medieval horse race which takes place July 2nd – August 16th. Ten of the seventeen contrades run in each Palio, the competition takes place at the Piazza del Campo and attracts lots of visitors. Winners are awarded with Palio - a painted flag bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In addition to historical and architectural attractions, Siena is known for painted ceramics and exquisite pastries, cooked by the medieval recipes. When crossing the territory between Piazza del Campo, Church of San Domenico and the Cathderal, you are likely to feel the smell of almond: that is how Riccarelli and Panforte, the famous pastries, smell.

Driving is restricted in many city areas, that is why it is a pleasure to walk around Siena even when it is crowded with tourists. One of the oldest European universities is also found here, which adds a youthful tint to Siena’s life. In addition to this, visitors can enjoy a great amount of cultural events: concerts, cinema and theatre performances and sports competitions. One day won’t be enough to observe the whole city – without any doubts, it deserves a longer stay.
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