Siena

Deep in the Tuscan hills of northern Italy, the town of Siena is one of the more splendid jewels that studs that beautiful region, and is the perfect place to take ones holidays. As with all Tuscan towns, Siena was founded by the Etruscans around 400BC; was taken over by the Romans a couple of centuries later; and prosepered phenomenally during the 12th-century. It was during this period that the beautiful Duomo was completed, along with the unique Piazza del Campo – the infamous square which is surely the highlight of the city.

Fanning out in the centre of town, the Piazza del Campo is one of the largest and best preserved municipal piazzas in Europe, and has been the hub of social and economic life in the town ever since its construction. Shaped like a huge shell, it is the venue for one of the oldest and most thrilling sporting events: The Palio. A horse-race around the Piazza that dates back to Mediaeval times, The Palio is run by a contender from each of seventeen ‘contrade’ – the traditional battalions of the city. Vast throngs of spectators line the track on the two days of the race, July 2 and August 16, as the horses and jockeys career around the perimeter of the piazza at breakneck speed. It’s a notoriously dangerous pursuit however, with both horses and riders facing an only too real mortal peril. Even the gathered audience – thousands of people from around the world – are at some risk due to the numbers and the relatively small space.

The cathedral is another worthy sight in Siena, and it is one of the great examples of Romanesque architecture. Inside, many great Siennese artworks are displayed, including Donatello’s bas-reliefs on the beautiful baptismal font. More art is housed in the Palazzo del Pubblico, situated in the Piazza del Campo. Getting to Siena is easy, as it is equidistant from both the Florentine and Pisan airports. s

Siena is a relatively quiet town, providing some welcome respite from the bustle of Florence; but is busy and noisy enough to rise above the scattered towns throughout Tuscany. Travelzoo is a good site to check for bargain holidays throughout the region, and those late holidays where you just want to escape the rat-race are readily available from On The Beach. Siena is a marvellous town, with its own incredibly unique cultural identity – a pride that is solely its own, maintained over the centuries through remarkable tradition, preservation and joy.