Exploring Siena & Monteriggioni
Unraveling Tuscany's Rich Heritage and Charming Beauty
Siena is a city in Tuscany, Italy and it is the capital of the province of Siena. The historic centre of
Siena has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
It is one of Italy's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international
arrivals in 2008. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the
Palio, a horse race ("Palio di Siena") held twice a year. During our pre-trip research, we had read about this horse race and since the race would be held while we were in Florence, we knew that we had to schedule a day trip to Siena to see this famous race.
Siena is not easy to navigate in, if you do not have cellular service there, get yourself some paper maps and you will be glad that you did.
Click here to view the Siena Wikipedia Page for a more complete description of the Palio di Siena.
Day Trip to Siena from Florence
Once we were able to get clear of the Florence City traffic, we headed straight south on the Raccordo Autostradale Firenze for approximately 80 kilometers (from Porta Romano near our condo rental). Our primary concern was to get to Siena "early enough" to find a parking place, as we knew that there would be a very large crowd for the horse race.
Siena is a typical Italian city, where a new more modern city grew up and surrounded the older part of the city. Since the Palio di Siena horse race is held in the center plaza ('Piazza del Campo') of the older area of Siena, our challenge was to locate a parking place somewhere near enough to that area to allow us to walk to it.
Even though we had arrived early in the morning, people were already starting to gather. The actual arena is in the interior of the city, a very large court yard, circular in layout and they have stadium seating and standing-only areas marked off (all of which were long since reserved and expensive).
After we discussed what we should do, and pondered the fact that since the horse race was not going to take place until late afternoon, and we had no place to sit, and standing room only was already filling up even at that early hour of the day. So we came to the conclusion that we should not spend an entire day waiting and that we should head out for the east coast of Italy.
We decided to do a bit of exploring as we made our way back to our rental car.
Porta Camollìa is one of the northern portals in the medieval walls of Siena. It is located on via Camollia and opens inside the city into the Contrada of Istrice. It consists of three arches; the inner arch is surmounted by a circular marble bas-relief with the Roman Catholic IHS Christogram inside a sun symbol (San Bernardino Christogram). The outer facade has the Medici heraldic shield with a stone arch added in 1604 by Alessandro Casolani and decorated by Domenico Cafaggi. The inscription was placed to record the entry of Ferdinand I de' Medici into Siena, and states Cor magis tibi sena pandit (Siena shows a heart that is bigger than this gate). The two central figures hold the Medici coat of arms.
Siena Cathedral is a medieval church in Siena, Italy, dedicated from its earliest days as a Roman Catholic Marian church, and now dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. It was the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Siena, and from the 15th century that of the Archdiocese of Siena. It is now the seat of the Archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d'Elsa-Montalcino.
The circular walls of the castle, totalling a length of about 570 metres and following the natural contours of the hill, were built between 1213 and 1219. There are 14 towers on square bases set at equidistance, and two portals or gates. One gate, the Porta Fiorentina opens toward Florence to the north, and the other, the Porta Romana, faces Rome to the south. The main street within the walls connects the two gates in a roughly straight line.
As we drove north on the autostradale Firenze (Florence Freeway), we spotted the sign for the Museo Delle Armature in Monteriggioni - which not only looked like an interesting place to visit, it also had a place to get coffee & snacks and restrooms!
The museum houses faithful reproductions of medieval and Renaissance weapons and armor. Accurate models, moreover, illustrate siege means and techniques in vogue in the same periods. Each room of the museum is dedicated to a specific moment in the history of Monteriggioni, in which the exhibited pieces are contextualized.
The kids had a great time investigating various displays in the museum, because the Museum allows handling and wearing some weapons and parts of armor, located in special areas . Some explanatory panels and an easy multilingual audio guide accompany the visitor on this short but intense immersion in history.
The really interesting thing about this museum and their collection of armor, was that we were allowed to try various pieces on, and to interact with all of the displays. Very cool, and something that you just do not see in an American Museum.
The Castello was built by the people of Siena at the beginning of the 13th century, to watch over the valleys extending towards their rival town, Florence, in 1554 the Monteriggioni Castle was conquered by the Florentine Medici family. After so many wars, the castle changed hands not after a battle, but because of treason by a false ally, Bernardino Zeti.
The entire castle structure and surrounding buildings looked as though they had been there for a seriously long time and looked every bit the part of a castle or fortified structure. Fortunately for us, it also had an espresso bar and a cold drinks machine.
Our next stop on the way to Livorno, would be Castel San Gimignano. Astute map reading and investigative use of our Italy guidebook led us to this decision.
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