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Siena - with about 60,000 inhabitants, is not only one of the most fascinating towns in Tuscany but is also in a particularly beautiful position, with lovely environs.
The town is the capital of the Tuscan province of the same name.
It is a very hilly province, as you can see from the photographs below, and it is not surprising that most residents of the area work in the fields of agriculture, silk culture, and vineyards.
About 250,000 people live in the Province of Siena which is divided into seven historical areas.
It preserves its medieval character to a remarkable degree, and has been largely unspoilt by new buildings. Its beautiful Gothic buildings include the Cathedral and Palazzo Pubblico, as well as numerous churches.
The delightful Sienese school of paint ing produced, in the First half of the 14C, masterpieces by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, and Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, all of whose work is well represented in the Pinacoteca, Palazzo Pubblico, and Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
Siena is probably Italy's loveliest medieval city, and a trip worth making even if you are in Florence and Tuscany for just a few days. Siena's heart is its central piazza known as Il Campo and world-reknown for its famous Palio, a festival and horse race that takes place on the piazza itself two times each summer.
The Piazza del Campo is one of the most remarkable squares in Italy. The seventeen Contrade or wards into which the town is divided still manage to play an active part in the life of the city, culminating in the famous Palio horserace which has survived as perhaps the most spectacular annual festival in Italy, in which the whole city participates.
The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and indeed it is not unusual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys.
The Campo is dominated by the red Palazzo Pubblico and its tower, Torre del Mangia. Along with the Duomo, the Palazzo Pubblico was also built during the same period of rule by the Council of Nine. The civic palace, built between 1297 and 1310, still houses the city's municipal offices much like Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Its internal courtyard has entrances to the Torre del Mangia and to the Civic Museum. If you feel energetic, a climb up the over 500 steps will reward you with a wonderful view of Siena and its surroundings. The Museum, on the other hand, offers some of the greatest of Sienese paintings. The Sala del Concistoro houses one of Domenico Beccafumi's best works, ceiling frescoes of allegories on the virtues of Siena's medieval government. But it is the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sale della Pace that hold the palaces's highlights: Simone Martini's huge Maestà and Equestrian Portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano and Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Allegories of Good and Bad Government, once considered the most important cycle of secular paintings of the Middle Ages.
Sienna is quite rightly extremely popular with tourists but because it is a town and not just a small village, it usually does not seem excessively crowded. The fine piazza, magnificent cathedral and museums, as well as the twice yearly palio and the interesting folk culture associated with it, make Sienna worth intensive study. Siennese painting and architecture of the Renaissance and later is second in importance only to that of Florence in the history of Italian art. What more is that the Siennese are said to speak the purist form of the Tuscan dialect which, at the unification of Italy, became the national language.