“Cor Magis Tibi Sena Pandit.” Siena opens her heart out to you much wider than this door! This inscription, located on the front of Porta Camollia; the Northernmost section of The Sienese Gates, is the epitome of what you will feel as you meander down the streets of the city.
Now I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t want to make this trip. I say this not because I had anything against going, but I didn’t have any burning desire to leave Florence just yet; even for a day. If you find yourself feeling this, please be sure to fight it at all costs and go. This mid-evil city appears to be sleepy at the onset. The further you dive into it though, you’ll begin to feel it come to life and welcome you with open arms.
Sitting just over 75 km from Florence-Siena is a great day trip to add to your itinerary. Though it is easily a day trip, trust me, you won’t want to leave. I honestly felt like I could have stayed in this city for at least another whole day. If you decide to go for the day, what do you do? I’m glad you asked! Here the six reasons why I ended up falling in love with the city that has sat among the hills of Tuscany since 900-400 BC:
♥ Accessibility: If you’re already in Italy, ItaliaRail offers reasonable fares and fast service. Coming from Florence, I paid $11.00 one way to get here. With a user-friendly website as well as a mobile app, they make travel within Italy as easy as you could hope someone to make it.
♥ Flags, Lights & Torches; Oh My!: No, this is not a typo. Depending on what your favorite time periods in history are, or what you take note of when you travel, this one may seem a little whacky to you; but to me, it added so much character. As you meander down the streets, you sense that things remain relatively unchanged. As you look up, this is reaffirmed. With each change of neighborhood, the flags with the family crest in these neighborhoods change. In some instance, the light fixtures on the street change to match the colors of the flag. Still not convinced things are as they have always been? Look for the lanterns to be replaced by torches.
♥ Old Meets New: Much like any other city that now welcomes floods of tourists, the brand names of the stores that fill the streets are updated to reflect modern time. Aside from the name brand hanging over the door, nothing else has changed. The building still looks as it would if we were to go back in time. You can’t help but get the feeling that this city is trying to tell you something with each step you happen to take. I loved that.
♥ Piazza Del Campo: This is the main square of Siena. Now, anyone who has been to Italy is no stranger to their piazza’s. The shape of this one is only part of what makes it magical. The square itself stands on the meeting place of the three hills on which the city lies. The design of Campo is set up in the form of a shell and subdivided into nine sections. The brick pavings date all the way back to 1347! So why the subdivision of nine sections? To recall the Government of Nine, an oligarchy (aka a small group of people having control) of merchants and bankers who led Siena to prosperity. See, what did I tell you? You’re walking through, and on, history. Want to be a part of history beyond taking a step? Come back to Siena during The Siena Palio and see this area transformed.
♥ Palazzo Pubblico: At the bottom of The Campo lies Palazzo Pubblico. The Torre del Mangia towers above with the Piazza Chapel at the base. Construction on this began in 1250 and finished in 1310 and was once the seat of the Podestá and the ancient Sienese Republic. The rooms on the upper floor of the Palazzo is where the civic museum sits. While touring the museum is not a lengthy process, it gives you the opportunity to wrap your head around what is going on around you when you step outside. Take some time out of your day and don’t skip this.
♥ The Cathedral: The similarities to what you will see in the design and the color, especially coming from Florence, are striking. Construction on this began in 1230, and it provided a basic model for a cathedral. In fact, it was adopted by several other major cities. The real beauty in this structure though is also a point of a bit of, what you can imagine, like sadness. The walls that surround the cathedral sit as a mixture of exposed brick and mosaics. Believe me; this is not intentional. The building of this, as well as the funding to build it, were always interrupted. Reasons including money were running out to the plague in 1348; it sits unfinished. Plan your visit here in advance. The opening hours vary based on days you visit and the time of year it is. My recommendation is to book your tour in advance online.
TIPS: Wear comfortable shoes! Proper footwear should always be at the top fo your travel list, but it is imperative for Siena. Siena is a walking city and with that comes steep hills, in both directions. Don’t get sidelined because your feet hurt. Also, get here as early as possible. For this to truly be a day trip where you feel like you did not get gypped in any way, getting here early in the morning will be your best bet.
Lastly, skip the tour group. Again, Siena is a walking, tourist friendly city. See it at your own pace; not someone else’s.