Siena is a city in Tuscany, Italy.
It is a beautiful walled city famous for the Palio, a horse race in the main square. It is the capital of the province of Siena
The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site.
The beautiful black and white Cathedral built from the second half of the thirteenth century to the beginning of the fourteenth century. Inside there is the famous Piccolomini Library, where Pinturicchio painted in 1505 - 07 stories about the life of the Pope Pio II. It was to be the largest cathedral in Italy but due to the Plague it remains unfinished.
THE PALAZZO PUBBLICO
This was the seat of the Republic government of Siena. Inside are great masterpieces such as the “Majesty” painted by Simone Martini in 1315 and the cycle “Good and Bad Government” by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338 – 40).
Its entrance is the large door on the right side of the Torre del Mangia in Piazza del Campo.
Basilica San Domenico
THE BASILICA OF ST. DOMENICO
Its construction was begun by the Domenican fathers around 1225 and was finished forty years later: inside the church there is the Chapel of Vaults, where almost all the miracles of St. Caterina were performed. On the right side of the nave there is the Chapel of St. Caterina, where is located the altar containing St. Caterina’s head (her body is preserved in Rome in the Basilica St. Maria sopra Minerva). In this chapel there are beautiful frescoes by Sodoma.
You can find this Basilica in Piazza San Domenico.
Museum of Opera Metropolitana
THE MUSEUM OF OPERA METROPOLITANA
This is the most important and peculiar museum in the city, besides being one of the most prestigious museums in Europe. It includes amongst many other masterpieces some sculptures from the outside of the Cathedral, sculpted by Giovanni Pisano at the end of XIII century, and the Maesta’ by Duccio Buoninsegna (1311), the most loved work by the Sienese.
The entrance to this museum is in the right-end of Piazza del Duomo.
Santa Maria della Scala hospital
SANTA MARIA DELLA SCALA HOSPITAL
Probably the most ancient hospital in the world: the first document that mentions its activity is an act dated 1090. In origin it sheltered pilgrims during their travels to and from Rome. The fantastic frescoes in the Pellegrinaio room give an interesting and detailed description of its development and its sanitary functions.
Inside the Hospital is the beautiful Santissima Annanziata Church.
The entrance is in front of the Duomo steps; it’s possible to visit the church only, without a ticket.
Santuario di Santa Catarina
SANTUARIO DI SANTA CATERINA
In this area Santa Caterina lived with her family; when Pio II canonised her in 1461, the Sienese decided to build a sanctuary in the Saint’s birthplace. Now there are three churches: the Bedroom’s Oratory, the Kitchen ‘s Oratory and the Church of the Crucifix, where is preserved the ancient Crucifix which gave the stigmatas to the Saint in Pisa.
The entrance is at the bottom of the little steps in Costa di Sant’Antonio, a short and steep downhill road from via della Sapienza.
Basilica of St Francis
THE BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS
It was founded around 1228 by the Franciscan fathers. It was enlarged in 1300 and seriously damaged in 1655 by a tremendous fire. However it contains important ancient frescoes by Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti and a great polyptic by Lippo Vanni.
This Basilica is situated in Piazza San Francesco at the top of Via del Comune or at the end of Via dei Rossi.
Basilica of St Maria dei Servi
THE BASILICA OF ST. MARIA DEI SERVI
It was founded by a group of monks from Montesenario called Maria’s Servants around 1230, but the construction was very long and the front of the basilica is unfinished. The inside is completely different from the outside: there are three luminous and spacious Renaissance styled naves, with many interesting paintings and ancient frescoes, such as a Madonna with Child by the Florentine Coppo di Marcovaldo (1261 ),taken prisoner by the Sienese during the battle of Montaperti, and The slaughter of the innocents by Matteo di Giovanni ( 1491 ).
You can find the basilica in the south part of the city in Via dei Servi, close to Porta Romana.
THE ORATORY OF ST. BERNARDINO COMPANY
Here there are two small oratories: on the ground floor, you can admire some lunettes frescoed at the end of the sixteenth century with stories about St. Bernardino’s life. On the upper floor, there is the oratory called Santa Maria degli Angeli, a wonder of Sienese Renaissance: an exceptional cycle with “ Stories of the Virgin“ was frescoed here by two of the most famous Sienese painters in 1500, Domenico Beccafumi and Sodoma.
This oratory is situated in Piazza San Francesco and it is open from March to October (10.30 – 13.30 and 15.30 – 17.30).
First of all Palio is not a horse race in the modern sense, but a medieval joust in which ten Contradas fight only with one intent: the final victory that means power and honor. So Palio is a Sienese festival for Sienese people where tourists are welcome, but it’s a little difficult for them to understand its deeper significance. Siena is divided into 17 contrada's, which are almost like little republics. At the palio only 10 can run, seven of these are those that did not run in the proceding race and the other three are selected from the remaining 10 by a draw that takes place at least 20 days before the palio. The following are the main appointments of the palio.
Three days before the race:
The owners of the horses bring their horses for a medical check-up. The the horses are put into groups and are run three times around the Piazza il Campo, this is to test their ability on the track. At the end of the trials the contrada captains, in the presence of the Mayor, choose the 10 horses that will run the race. After which, in front of the Palazzo Pubblico there is a draw and each contrada is assigned a horse. Each contrada then takes its horse to the stable of the contrada.
The trial runs:
There are six trial runs, which occur every morning (at about 9am) and each afternoon (at around 7:30pm), these are important to check the conditions of the horse and the jockey. To each trial the horse is accompanied by a group of members from the contrada who,often, sing traditional songs.
The fifth trial is called the "prova generale" (the general trial), at the end of this there is a huge dinner on the streets of each contrada's area of the city.
The day of the race:
At about 8am in the Chapel next to the Palazzo Comunale there is a mass for the jokeys. Immediately after the last trail is run. At about 3pm in each chapel of the 10 contrada's there is the blessing of the horse, after which there is a parade of all the horses and contrada throught the city streets, this parade enters Piazza il Campo at about 5pm
At the end of the parade, a gun is fired to the exit of the horses. Each jokey if given a whip the he can use on his horse or use to block the other jokeys during the race.
The horses make their way towards the start where they get called to line up by a draw. Nine of the horses line up and the tenth starts the race from behind them. He is the starter, he has a running start.
The jokeys will then bribe each other and try to get the enemy contrada in the worst position possible for the start of the race. If the horses are not still and in line the race cannot be started. They may be called out of line and recalled until the horses and jokeys calm down, this is decided by the 'mossiere', who calls the line up.
The horses have to do 3 runs of the square, the first is the winner. A horse can win even if his rider falls off and he arrives at the end alone.
The celebrations start immediately after the race. The Palio (prize) is given to the winning contrada. There is much sings, flag waving and feasting, which can carry on for many days after the race. The evening of the race there is a huge party in the zone of the contrada where you can enter it's church and museum for free, and you can also drink as much wine as there is available.
How to watch the Palio
HOW TO WATCH IT
With a spot of good luck you may be able to watch the Palio trials from the Council benches located in front of the Palazzo Pubblico or from the other benches located all around the square. The seats are sold at the price of € 5 for the morning trials and €10 for those in the afternoon. For tickets you should apply to the palcaiolo at least an hour before the start of the trial.
Unfortunately the situation is totally different on the day of the Palio: the Council seats are reserved for the costumed characters and it’s quite impossible to find a free seat in the other benches, because all the seats have been sold in the past months. So the alternative is to attempt to watch the Palio from the square: this is a somewhat stressful experience, but absolutely free.
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