Siena is a ‘must-see’ when you visit Tuscany. It’s full of history, art, antiques, restaurants and great shops.
Siena has 17 districts (“contrade”) that are like small villages in itself. They carry funny names like district of the giraffe, goose, wolf or slag. On every street corner where a new quarter begins, you’ll see a shield against the wall bearing the coat of arms of the district. Siena is virtually car-free and therefore ideal for walks. Avoiding the central square Piazza del Campo is easier said than done. The street plan is such that any “inadvertent” walker always ends up at the square. The bell tower next to the enormous Palazzo Pubblico is visible from every corner of the city. In ancient days the battles in the hills around Siena were watched from the top. Updates were passed on to the people who stood down. Visitors can still climb the tower and enjoy the fantastic view. The Palazzo next to it is now a museum of medieval art.
On July 2 (19:30) and August 16 (19:00) the world famous Palio is held. It’s an ancient ritual in which ten districts compete for the highest honor of Siena: winning the horse race in Piazza del Campo. The races are held in the evening, but early in the afternoon there’s no place left to watch this spectacle. Four days before the race participating districts are assigned a horse by drawing lots. The night before the race the entire city turns into a large open-air museum. The inhabitants have dinner in their contrada at long tables by the glow of torches and candlelight. There will be much debate about the day ahead. The race itself lasts only half a minute and has no rules. The jockeys ride bareback and may strike and block other jockeys with their whip. A horse can win without a rider. The winner gets ‘eternal fame’.