Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: August 2022
Siena is a charming medieval city located in the hilly countryside of central Tuscany. It is surrounded by an ancient wall and features a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and historic squares. It is best known for its stunning architecture, medieval art, delicious cuisine and for hosting the Palio horse race twice a year.
After spending the day in San Gimignano, we drove to Siena since we still had a couple of hours before my friends’ welcome dinner. Except the city was packed. There were lines everywhere and some of the tickets were already sold out for the day. We walked around for a bit and decided to return the next morning before the wedding.
And so we arrived back in Siena just before 9:30 a.m the next day. We planned to park at the Artemio Franchi Stadium, except there was a sign to indicate that it was already full. We pulled over to search for another parking lot when a spot just opened up along the side of the road. Perfect. We paid for parking at the metre and off we went to explore the city.
First things first, we’d need tickets to the Torre del Mangia, which are only available to purchase in person. We had about 15 minutes to wait for the ticket office to open and there was already a line of about 30 people waiting outside. We didn’t mind the wait as the city was getting ready for the Palio horse race, which was supposed to take place in a few days to coincide with the Assumption of Mary. We watched some men put together a stage in the square by the ticket office.
Once we had our tickets in hand, we went to the Siena Cathedral to wait in another line. There are a few different options depending on what you want to see and how much time you have. We purchased the Opa Si Pass, which provided access into the entire Siena Cathedral Complex.
We started off at the Siena Cathedral, a medieval church that is equally beautiful inside and out. The columns and walls are constructed with alternating white and greenish-black marble stripes, the symbolic colours of Siena, with red marble on the facade. The interior of the cathedral also contains colourful frescoes and features the work of some of the best artists of Italy of the time, including Donatello and Pinturicchio.
The cathedral also contains the Piccolomini Library, a small room with more beautiful frescoes. It also showcases a series of illuminated choir books.
Afterwards we went to the Opera del Duomo Museum, which contains some religious artifacts, and sculptures, as well as a lovely stained glass window. The main draw to the museum however, is access to the Facciatone, an unfinished wall of the Siena Cathedral, which was supposed to have been expanded, but ultimately never was. We waited in line for about 30 minutes to climb to the top of the Facciatone as they were only letting in around 15 people at a time. But it was worth the wait as the top of the Facciatone provides a nice view of the city and cathedral.
After climbing down the narrow circular staircase, we headed back to the Torre del Mangia for another panoramic view of the city. The Torre Del Mangia is situated in the Piazza del Campo, the main square in Siena. It stands at 102 metres (or 335 ft) and is the second tallest tower in Italy. There are 400 steps in total to reach the top, which overlooks the neighbouring countryside.
We then returned to the Siena Cathedral Complex to visit the remaining two monuments, starting with the Siena Baptistry of San Giovanni. While the outside of the facade was never fully finished, the interior more than makes up for it with its stunning display of colourful frescoes. The highlight however is reputed to be the baptismal font, which is adorned with intricate sculptures. It was under construction when we visited, so we didn’t see much.
Last but not least was the Crypt underneath the Siena Cathedral. It was constructed in the 13th century but was actually used for storage instead of a crypt. It contains a series of more colourful frescoes, but some of these were faded and in rough shape.
Now that we had completed our tour of the Siena Cathedral Complex, it was time to grab a bite to eat. We ordered pizza and found a spot in the shade to enjoy our food and to take a break.
We headed back to the car, passing the Basilica of San Domenico on the way. Constructed of brick, the Basilica of San Domenico is marvelled for its simple design.
It was then time for us to head back to the countryside and get ready for the wedding.