Posted by: debrakolkka | December 2, 2010

The walking tour in Siena

Palazzo Pubblico appearing between buildings

The old part of Siena is enclosed with the ancient walls.  It stands on 3 hills, but they are not steep, so wandering around the city is very pleasant.  The narrow winding streets are full of beautiful old buildings with fascinating histories.  Siena’s beginnings were Etruscan.  It later became a Roman colony with the name of Sena Julia.  It was conquered by the Longobards and became important when it became part of the Francigena road, which also passes Bagni di Lucca.

The best way to see a place is to walk all over it, and even better if you have a guide with local knowledge.  A small group of visitors (mostly Australians) gathered in front of the bar La Lizza in Piazza Gramsci to begin the 11.oo am tour.  Our guide’s name was Dace Fridrihsone.  She spoke excellent English ( and Italian and German) and had wonderful stories about the places we saw.

Dace told us about the 17 Contrade- districts – of Siena.  Each one has an animal as its symbol and she pointed out the tiny tiles high up on the walls to identify the Contrada. (I later did some serious Contrada spotting)  Each district has a church, a water fountain and an official seat where documents pertaining to the history, together with the Palio trophies of the Contrada are kept.

tile identifying a Contrada

We stopped in front of the Palazzo Tolomei, one of the oldest palaces in Siena.  It was built in the 13th century and is still in excellent condition.  It now houses a bank.

Palazzo Tolomei

The top floor of the Palazzo Tolomei was destroyed by a neighbouring family in a feud.  In the next battle the Tolomei family won, destroyed the other house and used the stones  to rebuild theirs. Excellent revenge!!


Monte dei Paschi building

The Monte dei Paschi was the first bank established in Europe.  The Salimbeni family were the first Sienese money lenders.  The building is still a bank, but one section also houses an extensive art collection.  We bank with Monte dei Paschi.  They don’t pay us any interest to keep our money, just charge us fees.   It is obviously working well for them, they have been operating for centuries.

Basilica of San Domenico

The Basilica of St Dominic was begun in1225.   It was in this church that Caterina Benincasa went to pray.  She went to to become a saint and now her head is kept in the Sanctuary of St. Catherine – isn’t that nice!  The rest of her body is in Rome in the Church of Minerva.

We walked to the Cathedral which is my favourite church in Italy.  The facade of the church is covered with sculptures  and carved marble columns by Giovanni Pisano.  You could stand in front of this building for months and not see everything – and then there is inside.  I think it is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.  I have been 6 times, once very early in the morning when there was nobody else there – incredible.  I intend to go again and again.

Siena's Duomo

the magnificent interior


incredible detail on the front of the church

The Campo is probably the most famous place in Siena because of the Palio – horse race – around the shell or fan shaped piazza.  The Palio was contested for the first time in the 16th century.  It starts with an elaborate parade of all the Contrade in costume.  After that comes the horse race.  The horses run for the colours of their contrada and go three times clockwise around the Campo.  It is one of the oldest public celebrations in Italy.

looking up at the Palazzo Pubblico in the Campo

the Campo - empty early in the morning

this year's happy winner of the Palio

I have done the walking tour in Bologna as well.  It is a great way to find out lots of interesting things about a city.  I have been to Siena several times, but I learned lots of new things with my very knowledgeable guide.   Thank you Dace, you made it fun and interesting.


  1. I was hoping for a post from Siena – my most favourite of Italian cities – much more peaceful than Florence and I too have a passion for that extraordinary Duomo, so unlke the cathedrals of England. I love the view from the top of the tower, looking down on the shell like Piazza too. Lovely lovely pictures, lovely serene Siena!

    • Thank you for your comments. There are 2 other posts on Siena and several more to come. I love Siena and spent a couple of days there in October. I took so many photos, I had trouble sorting them.

  2. Great photos Deb – my favourite Duomo as well – great interior shot

  3. I appreciate the details about the contrada, Deb. John and I often miss out on those little details because we do not always understand the guides on walking tours. So, it’s good to get the extra information on your blog. Interesting to know that Siena was once Eustrascan. I do agree that Siena is a truly beautiful place. I agree with Joanna that it’s a serene town, more like a serene old queen.

  4. Amazing detail on the Siena’s Duomo, stunning.

  5. There is something quite humbling about seeing architecture like that…
    I would love to see the horse race once in my life.

    • Me too!

  6. I think a good guide makes the world of difference!

  7. Fabulous Deb. I feel like cancelling all other travel plans and rushing straight to Italy!

  8. Oh Deb I loved Siena!! One of my favourite towns in the whole of Italy!! You bring back very happy memories, thank you

    • Siena is wonderful. I will be back there as soon as I can when I return to Italy in early February.

  9. […] it is easy to miss the delightful small things that abound all over the city.   I stayed in Siena for a couple of days in October and wandered the streets with no particular purpose in mind.  […]

  10. […] here to see more on the walking tour, here to see more on the Duomo and here to see more on the […]

  11. […] For more on Siena click here, here and here. […]

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