The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international arrivals in 2008. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year.
Siena, like other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c. 900–400 BC) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. The Etruscans were a tribe of advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land, and their custom of building their settlements in well-defended hill forts. A Roman town called Saena Julia was founded at the site in the time of the Emperor Augustus. Some archaeologists assert that Siena was controlled for a period by a Gaulish tribe called the Senones.
According to local legend, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus and thus nephews of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Supposedly after their father's murder by Romulus, they fled Rome, taking with them the statue of the she-wolf suckling the infants (Capitoline Wolf), thus appropriating that symbol for the town. Additionally they rode white and black horses, giving rise to the Balzana, or coat of arms of Siena with a white band atop a dark band. Some claim the name Siena derives from Senius. Other etymologies derive the name from the Etruscan family name Saina, the Roman family name Saenii, or the Latin word senex "old" or its derived form seneo "to be old".
Siena did not prosper under Roman rule. It was not sited near any major roads and lacked opportunities for trade. Its insular status meant that Christianity did not penetrate until the 4th century AD, and it was not until the Lombards invaded Siena and the surrounding territory that it knew prosperity. After the Lombard occupation, the old Roman roads of Via Aurelia and the Via Cassia passed through areas exposed to Byzantine raids, so the Lombards rerouted much of their trade between the Lombards' northern possessions and Rome along a more secure road through Siena. Siena prospered as a trading post, and the constant streams of pilgrims passing to and from Rome provided a valuable source of income in the centuries to come.
The oldest aristocratic families in Siena date their line to the Lombards' surrender in 774 to Charlemagne. At this point, the city was inundated with a swarm of Frankish overseers who married into the existing Sienese nobility and left a legacy that can be seen in the abbeys they founded throughout Sienese territory. Feudal power waned however, and by the death of Countess Matilda in 1115 the border territory of the March of Tuscany which had been under the control of her family, the Canossa, broke up into several autonomous regions. This ultimately resulted in the creation of the Republic of Siena.
The Republic existed for over four hundred years, from the late 11th century until the year 1555. During the golden age of Siena before the Black Death in 1348, the city was home to 50,000 people.
In the Italian War of 1551–59, the republic was defeated by the rival Duchy of Florence in alliance with the Spanish crown. After 18 months of resistance, Siena surrendered to Spain on 17 April 1555, marking the end of the republic.
The new Spanish King Felipe II, owing huge sums to the Medici, ceded it (apart from a series of coastal fortress annexed to the State of Presidi) to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to which it belonged until the unification of Italy in the 19th century.
A Republican government of 700 Sienese families in Montalcino resisted until 1559.
Siena is located in the central part of Tuscany, in the middle of a vast hilly landscape between the Arbia river valley (south), the Merse valley (south-west), the Elsa valley (north), the Chianti hills (north-east), the Montagnola Senese (west) and the Crete Senesi (south-east). The city lies at 322 m above sea level.
Siena has a typical inland Mediterranean climate. Average rainfall is 750 mm (29.5 in), with the maximum in November and the minimum in July. July is the hottest month, with an average temperature of 22.2 °C (72.0 °F), and January the coldest.
The Siena Cathedral (Duomo), begun in the 12th century, is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Its main façade was completed in 1380. The original plan called for an ambitiously massive basilica, the largest then in the world, with, as was customary, an east-west nave. However, the scarcity of funds, in part due to war and plague, truncated the project, and the Sienese created a subdued version from the original plan's north-south transept. The east wall of the abandoned original folly of a nave still stands; through an internal staircase, visitors can climb for a grand view of the city.
The Siena Cathedral Pulpit is an octagonal 13th-century masterpiece sculpted by Nicola Pisano with lion pedestals and biblical bas-relief panels. The inlaid marble mosaic floor of the cathedral, designed and labored on by many artists, is among the most elaborate in Italy. The Sacristy and Piccolomini library have well preserved Renaissance frescos by Ghirlandaio and Pinturicchio respectively. Other sculptors active in the church and in the subterranean baptistry are Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and others. The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo contains Duccio's famous Maestà (1308–11) and various other works by Sienese masters. More Sienese paintings are to be found in the Pinacoteca, e.g. 13th-century works by Dietisalvi di Speme.
The Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped town square, unfurls before the Palazzo Pubblico with its tall Torre del Mangia. This is part of the site for the Palio horse race. The Palazzo Pubblico, itself a great work of architecture, houses yet another important art museum. Included within the museum is Ambrogio Lorenzetti's frescoes depicting the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government and also some of the finest frescoes of Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
The Palazzo Salimbeni, located in a piazza of the same name, was the original headquarters and remains in possession of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, one of the oldest banks in continuous existence in Europe.
Housed in the notable Gothic Palazzo Chigi-Saracini on Via di Città is the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena's conservatory of music.
Other churches in the city include:
The historic Siena synagogue is also preserved and open to visitors.
The city's gardens include the Orto Botanico dell'Università di Siena, a botanical garden maintained by the University of Siena.
The Medicean Fortress houses the Enoteca Italiana and the Siena Jazz School, with courses and concerts throughout the year, and a festival during the International Siena Jazz Masterclasses.
In the neighbourhood are numerous patrician villas, some of which are attributed to Baldassarre Peruzzi:
Siena retains a ward-centric culture from medieval times. Each ward (contrada) is represented by an animal or mascot, and has its own boundary and distinct identity. Ward rivalries are most rampant during the annual horse race (Palio) in the Piazza del Campo.
The Palio di Siena is a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August. The event is attended by large crowds, and is widely televised. Seventeen Contrade (which are city neighbourhoods originally formed as battalions for the city's defence) vie for the trophy: a painted banner, or Palio bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Over the centuries, Siena has had a rich tradition of arts and artists. The list of artists from the Sienese School include Duccio and his student Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti and Martino di Bartolomeo. A number of well-known works of Renaissance and High Renaissance art still remain in galleries or churches in Siena.
The Church of San Domenico contains art by Guido da Siena, dating to the mid-13th century. Duccio's Maestà, which was commissioned by the City of Siena in 1308, was instrumental in leading Italian painting away from the hieratic representations of Byzantine art and directing it towards more direct presentations of reality. And his Madonna and Child with Saints polyptych, painted between 1311 and 1318 remains at the city's Pinacoteca Nazionale.
The Pinacoteca also includes several works by Domenico Beccafumi, as well as art by Lorenzo Lotto, Domenico di Bartolo and Fra Bartolomeo.
The main activities are tourism, services, agriculture, handicrafts and light industry.
Agriculture constitutes Siena's primary industry. As of 2009, Siena's agricultural workforce comprises 919 companies with a total area of 10.755 square kilometres (4.153 sq mi) for a UAA (usable agricultural area) of 6.954 square kilometres (2.685 sq mi) or about 1/30 of the total municipal area (data ISTAT for the 2000 Agriculture Census V).
The industrial sector of the Sienese economy is not very developed. However, the area has seen recent growth in important core manufacturing enterprises.
The confectionery industry is one of the most important of the traditional sectors of the secondary industry, because of the many local specialties. Among the best known are Panforte, a precursor to modern fruitcake, Ricciarelli biscuits, made out of almond paste, and the well-known gingerbread, and the horses. Also renowned is Noto, a sweet made out of honey, almonds and pepper. The area known for making these delicacies ranges between Tuscany and Umbria. Other seasonal specialties are the chestnut and the pan de 'Santi (or Pan co' Santi) traditionally prepared in the weeks preceding the Festival of Saints, the November 1. All are marketed both industrial and artisan bakeries in different cities.
The area has also seen a growth in biotechnology. Centenary Institute Sieroterapico Achille Sclavo, is now Swiss-owned and operates under the company name, Novartis Vaccines. Novartis develops and produces vaccines and employs about a thousand people.
In this area, the most important financial activities are those related to the bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The oldest bank still in existence, headquartered in Siena, which has been operating continuously since 1472.
There are also important appearances of the university and the hospital, which employ thousands of people and serves a catchment area much wider than the already large territory province. In the territory there is a dense network of micro-enterprises (less than 10,000) active in trade and tourism.
In the last ten years, Siena has been completely wired with fibre optic cable. This distinction makes Siena the first city in Italy to complete Telecom's Socrates Project (Progetto Socrate). As a result, the town can claim that almost every house is wired for cable. The wiring, built by private companies in partnership with the city, helped to create a civic public station (Channel Civic Sienese) cable that transmits information and local news and gives access to Internet broadband. In 2007, however, the station was privatised, separating the TV from the Internet. The wiring is currently extending to major centres of the province through another company set up ad hoc (earth cable).
Siena has enjoyed a long tradition in sports. Basketball and football are perhaps the most popular in Siena, but other sports such as rugby and athletics are also practised.
Associazione Calcio Siena (football) was founded in 1904 and fully established in 1908. It was first promoted to Italy's top league, Serie A, for the 2003–04 season and stayed in this serie for 9 seasons. After the club's bankruptcy in 2014, a new club named Società Sportiva Robur Siena took its place and had to restart from Serie D. Currently it is in Lega Pro league. The club hosts its games at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
The premier society of men's basketball in Siena was called Mens Sana Basket (also referred to by its sponsored name of Montepaschi Siena). It is also the oldest sports society in Siena. Mens Sana Basket participated in the highest level of play in Italy, Lega Basket Serie A, and it has won the national championship eight times, with a streak of seven (2004 and 2007–13). The team host their home games at PalaEstra indoor arena. Likewise the football team, the club in 2014 went through financial issues and its place was taken by the new club Mens Sana 1871, currently in the Serie A2 league. The city co-hosted the EuroBasket 1979.
Siena hosts the start and finish of the Strade Bianche, a professional cycling race famous for its historic white gravel roads, called strade bianche or sterrati in Italian. More than 50 kilometres (31 miles) of the race is run over dirt roads, usually country lanes and farm tracks twisting through the hills and vineyards of the Chianti region. The finish is on the Piazza del Campo, after a steep and narrow climb on the roughly-paved Via Santa Caterina leading into the center of the medieval city.
In 2015 the volleyball team Emma Villas, based in Chiusi (a small town in the Siena Province) was promoted in Serie A2 and decided to move to Siena, aiming at a wider audience, hosting its games at PalaEstra.
Siena is home to several amateur basketball teams: these include the Associazione Sportiva Costone Basket and Virtus Siena.
There exist several female university sports teams organised under the CUS (Centro Universitario Sportivo). These include such sports as fencing, volleyball and rugby, and a basketball team composed exclusivelly by students of the University of Siena.
The nearest international airports to Siena are Peretola Airport in Florence and Galileo Galilei International Airport in Pisa. There are two to three buses daily (Sena line) between Siena and Bologna Airport as well.
Siena can be reached by train from both Pisa and Florence, changing at Empoli. Siena railway station is located at the bottom of a long hill outside the city walls. A series of escalators connects the train station with the old city on top of hill.
Buses leave from Piazza Gramsci, located within the city walls. Buses are available directly to and from Florence, a one-hour trip, as well as from Rome (three hours), Milan (four and a half hours), and from various other towns in Tuscany and beyond.
By road, Siena is linked to Florence by a "superstrada" (the Raccordo Autostradale RA03 – Siena-Firenze), a form of toll free autostrada. The superstrada to Florence is indicated on some road signs with the letters SI-FI, referring to province abbreviations. A continuation of the same four lane road to the south east will facilitate the drive towards Perugia and to Rome by the A1 highway.
Almost no automobile traffic is permitted within the city centre. Several large car parks are located immediately outside the city walls. The "La Fortezza" and "Il Campo" car parks are closest to the centre; free parking areas are further out (near Porta Romana). Commercial traffic is permitted within the city only during morning hours.
Siena is twinned with: