Despite the liberal reforms implemented by Grand Duke Leopold II after 1824, Italian nationalism had been inflated during the Napoleonic wars and the desire for unification and independence had become a matter of priority for most Italians. On 29 May 1848 in one of the most symbolic battles of the First Italian War of Independence (1848-1849) a large number of volunteers from Siena mostly students joined the rest of Tuscan and Neapolitan volunteers in Curtatone (near Mantua) where they managed to repel a far more organized & numerical superior Austrian army. In February 1849, Leopold II had to abandon Tuscany and in 1855 the Austrian troops departed as well. In December 1859, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany ceased to exist and a few months later it was annexed to the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia. Italy was unified in 1870. Siena was now one of the cities of the Kingdom of Italy & Vittorio Emanuele II its king.
The industrial age was inaugurated with the operation of the railway which connected Siena with Empoli on the north and Chiusi, Orvieto and Rome on the south and was predominantly financed by Sienese private capital. Population surged again reaching 30.000 by the end of the 19th century and Siena expanded for the first time beyond its walls. Fortezza Medicea built on the orders of the Florentine rulers after the Battle of Marciano was converted into a public park.
With the exception of World War II and the bombardment of the central rail way station by the Allies, the history of 20th century for Siena was a history of preservation and maintenance of its historical heritage. A master plan, adopted just after World War II, directed high-density growth to a few limited areas outside the walls leaving the core of Siena, protected. Siena has been a “car free” city since 1966, making it one of the first European cities to ban motor traffic from its center.
Today Siena is a city of 52.000 people that has accomplished a goal of modern urban growth management with an utmost respect to the past. It combines urban green areas within a clearly demarcated boundary between city and country. Its historic center is acknowledged by UNESCO as a world heritage site and succeeds in attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists from Italy and abroad without its citizens ever losing their deep rooted sense of neighborhood identity.
The Medieval alleys, the grand Palazzi and cobble stoned piazzas, its museums and art treasures, its impressive cathedral and historic basilicas, its mesmerizing countryside, its world famous Italian cuisine and first class wines and of course its people with their singing-like language, form an amalgam that can put a spell on every visitor. If you are a history buff like us..there’s no question about it. You’ll love this city .. “Siena è bella”.
In August 1458 the papal conclave would elect Enea Bartolomeo Piccolomini, a member of a Sienese noble but impoverished family of 18 children as Pope Pius II. He exercised his power in order for Siena to accept the return of the exiled noble families related to the Noveschi regime, banned from the city for more than 100 years. In 1460 he raised the religious status of his hometown by making it the seat of an archbishopric and anointed his nephew Francesco Piccolomini as an archbishop and cardinal. His nephew would also become a Pope as Pius III in 1503. Finally in 1461 he canonized Saint Catherine of Siena (one of the two patron saints of Italy today), who had played an instrumental role in bringing back the Papacy to Rome from its exile in Avignon towards the end of 1380.
The heritage of the first Piccolomini term in the papal throne is still evident today through the two landmark buildings funded by him, the Loggia del Papa constructed in 1462 and the Palazzo Piccolomini, completed 31 years after the pope’s death in 1495.
After the return of the Noveschi nobles the Sienese were mostly divided between two parties. The Monte dei Nove, the party of the Nine, that represented the interests of the wealthy bourgeois merchants and the Monte del Popolo, the party of the people that held the government from the late 14th century. Just a few years after their return and according to the customs of the vicious infighting between different fractions of the Italian political scene at the time, the members of the party of the Nine were banished from Siena and their possessions were confiscated by the government in 1483. Among them the Petrucci brothers, Pandolfo & Giacoppo, leading figures of the party.
In 1487 the exiles returned to Siena and after a successful and bloody coup managed to seize the government and reverse the roles. Following a course parallel to the ascendancy of the Medici in Florence, the Borgias in the Papal States or the Sforzas in Milan, the Petruccis of Siena managed through shrewd diplomacy, effective alliances and rational pragmatism to establish themselves as the essential rulers by 1496. After the death of his brother in 1497, Pandolfo Petrucci became the sole “Defensor Libertatis” of Siena or in other words the city’s overlord.
Although Petrucci ruled as an absolute tyrant his experience in the turbulent Sienese politics would help him navigate in the Italian chess-board like a master and steer his city in another short (he died in 1512) but distinctively prosperous period. The coincidence of the second Piccolomini papacy in 1503 would favor the development of the arts with artists like Michelangelo, Pinturicchio & Raphael contributing with their works in the rejuvenation of the Scuola Senese. It would also give birth to a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, the Piccolomini Library commissioned by Pope Pius III to house the library of humanist texts assembled by his uncle.
The Petruccis would hold on to the power until 1525 when the Sienese managed to overthrow Pandolfo‘s youngest son, Fabio who was exiled from the city according to the customs of the era. Their Palazzo del Magnifico would be a remainder of their rise to power in perpetuity. A new round of domestic upheaval and set of exiles once again against the Noveschi party members motivated Pope Clement VII who decided to side with the Florentines and send a joint army to Siena in the summer of 1526. By then the city’s population had waned down to less than 15.000 people, a size considerably smaller to that of Florence. On St. Christopher’s day, July 25th , 1526, at the gates of the city known as Porta Camollia, an army of no more than 400 Sienese managed in an almost miraculous way to crush an army of 5.000 who left behind all their wagons and artillery. The collapse and panicked retreat of the attackers was perceived as something supernatural by the Sienese and as cowardly by the Florentines.
The great powers of the time, the Habsburg Empire and France were entangled in a series of wars from the late 15th century on Italian soil. When Emperor Charles V decided to impose the construction of a fortress that would house its Spanish garrison in 1550, the Sienese turned to the French King Henry II who in 1551 declared war against the Habsburg Empire. In January 1554, Siena was under siege by Gian Giacomo Medici, commander of a joint Spanish-Florentine army which by June numbered 15.000 strong. Piero Strozzi, a Florentine exile was in charge of the French army of about the same size. In August 2, 1554, the Franco-Sienese army was crushed in the Battle of Scannagallo (also known the Battle of Marciano), annihilating any hope for relief. The battle would mark the official ending of the Republic of Siena as an independent self-governed state.
The city itself surrendered in April 1555, after 18 long months of resistance. The Black and White flag came down to give way to the Medici coat of arms. Cosimo I De’ Medici, second Duke of Florence (1537 to 1569) celebrated by ceremonially entering the city in 1557 and watching a play in the Palazzo Pubblico. The people of Florence rejoiced the decisive blow to their Tuscan nemesis with three days of festivities when in the same time about six hundred powerful Sienese families escaped to nearby Montalcino in order to keep the flame of the Republic alive. They too would surrender in 1559.
The Grand Duchy of Tuscany would be constituted by the Duchy of Florence and the autonomous Duchy of Siena (Ducato di Siena or Stato Nuovo di Siena). The two states would be separated in their political and judiciary systems but united under one ruler. Although the strictly local matters were run by the local magistrates, governors, judges and government members the fate of the state as a whole would be designated by the House of Medici in Florence for the next 200 years.
The integration of Siena in the Granducato brought little if any benefits to the city. A customs barrier between the two former states was maintained and the population of the capital city fell to its lowest point (below 10.000). The pride of the once mighty Sienese identity found refuge in religion. The worship to the Madonna of Provenzano had taken the form of a Sienese cult that was rewarded by Pope Urban VIII with the erection of the lush Church of Santa Maria di Provenzano in 1595. In 1611 the solemn consecration of the church was linked to the old tradition of the Palio which took its famous form we know today. Two years later the baroque renovation of the Church of San Martino was completed.
Furthermore the once strong suit of the Sienese had not vanished. A small pawnshop established by the magistrates of the Republic in 1478 called Monte Pio would expand its activities in order to serve the interests of the upper classes and in 1580 it would take the character of a public bank carrying out several tax collection services. A second branch called Monte dei Paschi specialized in agricultural credit would be established in 1624. The unification of the two known as Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena is considered today the oldest operating bank in the world. The extinction of the Medici dynasty, the takeover of the Granducato of Tuscany by the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and the radical reforms introduced by Leopold I would revive agriculture and trade after a long period of decline. The distinction between the two Duchies of Tuscany was eliminated and the population started rising again. Siena became part of the famous Grand Tour, the culture trip made by the aristocrats of Central and Northern Europe in the cities of the Italian peninsula and Sicily. The university of Siena (Università degli Studi di Siena) was revitalized with the establishment of the Accademia dei Fisiocritici (Academy of Sciences) and the increase of of the number of its students.
During the Napoleonic Wars the Grand Duchy of Tuscany had initially been left out by the invading French army that had started the conquest of Italy in 1796. Despite the huge amount of money payed to the French in exchange for immunity, the French invaded Tuscany in March 1799. The neighboring to Siena city of Arezzo became the epicenter of an insurrection with the Sienese sending numerous volunteers to join the Italian army that was growing by the day. The Sienese crowd erupted burning down the tree of freedom, the symbol of the French Jacobins that was set up in Piazza del Campo. The anger against the invaders deviated in a serious incident of collateral damage when the crowd entered the ghetto of Siena abducted a number of Jews and burned them alongside the tree of freedom.
In 1801 in the context of the Treaty of Aranjuez, between Napoleonic France and Spain, the Bourbons of Parma were compensated for the loss of their territory in northern Italy with the largest part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany which became Kingdom of Etruria and Ludovico I of Bourbon its first king.
In 1807 the Kingdom of Etruria was dissolved and integrated into Imperial France, making Siena the capital of Department dell’Ombrone an area of 7,750 km², with 163,317 inhabitants. When the Napoleonic system collapsed in 1814, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was once again restored and Ferdinand III of the Habsburg Lorraine House became its rightful ruler again (he had succeeded his father Leopold I when the latter became Emperor in 1790 until 1801 when the French took over).
A new player introduced by Pope Urban IV after the Battle of Montaperti in the Italian chess-board would prove to be a game-changer. Charles of Anjou youngest son of Louis VIII of France, rich and ambitious by nature was seen by the papacy as the man who could restore its primacy by taking down the powerful Ghibelline King of Sicily.
The Battle of Benevento in 1266 made Charles the strongest ruler in Italy and tipped the scale against the Ghibellines. Just 9 years after their triumph the Sienese would succumb to the joint forces of King Charles and Florence in the Battle of Colle Val d’Elsa despite the overwhelming numerical superiority of the former. Not bearing the humiliating defeat, Siena’s commander and Podestà Provenzano Salvani, threw himself into the midst of the enemy lines. His head was severed from his body, and hoisted on a spear, as a trophy, around the battlefield.
By 1270 Siena was the last Ghibelline stronghold still fighting against Charles. In the same time a papal excommunication by Pope Clement IV had already hurt the merchants and bankers of the city making it difficult for them to obtain repayments of their loans and bills, leading to a shift of allegiance for many of them. The siege of the summer of 1270 by the troops of Charles of Anjou, who was now the King of Naples, would have seemed as godsend even by many Sienese. By the end of August the city had surrendered and the Ghibelline government had been removed.
The new Guelph regime of Siena would be governed by a new council of 35 members which expressed the upcoming merchant class and excluded the old noble families associated with the Ghibelline past. Despite the delegation of its geopolitical role, the change did wonders for Siena’s economy which entered a period of substantial growth evident by the great architectural landmarks such as the Piazza del Campo and the Palazzo Publico and of course the ongoing works in the Duomo that were materialized towards the end of the 13th century.
Art followed suit. Painters like Maestro di Tressa, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini inaugurated with their works the so called Scuola senese, the Sienese school of art that would offer great masterpieces between 13th and 16th century. Their canvases were to a great extent themed with ecclesiastical stories in a manner clearly influenced by the Byzantines.
The establishment of the Guelph Government of the Nine that came to power in 1286 cemented the peace with Florence and propelled a period of prosperity that had never been experienced before. The Palazzo dei Signori (Palazzo Publico) became the seat of the government by 1310 and by 1327 it had taken its final form. Piazza del Campo was paved with bricks and was divided into nine equal parts, a clear reference to the governing body. The Baptistery of San Giovanni in the Duomo and the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo were erected. The Campanile, Duomo’s Bell Tower was completed in 1313 and so was the Torre del Mangia, the 112 meter tower of the town hall, in 1348.
In the year of the completion of Torre del Mangia (1348) the city’s population had peaked reaching 70.000 inhabitants (Florence numbered 110.000 to 120.000). That same year the Great Plague hit Siena with such ferocity that almost half of its population perished in a matter of months, causing havoc and financial collapse . Giovanni Tolomei, a Benedictine monk who had left his monastic solitude to devote himself to the care of the sick, also succumbed to the disease and is revered today by the Catholic Church as Saint Bernardo Tolomei.
Although the government tried to cast out the demons with the construction of the marble Chapel Square (Cappella di Piazza) dedicated to the Virgin Mary at the foot of Torre del Mangia on the Piazza del Campo in 1352, the wave of despair was too great for the government to escape unscathed. After a period of violence and disorder and nearly seventy years in power the Governo dei Nove also known as the Noveschi fell in the midst of uncontrollable riots in 1355.
Constant changes in the forms of government, ongoing riots and conspiracies within the city gave rise to new external problems, with Montepulciano rebelling against Siena fired up by its permanent rival, the city of Florence. The descending spiral and the new tension with Florence forced the Sienese government to seek the protection of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan who had already gained control of Verona, Vicenza and Padua and aimed in the revival of a united kingdom in Northern Italy. He was proclaimed Lord of Siena in 1399.
In 1402 Galeazzo died of fever and three years later Siena ended the union with the House of Visconti. The biggest danger for Siena was not Florence for once but King Ladislaus of Naples who had already conquered Rome and started to move against Tuscany and Northern Italy. The two rival cities of Tuscany set aside their year-long feud before the common enemy and fought side by side against Ladislaus’ coalition, wining back Rome in 1410 and securing peace shortly after that.
Self-determination was not something that the Emperors of the time could give away so easily. The formation of the Lombard League aimed on the protection of that autonomy against the Emperor’s wishes and although Siena had more or less the same goal, in the war between the two alliances it sided with the Emperor against the interests of the Papal States & of course Florence. The decision proved to be wise although the army of Frederick Barbarossa lost at the Battle of Legnano in 1176 and the Emperor was forced to concede the right to freely elect town magistrates in 1183 to the cities of the Lombard League. Sienna’s alliance had secured the same right 3 years earlier, together with the right to mint its own coin and other territorial concessions, which gave vent to the city’s growth & prosperity.
The next emperor, Henry VI (r.1190 to 1197) was not so keen on keeping the concessions made to his Italian subjects by his father, nor on accepting the Pope’s geopolitical role. That led Siena to an uneasy and short-lived alliance with Pope Celestine III, Florence and the rest of the Tuscan cities known as the League of San Genesio in 1197. Despite the internal discords the importance of the Tuscan League was enormous since it was the first time that the participant Tuscan cities united against a common enemy in order to prevent the restoration of German sovereignty. In the same time it set the foundations of the Peace of Fonterutoli that was signed on March 29, 1201 between Florence and Siena, which ended a costly ten year conflict and secured the safe passage of the merchants of both city-states in the whole Tuscan region, commencing a new era of economic relations and increased trade transactions.
It was very clear however that the rift between the two sides, the ones that had fought on the side of the Pope when the civil conflicts had started and were known as the Guelphs (Side of the Republic of Florence) and the ones who stood by the Emperor known as the Ghibellines (Side of the Republic of Siena) could not be easily bridged.
During the first half of the 13th century the civil conflicts between different cities and even within cities between the church party and the imperial party were constant. Sienna’s internal feuds were somewhat pacified through the practice of the free election of the city’s consuls who in a short period of time managed to accomplish three very important feats. They managed to decrease the influence of the various feudal lords, to ensure the application of reasonable duties and taxes within the limits of the republic and face the chronic shortage of manpower by accepting all new residents as equal citizens of the Sienese Republic.
The lack of raw materials prevented the creation of a powerful manufacturing industry but in the same time it steered the Sienese economy towards banking, finance and commerce where it very soon gained a competitive advantage compared to its neighbors. In the first decades of the 13th century the first corporations were formed while Sienese merchants could be found in every major market between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean basin, acting as intermediaries of all sorts of raw and processed materials. The generated capital created wealth which transformed a traditional agricultural society to a vibrant economic hub of the time. New magnificent houses like the Palazzo Tolomei are erected by the ones who reap the benefits of the economic upturn and monumental new works like the construction of a new Duomo, of new water fountains like Fonte di Pescaia & Fonte Nuova, of new Basilicas like the Basilica of San Domenico & the Basilica di San Francesco are financed by both the government and private funds. The first university, a School of Humanities and Philosophy, the Studium Senese is founded in 1240 funded by the taxes of the student rents.
The powerful merchant families like the Salimbeni were quickly incorporated in the city’s institutions creating the new ruling class which was bound by the regulations of the written constitution and the values of the Republic. Safe-keepers of those values were of course the people, usually representatives of various guilds, arts and military companies who filled half of the seats of the council. Finally there was the “Captain of the People” also known as the Podesta, a commander of a limited time who led the army and directed the City council.
Early 13th century was also the period when an old Etruscan tradition of bareback horse-racing known as “Palio di San Bonifacio “ (San Bonifacio was the name of the first cathedral of the city on the site of the Duomo) was revamped in opulence, took a more formal form and was dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (the Assumption of Mary), the new patron Saint of the Sienese State.
In 1250, the merchants and the artisans of Florence managed to usurp the power of the Ghibelline nobles and initiate a new policy. Soon the radical faction of the Florentine Guelphs who wanted to completely eradicate the influence of the Ghibelline in the city and the region of Tuscany known as the Black Guelphs took the helm of the Florentine state.
In the spring of 1260, the Sienese were laying a siege on the nearby fortress-town of Montalcino for a third time in only few years, in order to secure the control of Via Francigena that led to Rome. The Florentines decided to go to the offensive and aid the besieged in order to cripple the hated Ghibellines. All males of Florence between 15 and 70 years old were summoned to arms and were soon joined by the troops of Genoa, Piacenza, Bologna, Lucca, Pistoia, Prato, Arezzo, Volterra, San Gimignano and the papal towns of Perugia and Orvieto. There were even some Sienese –exiled Guelphs who wanted to take power in their home town that joined in, rising the number of the Guelph army to 35.000 soldiers in total.
On the other side the Sienese could only depend on the support of Pisa (traditional enemy of Florence & Genoa), Cortona and the exiled Florentine Ghibellines who had found refuge in Siena. In the summer of 1260, with the Florentine army having already crossed the region of Chianti, the Sienese council convened in the cloister of San Cristoforo where they would receive the Florentine delegates. The Florentine terms however left no space for further discussion and could not be accepted without humiliation. Acknowledging the handicap of their camp against the massive Florentine army, the council expressed the need of hiring more troops from King Manfred of Sicily who ruled over southern Italy and was considered a Ghibelline but there was a serious problem with that choice. The Sienese lacked the needed funds. The wealth of the Salimbeni family would provide the solution and in a very short period of time the Sienese army included 20.000 strong.
On September 4, 1260, the Florentine army was preparing to set camp on the plain of Montaperti, a hill within sight of Siena, when the German knights of King Manfred launched their surprise attack. What followed is considered the bloodiest day in the Italian Middle Ages and is described by Dante, in the Divine Comedy as “The havoc and the great slaughter, which dyed the Arbia (small Tuscan River) red”.
Although outnumbered the Sienese managed to crush their hated enemies, in a victory so resounding that still echoes today whenever the two cities meet in various sporting events. More than 10.000 dead, 4.000 missing and 15.000 captured were the staggering numbers on the side of the Guelphs in contrast to the 600 Ghibellines who lost their lives. The “miracle of Montaperti” immediately ended the Guelph rule in Florence and forced most of the neighboring towns to accept Sienna’s hegemony in the region. It was a glorious time for the city that would be celebrated with the completion of the first phase of the Duomo in 1264.
The latter half of the 11th century was also the period that the church of Siena got its first sovereign rights over a wide territory outside the narrow borders of the city (the region between Murlo and Monteroni d’Arbia, the castellated villages 30 km south of the city) and the time when the first official reference to the famous Fontebranda water source (in the Piazza del Campo), where Saint Catherine of Siena would be born, is first documented.
The absence of a nearby river created a riddle that had to be solved in order for the Sienese to overcome the scarcity of water in their city. The Fountain of Fontebranda, with its three underground reservoirs (one for drinking, the other for livestock and the third for the laundering of the clothes) was a brilliant engineering feat which solved the problem during the Middle Ages and provided the much needed resource to the wool industry of Siena in the future.
The jurisdiction of the Margrave of Tuscany was in essence an umbrella under which the Episcopate of Siena exercised its power and pulled all the strings in order to enlarge its domains. The struggle between the papacy and the Emperor however left a power gap that up to 1115 and the death of Matilda of Tuscany was very successfully played by the family of the Bonifacii.
The municipal government already existent at the time of Matilda’s death would take on a more active role as the Italian Kingdom was entering the era of the city-states. The era of fierce military clashes was inaugurated for Siena with the first documented case of a battle with Florence in 1115, one of the many that would follow. The tension between secular (imperial) and religious institutions culminated after 1120 with the Pope granting the rights of the disputed since the mid 8th century, lands between the bishoprics of Arezzo & Siena to the latter. The city’s consuls (first mention of them comes from 1125 , referring to three) first took on the role of enforcing the Papal order to the neighboring region but after an imperial directive some time after 1140 they went on an all-out confrontation which resulted in the emancipation of the commune of Siena from the episcopal control in 1167.
In the period that followed, the story of Siena and most of its neighboring cities resembled that of the old city states in ancient Greece. Self-government under the organisational guardianship of the city’s consuls, feverish efforts for the expansion of its territory, shrewd diplomacy and constantly changing alliances. Sienna’s greatest rival, the hated Republic of Florence. The area of Chianti and the beautiful and prosperous city of Poggibonsi the main contest prize of that era, with Siena winning the first fight.
By 750 AD we have records of at least one church and one monastery dedicated to Saint Ansano, a Benedictine Monastery of St. Eugene ( 730 ) and explicit references of Sienese bishops who participate in Papal councils and intervene mainly to support claims against the Bishopric of Arezzo over 19 border parishes between Chianti and Montepulciano that both wanted to control.
Aside from the bishop whose residence lay on the site where the future Duomo of Siena would be built (until 913), Siena was also the seat of two Lombard gastaldi (magistrates), a judge and a minister of finance. Right when the Lombards had finally managed to become the undisputed masters of the Italian peninsula and Desiderius had ousted the Byzantines from the north, things came upside down. Summoned by the Pope, who wanted to secure the papal sovereignty against the encroachment of the Lombard King, the Franks of Charlemagne crossed the Alps in 773. In less than a year Charlemagne had become the Rex Langobardorum and Franks had assumed the role of the Lombards.
After Charlemagne’s coronation the Lombard magistrates were replaced by an Imperial Count (Conte) with the incoming Franks forming the new cast of nobles after intermingling with the existing Sienese aristocracy. Very soon the town became a hereditary fiefdom of one family (Rainier). With the break up of the Carolingian Empire, the bishop became the only undisputed authority of Siena. He exercised his power with a council of noble consuls who secured the popular support by calling the people in front of the church to approve the proposals. From the beginning of the 10th century the Chapter of the Cathedral was linked to the common life with its Schola which handed down -mostly- ecclesiastical knowledge to the public through its teachers, the scholae priores. Among them a venerated saint of the Catholic Church, San Bruno di Segni who taught in Siena’s Cathedral after 1070 AD.
A few years earlier, in December 1058 Siena had become the epicenter of one of the most contentious papal elections in the history of the Catholic Church. A number of cardinals who opposed the election of Benedict X (4 April 1058) in favor of Cardinal Hildebrand (later Pope Gregory VII) were forced to flee Rome and hold a separate synod in Siena with the support of Gérard de Bourgogne, Bishop of Florence. Miraculously enough the synod of Siena did not elect Cardinal Hildebrand as the “rightful Pope” but Gérard de Bourgogne himself who then took the name Nicholas II and managed to ascend on the Papal throne after a winning battle in early 1059.
Around that time (mid 11th century) the city started to grow out of its initial nucleus in Castelvecchio, on the top of the hill, while the college of Sienese clergymen, commonly known as canons established one of the oldest surviving hospitals in Europe, the Santa Maria della Scala (a name reference to its location, in front of the Duomo entrance steps) in order to cater for the pilgrims and other travelers that passed from the city on their way to Rome.
The first written mention of Siena comes from the year 70 AD, when the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus refers to an incident with a Roman Senator who was beaten and ridiculed by the people during his official visit to Saena Julia. The Roman city fort was located where Castelvecchio lies today.
Christianity reached Siena through a noble Roman named Ansanus (Patron Saint Ansanus) born in the 3rd century and secretly baptized and raised as a Christian by his nurse (she is also venerated as St. Maxima of Rome). According to the Christian legend, young Ansanus had already suffered twice during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian before he was taken to Siena as a prisoner. There, although confined, he managed to preach and convert many Sienese into the new religion, before he was finally decapitated by order of the Roman Emperor in 304 AD.
Before the passing of a decade there would be accounts of a Christian bishop of Siena named Floriano who intervened at the Synod of Rome in 313 AD. Until the Lombards invaded Tuscany in the 6th century the town remained in obscurity. As a part of the Lombard Duchy of Tuscia (later Tuscany), the city of Sena flourished mainly due to the rerouting of the trade roads that connected the territories which now belonged to the Lombards with Rome. Siena quickly became a trading and resting stop of the pilgrimage route to the holy city.
At the time of Desiderius, Duke of Tuscany around 750 AD (He later became the last Lombard King to rule before the Franks) the Lombards had been completely Romanized, in their ways, clothes, religion, even haircuts, although they still continued to form the military and aristocratic elite, a group considerably smaller compared to the old population who worked in the fields and the rest of the traditional crafts.
The area where the city of Siena lies today was first inhabited by Etruscans (Tusci in Latin) between 800 and 400 BC. During that time frame the Etruscan civilization became the dominant agent of uniformity for the various peoples in the region of Tuscany. A fort was founded on top of one of the three hills occupied today by Siena, a standard practice followed by Etruscans in the founding of their cities that were easier defended with the help of a terrain that worked as a natural fort. The tribe that populated the fort belonged to the Saena Etruriae. The introduction of the Etruscan irrigation system would gradually transform the whole area into a lush agrarian land.
The Etruscan civilization reached its peak in the 7th century BC. Rome was in fact ruled by Etruscan kings who formed its elite cast from its very beginning all the way to the establishment of its republic in the late 6th century when the tribes of the Latins and Sabines took control. The Romans assimilated many of the elements of the Etruscan culture in their own identity. In the 5th and 4th century BC, Rome expanded its influence outside its own city radius, to a great extent through war with Etruscan cities and peoples. The who of Etruria was finally subdued to the Roman Republic. When the Roman town of Saena Julia was founded at the site of the former Etruscan fort at the time of Emperor Augustus (63 BC- 14 AD), Rome was already a super-power. According to the Roman legend, Remus’s sons Senius and Aschius, fled Rome after the killing of their father by his uncle Romulus. His uncle founded Rome and Senius founded Siena. According to the same legend the city got its colors, the black and white of its coat of arms, by the colors of the horses the two brothers rode when fleeing Rome for the hills of Siena.
Palazzo Ravizza is located within walking distance from Piazza del Campo and is the only one charming relais in the heart of Siena with private parking on site and a blooming garden with panoramic view on Sienese hills, a privilege for our guests. The hotel, furthermore, is provided with amazing rooms that maintained the style and the classic ambiance of a historic dwelling, the ideal choice for a holiday in the sign of refinement.
Palazzo Ravizza is enclosed by the city walls of Siena and preserved its original style dating back to XIX century, when it was restored to become a dwelling and, at a later time, a boarding house. The refined design of the rooms and the period furniture wonderfully match with the mood of a private home.
The owners like to think of their hotel as a “shelter” from the outside world; the sitting rooms, the reading room, the bar, the lemon-house and a unique garden inside the city walls, all offer private spots where guests may spend time reading, chatting or relax while sipping an aperitif and looking at the sunset over the hills surrounding Siena. More
St. Catherine passed a large part of her life inside the walls of this stupendous Basilica, which was one of the first to be dedicated to St. Dominic. It was begun by the Dominicans in 1226 on the hill of Camporegio which they had received as a gift from the Malavolti family. Most of the actual rectangular nave and the inside roof with its traverse beams, all in Gothic Cistercian style, go back to this epoch. The Church contains a magnificent Maestà by Guido da Siena (master to Duccio of Boninsegna) dating back to 1221. The old Chapter Room, the old Sacresty, the Refectory and the Dormitory were all built with the original Church and the Cloister was frescoed by Lippo Memmi and Lippo Vanni. In the first half of the fourteenth century the new Church (crypt and transept for the old Church) was built on the steep side of Camporegio hill overlooking the district of Fontebranda where St. Catherine had been born. When she began going to St. Dominic the new edifice was already almost finished. Her own father and other members of her family were buried in the Crypt. Following the canonization of St. Catherine in 1461, her most precious manuscripts and her sacred relics were transferred to the Basilica (these twelve codices in 1700 were placed behind a painting above the altar in the Scaresty and formed the so-called “virginal library”: today they are in the public library). The most important relic, the Sacred Head, was brought from Rome to Siena by Blessed Raymond of Capua in 1383 and it was at first placed in a copper container and then in a silver one (now empty but still on display in the Basilica). In 1711 it was removed to a urn in the form of a lamp done by the sculptor Giovanni Piamontini where it remained until 1947, when the Dominican Fathers decided to place it in its actual urn of silver in a niche resembling a small Gothic temple. After nearly two centuries of construction, the Basilica was finally dedicated entirely to St. Catherine and a statue of her was placed even at the top of the bell tower. The Basilica has known hard times: in 1798 it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake, but after it was completely restored. Then, unfortunately, it was very much neglected and allowed to decay until 1940 when a new restoration was finally begun which was concluded in 1962. During these years the Basilica underwent some radical changes. The foundations were strengthened and especially the Chapel of the Vaults, where the original portrait of St. Catherine by Andrea Vanni is located and where the Saint had so many mystical experiences, was restored. Today the Basilica is exactly as the Dominican Fathers have always wanted it to be and it has become an important center of Christian spirituality where pilgrims are welcomed and where they can pray next to the sacred relics of St. Catherine.