- BRIEF GUIDE OF SIENA -
WITH SOME INTERESTING QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
by Stefano Maccianti
(click on the question to know the answer)
Many, while strolling through the streets of the city, wonder what those statues of a she-wolf nursing two babies represent. There are three, on as many columns, in the main streets of the city, while others can be seen in the city hall and in front of the Duomo. Then, if you enter the Cathedral, you can see one depicted in a mosaic on the splendid floor of the church. Some visitors know the story of Romulus and Remus and know that the two brothers, after having been abandoned by their mother, were found by a she-wolf who nursed them and raised them as her children. Then the two, once they grew up, founded Rome.
- Exacly, so what is the she-wolf doing in Siena?
- And the other brother?
- Is it a true story?
- And how did this legend originate?
- Why are the colors of Siena black and white?
Starting from the 12th century, the city of Siena managed to organize itself as a free municipality and to incorporate surrounding territories and small villages. From this moment on, great economic development began which lasted for a long time and which made Siena an important and prestigious city. It was in this period that the struggles against Florence began. Enmity and continuous battles continued until 1555, when the Florentines, with the help of the Spaniards, conquered Siena and gained access to the southern part of Tuscany.
- Why were Siena and Florence at war?
- The Medici family ruled in Florence. Who ruled in Siena?
Over the centuries, Siena has also developed thanks to the Via Francigena, the road network that from Canterbury, through France, reaches Rome. The Via Francigena has been known since the 10th century and is still the road for pilgrims who want to reach Rome on foot. It is not as popular as the Camino de Santiago, in northern Spain, but if you go to Rome through the Val d'Orcia and avoiding the motorway, it is not difficult to run into people who, with a backpack and a cane, walking calmly, step by step, in the footsteps of Sigeric.
- Who was Sigeric?
- What did it mean for the city?
(to know the answer, click on the question)
Let's start our walk from PIAZZA SALIMBENI. Sienese architecture and art have hardly been affected by the Renaissance influences of nearby Florence. The Sienese Gothic arches, with their characteristic ogival shape, are clearly visible on the facade of the thirteenth-century Palazzo Salimbeni. The Salimbeni family was expelled from Siena in 1419 after attempting to take power. All their possessions were confiscated and, in 1472, Monte Pio was housed in this building, which later became Monte dei Paschi in 1624. Today Monte dei Paschi is the oldest bank in the world and one of the largest in Italy.
- What is the difference between the Gothic and Renaissance styles?
- Where does the word gothic come from?
We continue our walk by stopping in PIAZZA TOLOMEI. The Tolomei were another powerful Sienese family, archenemy of the Salimbeni, against whom they fought to establish them-selves as powerful citizens. The Gothic façade of their palace is more "authentic" and "sincere" than that of Palazzo Salimbeni that we have seen previously and which, it should be remembered, is the result of a heavy nineteenth-century reconstruction. Palazzo Tolomei, on the other hand, was built between 1208 and 1210 and is the first important Gothic work in Siena.
- Did these families have coats of arms?
Continuing towards Piazza del Campo, you find yourself in front of a fifteenth-century loggia, the LOGGIA DELLA MERCANZIA. It is not Gothic architecture, you can see it from the round arches, but it has an almost Renaissance appearance. In the niches of the pillars there are five statues of saints. They all look north, towards Florence, as if to protect the city from the invading enemy.
- Who are the saints?
Behind the Loggia della Mercanzia, PIAZZA DEL CAMPO opens up the heart of the city. Its characteristic shell shape makes it unique. The longest side is dominated by the Palazzo Pubblico, the government palace of Siena. Turning your back to the palace, starting from the right, you can admire Palazzo Chigi Zondadari and Palazzo Sansedoni, with its curved facade flanked by a tower. The Fonte Gaia, from 1419, is the monument in the center of the square. It is a nineteenth-century copy, since the original by Jacopo della Quercia is preserved and visible in Santa Maria della Scala, the ancient Sienese hospital in front of the Cathedral.
- Why does the square have this shape?
- Why is the square divided into nine segments?
Starting from 1297, a building began to be built to house the city governmental, which previously met in the church of San Cristoforo, in Piazza Tolomei. The palace was to be finished around 1310, as the government of the Nine planned on moving there permanently.
- Who built Palazzo Pubblico?
- Is the tower contemporary to Palazzo Pubblico?
- Why are there so many holes in the facades of those buildings?
Inside, the palace houses frescoes by the major Sienese artists of the 14th century, such as Simone Martini, Duccio di Buoninsegna and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, as well as, many other later authors. We mention here the Maestà by Simone Martini, from 1315, one of the greatest masterpieces of European Gothic painting. The icon of the Maestà, that is, the Virgin seated on a throne like a queen, is very present throughout the province of Siena. The Republic has never had a Lord, a Dominus, so it seems as if there was a need, felt and explicit, to find a tall figure, a queen, to refer to and vote for.
- This is a public building and not a church. Why paint such a large and prominent religious symbol?
Leaving the square and walking along Via di Città, you will soon arrive at the Cathedral of Siena, popularly called the Duomo, one of the richest and undoubtedly full of meaning in all of Christianity. Tradition states that the cathedral was consecrated on November 18, 1179 by Pope Alexander III, the first Sienese Pope. However, scholars agree that this truth is unfounded. In fact, before 1226 the history of the cathedral is only hypothetical. In fact, in that year the first official documents of the municipal accounting were produced, which tell us about the construction of the cathedral.
THE FACADE was added to the cathedral from 1284 and its construction ended in 1317. It represents a transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The arches above the three portals are Romanesque (round arches), and then, as ones gaze rises, the shapes lengthen and everything rushes upwards with the typical Gothic style.
- Who are the architects?
- Who do the statues we see on the facade depict?
- And what is depicted in the three cusps?
- What does OPA mean?
THE INTERIOR of the Cathedral of Siena is so rich in works of art and full of meaning, that it makes this church one of the most fascinating in Christianity. The most important part is undoubtedly the floor, made up of 55 marble inlays and a mosaic; it was made starting from the 14th century and the last added inlays are from the 19th century. It, therefore, has a construction history of almost 500 years. Each single image is a work of art in itself, but all together they form a symbolic path that accompanies the visitor to the main altar, where the figure of King David dominates.
- Who are the authors of the inlays?
- Who else worked in this cathedral?
This short Sienese “walk” is a small introduction to the city. For further information please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org