Siena – Tuscany’s Hidden Gem

I officially have a new favorite city in Italy. The quaint mountain town of Assisi, which I had stopped at for a few hours on my last trip to Italy, used to be my favorite, with its picturesque views and serene location, but the amazing, beautiful city of Siena definitely tops my impression of Assisi.

As soon as I stepped out of the train station in Siena, I was greeted with this incredible view of rolling hills of vibrant green dotted with terra cotta colored Tuscan houses. 

I stood there for a while just soaking it all in, a drastic difference from my daily views in the fairly metropolitan city of Florence, before meandering down the narrow streets towards the main center of the city, which is about a half hour walk from the train station. 

On my way towards the city center, I stopped to get a slice of pizza topped with french fries, prosciutto, and onions, which may be one of the best combinations of pizza toppings I’ve tasted so far in Italy. 

I also tried a ciaccino con nutella, which was basically pizza dough stuffed with nutella, and it only cost €1 – it may have been the best euro I’ve spent. Although it was messy with powdered sugar flying everywhere with each bite I took, it was so worth it with the soft, fresh dough and the warm, creamy nutella.

All around Siena, there were many statues of the famous Romulus and Remus twins who, in Roman mythology, were raised by a wolf. The city of Rome actually gets its name from the brother in this myth, Romulus. Because of this link to Rome, I’m not quite sure why Siena had an abundance of these statues but it was eye-catching as it called to mind the myth I had heard so many years ago.

The architecture all around the city was stunningly beautiful, with statues and ornate decorations around every pillar and every ceiling.

I reached the Piazza del Campo, a huge expanse with restaurants and shops opening up to an area with tons of tourists sitting and relaxing on the ground below the massive Torre del Mangia. 

After purchasing a ticket to climb the tower an hour in advance, I walked behind the Piazza and found an amazing spot overlooking the countryside with break taking views. I stood there for a while, in disbelief of how beautiful Siena was and how a picturesque place like this could really be real.

Back at the Torre del Mangia, the signs informed me that visitors had 30 minutes in and atop the tower – including climbing and descending 400 steps. I definitely overstayed the 30 minutes, but honestly have no remorse because the view was absolutely one of the best views I’ve ever seen. 

View through a window in the winding staircase in the tower

The vibrant green of the countryside contrasted perfectly with the warm orange and yellow hues of the city’s buildings and the Duomo di Siena stuck out on the skyline against the clear blue sky. It was a perfect day and you could see for miles all around. I walked around the perimeter of the tower more times than I can count, just taking it all in, shocked that this view could possibly be real.

Once I finally got a hold of my disbelief and descended the tower, I stopped at a bakery and tried some delicious Ricciarelli cookies – reminiscent of the lemon cookies I had in Capri, but flavored with vanilla and almond instead of lemon. Along with the food I had earlier, I continued to be pleasantly surprised by how amazing the food in Siena is.

As I walked from the piazza toward the cathedral, I continued to pass quaint little houses that just added to the beautiful aesthetic of the city.

The cathedral itself was incredible – definitely one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen, with its ornate and intricate design and beautiful colors. Someone inside commented that this church was the definition of “extra” – and I couldn’t agree more, but in the best way possible. 

With the signature green and white marble stripes adorning the entire main area inside, it was gorgeous and some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve seen in Italy thus far. 

Even the floor had intricate designs depicting biblical stories or myths and legends.

The beautiful stained glass all around added to the overall ambiance as the light shone in during this peak time of the day’s sunlight.

Inside the cathedral is the Liberia Piccolomini, which is also stunningly beautiful with brightly colored and gold-plated paintings covering the ceiling and walls.

With the beauty of the cathedral still making my head spin, I headed back towards the train station. On my way, I stopped in a souvenir shop to get a pin for my study abroad pin collection. Siena is the location of Il Palio, a famous horse race, and there are seventeen contrade, or districts, within Siena that each have a representative in the horse race. Each contrada has an animal or symbol, and the souvenir shop I stopped in had a variety of the contrada crests to choose from on pins. I chose the one with a porcupine, which I found out is for the Istrice contrada. 

A flag of Istrice

Istrice occupies the north-western area of Siena, which happened to be on my route to the train station, so I counted it out and found the symbol of the porcupine located on a street sign in that area. 

I’m glad that I somewhat randomly chose the porcupine, since as the day went on, I realized it aligned with me more and more. I found out the motto of Istrice is “Sol per difesa io pungo,” or, “I prick only for self-defense,” which also applies to my philosophy in life that you should treat others the way you would like to be treated, never hurting someone intentionally but only as an act of defense if someone has wronged you. I also happened to get a splinter in my hand that day, which made me think back to the porcupine. 

Overall, I had an incredible day in Siena and came home very happy and excited to spread word about Siena, the hidden gem of Tuscany that isn’t necessarily on everyone’s hit list for sightseeing, but definitely should be!

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