The medieval fist of the Tuscan region, Siena Italy is one of the top tourist destinations for those trying to escape into the country's rich past. Small, poor and generally neglected over centuries of Roman and Florentine rule, Siena ironically became one of Europe"s best preserved towns due to its lack of funds - the city couldn't afford to replace its archaic Gothic structures with more modern buildings. Due to the competitive nature of Italy's tourism trade, city officials found this advantage to be key to the city's charm, and now it's mandatory for any new buildings in the city to stick with the medieval architectural theme.
Tired of drivers clogging the roads and taking liberal views towards accepted driving laws? Siena welcomes you. Cars are strictly prohibited within the walls of town, and the roads and alleys snake through the city like discarded olive branches. The lack of automotive travel is both a blessing and a curse, however, since the city is built on three hills. If you plan an extensive visit, make sure your calves are in shape beforehand, or Siena's steep steps may prove to be a serious detraction.
The heart of the city is Piazza del Campo, where the Palio horse races are held every July 2nd and August 16th. It is a traditional citywide festival that brings an outpouring of feverish territorial pride that you are unlikely to witness elsewhere. The horse races last under two minutes, but the buildup for the ceremonies takes weeks - weeks full of banquets and parades, of blessings for the horses in the name of Saint Catherine of Siena and any other kind of celebration one could imagine.
Things to do in Siena
Vineyards encapsulate most of the space between Florence and Siena, where the famed Chianti wine was first born. To the south of Siena is the Brunello region, home to another of the country's most acclaimed wines. Due to the benefits of their unique geography, each of the many Siena restaurants are fiercely proud of their wine selections. And no tour of Siena Italy would be complete without at least one meal taken in the city's famous Piazza del Campo, where Siena restaurants spill haphazardly in every direction from its center. Boccon del Prete has house wines that would be about $40 a bottle in some places, and follow it with creative and perfectly crafted dishes, making it no wonder how it became one of the most popular Siena restaurants.
One of Italy's most celebrated religious figures is Saint Catherine of Siena. She was canonized in the 15th century and became the first Catholic woman to be given the title of Doctor of the Church. An avid lobbyist for peace when many of Italy's principalities were warring, she became famous for her long fasts and for subsisting solely on the Blessed Sacrament for long periods of time. April 29th is the feast day of Saint Catherine of Siena.