Medieval Siena Walking Tour (Self Guided), Siena

Siena is a beautiful medieval city whose Gothic-era identity, acquired between the 12th and 15th centuries, has been successfully preserved due to the centuries of political and economic irrelevance in the shadow of its grander neighbor Florence. Today's Siena is a cultural gold mine and ideal place to revel in medieval Italy.

No tour of Siena is complete without visiting its heart, the gorgeous Piazza Del Campo – one of Europe’s finest and most important medieval squares – around which the entire city was built.

If Piazza Del Campo is the heart of Siena, then the Duomo (Siena Cathedral) is its soul. Built atop the city's highest point in 1263, on the site of a 9th-century church, this white and dark-green striped temple is lavished with statues and mosaics.

As for Cripta del Duomo di Siena (Crypt of the Siena Cathedral) – this is an attraction in its own right in terms of medieval archaeology; rediscovered in 1999.

Basilica of San Francesco – a Romanesque-style church built in the 13th century and expanded two centuries later with a Gothic facade.

Chiesa di San Vigilio (San Vigilio Church) – originally built in the 11th century, restored after a fire in 1231; dedicated to Bishop and martyr St Vigillius.

St Catherine Sanctuary – honors one of Siena's most revered citizens, known as "the mystic of politics" who fought corruption in the Catholic Church.

Fonte Branda (Branda Fountain) – the oldest city fountain in Siena and a principal source of water in the city during the middle ages; built in 1246.

To find yourself in an architectural time warp and explore these and other medieval attractions of Siena in more detail, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Medieval Siena Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Medieval Siena Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Siena (See other walking tours in Siena)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: irenebo
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Porta Ovile (Ovile Gate)
  • Basilica of San Francesco
  • Chiesa di San Vigilio (San Vigilio Church)
  • Piazza del Campo (Campo Square)
  • Cripta del Duomo di Siena (Crypt of Siena Cathedral)
  • Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral)
  • St Catherine Sanctuary
  • Fonte Branda (Branda Fountain)
  • Basilica of San Domenico
  • Chiesa di Sant'Andrea (St. Andrew Church)
  • Chiesa di San Pietro alla Magione (Saint Peter of the Mansion Church)
  • Porta Camollia (Camollia Gate)
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Porta Ovile (Ovile Gate)

1) Porta Ovile (Ovile Gate)

The original Ovile Gate dates back to 1246 and was part of the city wall. The gate was rebuilt and enlarged several times over the years. The gate is built entirely of brick, with a massive rampart for protection. It is among the preserved city gates in Siena.
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Basilica of San Francesco

2) Basilica of San Francesco

The Basilica of San Francesco was built in the 13th century in Romanesque style and expanded in the 14th and 15th centuries with an updated Gothic facade. The large basilica features a somber brick exterior. The church was restored in the late 19th and early 20th century after a fire damaged the church in 1655. This isn't an overly showy or elaborate church, but it is peaceful and has several important artworks.

In the interior, visitors will find a pitched timber roof. Original remnants of frescoes from the Romana Gate and Pispini Gate are on display. In addition, there are several interesting artworks on display in the church, including Crucifixion by Pietro Lorenzetti, Madonna with Child and Saints by Jacopo Zucchi, and fresco by Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio, Madonna with Child.

One of the remaining items from the original facade is the 14th-century marble statue of St Francis, on display in the right transept.
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Chiesa di San Vigilio (San Vigilio Church)

3) Chiesa di San Vigilio (San Vigilio Church)

The San Vigilio Church is dedicated to Bishop and martyr St Vigillius. The exterior has a classical facade. The church was originally built in the 11th century and occupied by monks. The original church was destroyed in a fire in 1153 and was rebuilt in 1231.

The monks were expelled in 1420, and in 1556, Jesuits took over the church and continued to remodel it. In 1759, the Vallombrosan order took over the church and rebuilt the facade, which remains today. In 1816, the church was gifted to the University of Siena.

The San Vigilio Church's interior features several chapels and various artworks. Visitors will find 15 canvasses created by artist Raffaello Vanni depicting The Last Judgement. The chapel of St Francis Borgia features paintings by Dionisio Montorselli. The chapel of St Ann has a canvas painting by Romanelli.

The chapel of the Taja family features bronze statues created by Gianlorenzo Bernini's studio. The chapel of St Francis Xavier has artwork by Francesco Vanni and Baldassare Franceschini. Finally, the chapel of Madonna di Loreto features additional canvases by Francesco Vanni.
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Piazza del Campo (Campo Square)

4) Piazza del Campo (Campo Square) (must see)

The Campo Square on the site where three ancient towns met and where three main roads intersect. The square was designed to be a gathering site where the entire town could meet and celebrate holidays, enjoy games, or attend political events.

The Campo Square features a red brick fishtail design that was laid in 1349. Eight lines of white travertine cut through the red brick, creating nine sections. The nine sections represent the nine ruling governors who maintained peace and prosperity in Siena from 1291-1355.

The sections also represent the folds of the Virgin Mary's cloak. The Virgin Mary was Siena's patron saint and considered Siena's ultimate ruler. The nine sections radiate out from the central water drain in front of the Public Palace.

In 1297, the government created guidelines to ensure buildings had a congruent appearance. Therefore, many gorgeous, harmonious buildings face Campo Square. The most notable building in the square is the medieval Gothic Public Palace which was home to the Government of Nine and now houses the Civic Museum.

The Joyous Fountain was built in 1346, and the intricate marble carvings were added in 1409. Underground tunnels feed the Joyous Fountain.

The Palio di Siena, a popular horse race, is held twice a year. The course runs around the edge of the Campo Square and fans pack the square. The yearly road cycling race Strade Bianche finishes at the square. In addition, the Campo Square hosts various Carnival festivities every February.

Why You Should Visit

The Campo Square is known as one of the most beautiful medieval squares in Italy. This gorgeously preserved square is the heart and soul of Siena and the perfect place to immerse yourself in Siena's culture and history.

Tips

Enjoy a glass of wine, gelato, or coffee in one of the many cafes and restaurants. Watch the activity in the square and listen for the tower bells ringing.
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Cripta del Duomo di Siena (Crypt of Siena Cathedral)

5) Cripta del Duomo di Siena (Crypt of Siena Cathedral) (must see)

The crypt of Siena Cathedral is a complex of medieval archeology, located under the cathedral and rediscovered only in 1999. It contains a series of thirteenth-century frescoes that were sealed a few decades after their drafting, for this reason they are presented today with extraordinarily bright colors, making them almost a unicum in the history of art. The name of "crypt" is purely evocative: it is believed that there is another crypt of the cathedral, the original one, under the dome, in rooms that are still inaccessible today due to the risk of structure problems.

During the excavations, the foundations of the oldest apse were also found, illuminating the knowledge on the construction phases of the cathedral. Overall, the rooms that can be visited date back to the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, such as the 13th century stone walls of what must have been the choir area and the left arm of the transept.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral)

6) Duomo di Siena (Siena Cathedral) (must see)

Siena Cathedral is one of Italy's most exquisite Cathedrals. The Cathedral was completed in 1263 on the site of a church dating to the 9th century. This stunning Cathedral has a transept, a dome, and a bell tower and features artwork from Italy's most prominent artists.

The dome has a hexagonal base and supporting columns. Famous sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the lantern on top of the dome. The bell tower features six bells; the oldest bell was cast in 1149. The Cathedral was built with white and dark-colored marble in alternating stripes. White and black are the colors of Siena and represent the white and black horses of the city's founders, Senius and Aschius.

Giovanni Pisano, Nicola Pisano's son, created the west facade with carved sculptures of the prophets and philosophers. The original sculptures are now housed in the Cathedral Treasures Museum, while copies are displayed in the facade.

The mosaic inlay floor is the Cathedral's prized possession and has been called the most beautiful floor ever made. Fifty-six inlay panels were drawn by various Sienese artists and transposed into the marble mosaic inlay.

The most celebrated Italian artists created artwork on display in the Cathedral. Donatello created a statue of St. John the Baptist in the St. John the Baptist chape. Michelangelo carved four statues, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Pius, and St. Augustine, for the Piccolomini altar. Gian Lorenzo Bernini carved the statues of St. Mary Magdalen and St. Jerome in the Chapel of the Vow. Nicola Pisano carved the pulpit that can be seen in the north transept.

A copy of Duccio di Boninsegna's stained glass window is on display. The original is in the Cathedral Treasures Museum. Several other notable stained glass works beautify the Cathedral.

The Cathedral Choir features eight wood-carved inlays by Fra Giovanni da Verona. Underneath the choir, a narthex, long filled with rubble, was excavated between 1999 and 2003. The excavation uncovered 13th-century frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ.

Why You Should Visit

The Siena Cathedral is regarded as one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Italy and shows the pinnacle of Siena's beauty and commitment to artistry. Statues by Donatello, Michelangelo, and Bernini are just some of the artworks on display.

Tips

Inside the main entrance, there's a sign with a map of the Cathedral's floorplan. Take a photo of this map with your phone, so you don't get lost as you explore the massive Cathedral and take in all the sights.

The Cathedral is open until 7 pm and is less crowded in the early evening. The floor is only uncovered during specific dates; check online to see if the floor is uncovered during your visit.
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St Catherine Sanctuary

7) St Catherine Sanctuary

St Catherine of Siena is one of Siena's most revered citizens. She is known as "the mystic of politics" and fought corruption in the Catholic Church. She traveled to convince the Pope to move back to Rome from Avignon.

The St. Catherine Sanctuary is not a church but rather Catherine's home, which now includes several chapels and a cloister with a marble well.

St. Catherine was born in this home in 1347 and lived here with her 23 siblings. At an early age, she joined the Dominican order of nuns and devoted her life to caring for the ill and poor. The order allowed nuns to serve from their homes rather than living in a convent.

The home has been adapted and changed over the centuries, but it is still a place of peace, reverence, and pilgrimage. Walls are decorated with frescoes depicting St Catherine's life. Visitors can see the tiny room Saint Catherine slept in.

The Chapel of the Crucifix features a 12th-century crucifix. This cross was responsible for miraculously piercing St. Catherine's hands, feet, and heart with the stigmata of Christ. St Catherine died young at the age of 33 in 1380. She was canonized in 1461.
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Fonte Branda (Branda Fountain)

8) Fonte Branda (Branda Fountain)

The Branda Fountain is the oldest city fountain in Siena. It was principal source of water in the city during the middle ages. The Branda Fountain was designed by Giovanni di Stefano and built in 1246. It is mentioned as an ancient fountain in Dante’s Inferno and the writings of Boccaccio. During the middle ages, it was surrounded by houses of craftsmen and their workshops. Later it became the site of a slaughterhouse.

The area has been restored today to house workshops of craftsmen who strive to preserve the ancient arts and crafts of Siena. Visitors can view the Branda Fountain on their way to the house of St. Catherine Sanctuary and the Basilica of San Dominico.

The Branda Fountain resembles a small fortress with three pointed arches and crenellations which formed a Guelph battlement during the battle of Montaperti. During the middle ages, it was a rich water source that quenched the thirst of passing travelers, gave power to nearby mills and supplied water to tanners and dyers of woolen fabric in the city. Like all fountains in Siena, the first basin of the Branda Fountain contained water for drinking, the second was used for watering animals and the third was a toilet.
9
Basilica of San Domenico

9) Basilica of San Domenico (must see)

The Basilica of San Domenico was originally built in 1265 and expanded in the 14th century with a Gothic facade. This large basilica has a brick exterior and an imposing bell tower. The interior has transverse wood beams and is filled with important artworks.

The church features several relics and artworks related to St. Catherine. St. Catherine spent a lot of time in this Basilica, and many artifacts and artworks in the Basilica memorialize this important Sienese saint.

The Chapel of the Vaults was used by Dominican nuns, the order that St Catherine joined. Visitors will find a portrait of St Catherine and the Canonization of St Catherine by Mattia Preti. On the left wall of the nave, visitors will find artworks by Francesco di Vannuccio, Il Sodoma, Antonio Magagna, Rutilio Manetti, and Sebastiano Folli. The right wall has artworks by Stefano Volpi and Alessandro Casolani.

The Saint Catherine Chapel has an altar housing the saint's mummified head and thumb, which were smuggled out of Rome so that Saint Catherine could rest in her hometown.

Several artworks are featured in the chapel. The Fainting and Ecstasy of St. Catherine and Death of Niccolò di Tuldo were created by Il Sodoma. Francesco Vanni created St. Catherine's Exorcism. Francesco di Giorgio created the 15th-century marble pavement.

An altar dedicated to Blessed Ambrogio Sansedoni is located in the right transept. The Gothic-style crypt houses a crucifix and a Crucification painting by Ventura Salimbeni.
10
Chiesa di Sant'Andrea (St. Andrew Church)

10) Chiesa di Sant'Andrea (St. Andrew Church)

St. Andrew Church is a Roman Catholic church. The church was founded in 1175, and has undergone a number of reconstructions, including a major reconstruction in the 18th-century. It has a Romanesque bell tower and the facade has balustraded stairs descending laterally at the entrance.

Along the left wall are bronze statues depicting Santa Rita and the Baptism of Christ by Bruno Buracchini. The main altar has a polyptych of the Coronation of the Virgin with Saints Peter and Andrew (1445) by Giovanni di Paolo. Along the right side are the 15th-century frescoes attributed to Martino di Bartolomeo. The stained glass windows were completed by Giorgio Quaroni.
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Chiesa di San Pietro alla Magione (Saint Peter of the Mansion Church)

11) Chiesa di San Pietro alla Magione (Saint Peter of the Mansion Church)

The Saint Peter of the Mansion Church is a medieval structure that dates back to the crusades. It is an important church located in the territory of the Contrada dell'Istrice, one of the 17 districts of Siena. Records show that the Church existed from the year 998. The Counts Bernard and Gualfredi Ranieri gifted the land to the city to build a church and lay vineyards in that year.

Since it was located near the Camollia Gate through which pilgrims and crusaders passed on their way to the holy land, the Knights Templars took over the management of the church and converted it into a hospital in the 12th century. After the abolition of the order in 1312, it passed into the hands of the Knights Hospitallers.

The Saint Peter of the Mansion Church is a rectangular structure with a nave, a semicircular apse and a wooden roof. The bell tower has the design of templar churches during the crusades. The exterior and interior of the church have several stone templar crosses. The frescoes on the walls were painted by the Knights Hospitallers and depict scenes from the Old and the New Testaments.
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Porta Camollia (Camollia Gate)

12) Porta Camollia (Camollia Gate)

The Camollia Gate is one of the earliest gateways constructed along the walls that guarded northern front of the city of Siena.

The Camollia Gate dates back to the 7th century. According to legend, Romulus, one of the founders of Rome, sent his commander, Camulio to the north of Italy to capture his rebellious nephews, Aschio and Senio. Camulio and his men camped at the site where the gate was later erected, hence the name of the gate.

The Camollia Gate served as the entrance for pilgrims visiting the city from other parts of Italy in medieval times. It was heavily guarded because of its location on a road called Cassia Way, that led to the city of Florence. The original gate, built in the 13th century, was completely destroyed during the Siege of Siena in 1555.

The current Camollia Gate structure dates back to 1604. It was designed by Alessandro Casolani. The sculptures that adorn the gate are by Domenico Cafaggi. The exterior arch has a sculpture recording the entrance of the Spanish King Ferdinand I into the city after the Spanish conquest.

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