Events and surroundings
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Il Museo Civico di Siena tra arte, sapori e musica d'eccellenza
A Siena torna il Trekking Urbano:
Tanti nuovi itinerari e proposte per riscoprire la città del secolo scorso.
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An ancient pilgrim route which crossed Europe and led all the way from Canterbury to Rome, splits the province of Siena into two parts (north/south). The Via Francigena, which passes right in front of the Hotel Arcobaleno, has been recently re-launched by the provincial administration and several cities of the province as an important itinerary of slow and sustainable tourism.
We recommend to walk at least some kilometers on this medieval road in the territory of Monteriggioni along the hillsides of the Montagnola senese, where the track is completely safe and well marked with new road signs. Starting from the Romanesque abbey of Abbadia Isola or from the Castello di Monteriggioni you can enjoy the enchanting landscape of this area just outside the gates of the city and discover ancient bridges, medieval roads, castle ruins, fortresses and picturesque parish churches.
The fortified medieval village on the top of a hill which overlooks the Cassia road and the modern freeway Siena-Florence, was a witness to many historical events that took place at the foot of its walls and towers. The first castle at Monteriggioni was built around 1100, but the current city walls date back to the year 1214.
Today Monteriggioni is a little village which consists of a wide cobblestone square that encloses an ancient well. The square is surrounded by picturesque, old houses and a little church. The main road enters the village from the southern city gate and leaves it in the direction of Florence. Only a few people still live within the city walls but the village as a whole has entirely retained its medieval charm and offers some characteristic cafés and restaurants with local products. The museum of Monteriggioni is hosting a display of life size arms and armor from the 11th and 16th centuries. Perfect reproductions of ancient arms and parts of armor can be handled and tried on. From the museum you have access to the walkway that runs around the summits of the walls.
Looking south from Siena on bright sunny days, you can clearly see the silhouette of Monte Amiata that dominates the Orcia valley next to the massif of Radicofani. With its 1738 meters above sea level it is one of Tuscany’s highest mountains. The slopes of the Amiata are less than one hour drive from Siena. Take the Cassia road which cuts the Arbia valley and the Orcia valley and pass at the foot of Montalcino. Beyond San Quirico and the 43° parallel leave the Cassia road and drive uphill towards the beautiful villages of Mount Amiata which became important mining centers during the 19th century. These villages still preserve the characteristics and the charm of traditional Tuscany: Abbadia San Salvatore, Piancastagnaio, Vivo d’Orcia and Santa Fiora, Arcidosso and Casteldelpiano in the province of Grosseto. The mountain top of the Amiata becomes an important ski resort during wintertime while its extraordinary panorama which stretches from lake Bolsena in the south to Siena in the north makes it become a beloved tourist destination during the other seasons.
There is no need to introduce San Gimignano: it is one of Italy’s most beautiful villages and without doubt one of the most renowned tourist destinations of the province of Siena. From Siena you reach it easily in about 30 kilometers in northern direction passing the Elsa valley and Poggibonsi. San Gimignano’s towers still symbolize the noble past of the little town, when each tower represented the political and financial power of the family that inhabited it. Today many of the towers do not exist anymore or have been lowered, but the silhouette of the village is still unmistakable. Within the city walls you can admire beautiful palaces and you shouldn’t miss the fortress, the cathedral and the churches San Francesco and San’t Agostino. The best way to visit San Gimignano is on foot, entering from one of the ancient city gates to stroll through the paved streets in search of treasures.
From San Gimignano you reach the city of Volterra in less than 30 kilometers by driving on a road that shows the wild beauty of the high Elsa valley. Volterra rises on the summit of a hill which dominates the Pisan hills and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the east. Apart from the architectural beauties of the medieval epoch like Palazzo dei Priori and the cathedral, Volterra offers important testimonies of the Renaissance with the beautiful palaces of the historic families of this town.
Don’t miss the park in the fortress, the Roman theatre and one of the most important traces of the Etruscan age in Tuscany: the Etruscan gate Porta all’Arco at the end of a long descent. Evidence of the Etruscan origins of the city you can easily find in the Etruscan museum which, among many archeological finds, exposes the little statuette L’ombra della sera” (“Evening shadow”). Last but not least have a look at the masterwork “The deposition from the cross” by Rosso Fiorentino in the picture gallery which is situated in the beautiful Palazzo Minucci.
One of the most typical landscapes of the “Terre di Siena” is characterized by gentle, carefully cultivated hills, fields of sunflowers, picturesque old farmhouses and cypress-lined roads. This natural masterpiece will appear to everyone who is driving along the roads of the Orcia valley. The Val d’Orcia can easily be reached from Siena by driving in southern direction along the Cassia road; beyond the city walls of Buonconvento and the village of Torrenieri you will find yourself thrown into the postcard that has made this area famous in all the world: Endless hills and undulating fields as far as the eye can see and in the background the imposing mass of Mount Amiata. The best way to visit this territory is by car, but you should make some sightseeing stops at San Quirico with its beautiful gothic cathedral and the 16th century Italian style gardens “Horti Leonini”. Make a detour to visit Pienza, the jewel of humanistic architecture that was redesigned as an “ideal town” in the 15th century under the patronage of Pope Pius II. Another must-see along the Orcia valley is Bagno Vignoni with its medieval thermal pool which occupies the entire main square of the little village. Continuing on the Cassia road, where the Orcia valley turns into the Paglia valley to reach the Latium with Acquapendente and lake Bolsena, the Castle of Radicofani rises along the left bank of the Paglia river, from where the notorious brigand-hero Ghino di Tacco controlled the Cassia road in the 13th century.
Montalcino is famous throughout the world for its precious Brunello di Montalcino, one of the best-known and most excellent wines of the Tuscan territory. But Montalcino is even a beautiful village on the top of a high hill in the south of Siena. Before tasting the precious nectar of these lands you should visit the historic center of the village with its fortress where the Senese took refuge when escaping from their own city that was conquered by the Florentines in 1555. The picturesque center is made of narrow alleyways, churches and medieval palaces and offers a breathtaking view on the surrounding landscape and on the perfectly recognizable towers of the Senese town hall and cathedral.
Close to Montalcino, driving downhill in direction of the river Orcia and the Castello di Velona, all at once the enchanting Romanesque abbey of San’t Antimo will appear in front of you. Inside the abbey you can admire some edifice of the Carolingian age as well as beautiful bas-reliefs dating back to the year 1000.
Driving down the old road from Siena to Florence, the state road 222 called “Chiantigiana”, the beautiful and evocative sceneries of the Chianti will appear in front of you. A woody, steep land which has been tamed by man: Cultivated olive groves and endless vineyards characterize this area that gave its name to a world-famous wine: the Chianti Classico. The villages of this region are not far from Siena and have surprisingly well-preserved and bustling historic centers, where modernity and history make a perfect couple. The best period to visit this area is the early autumn, the period of the grape harvest, when the vineyards enchant the eyes with bright autumn colors and the wine cellars open their doors for tasting sessions. The famous villages of the Chianti Classico are Castellina, Radda and Gaiole but we recommend to explore the minor roads as well in search of little places full of history and solemn charm like Fonterutoli, Vagliagli, Volpaia, San Sano, Monti, San Regolo, Pievasciata and many other places with curious names and of an indisputable historic and natural heritage value.
Another important city of cultural and historical interest in the province of Siena is without doubt Montepulciano. A real jewel of architecture in southern Tuscany, it exudes an aristocratic charm just like the local wine Nobile di Montepulciano does.
Montepulciano is situated in the southern part of the province, not far from the highway A1 (Autostrada del Sole), on a high hill which dominates on one side the Orcia valley and on the other side the Chiana valley. From the highest part of the city you have a beautiful view on a patchwork of fields and vineyards and after a steep climb along the streets and alleyways you will reach the beautiful main square with the Palazzo Comunale, renaissance palace and headquarter of the city administration, and the impressive cathedral. The upper part of the city is dominated by the fortress, which in former times could defend not only Montepulciano but also the entire surrounding countryside.
Nearby the church of San Biagio, Mount Cetona, the village Sarteano with its castle and Chiusi, an important city of Etruscan origins, are worth visiting.
Driving south along the Lauretana road, the travelers will find themselves immersed in a panorama that is unique in the world: “lunar” landscapes made of ochre-tinged soil, clay hills and clods of earth. These are the Crete Senesi. A nature spectacle made of cultivated soil, little lakes and oak forests, unmistakable, evocative places that have become the setting of a lot of movies. The main villages of the Crete Senesi are Asciano, San Giovanni d’Asso (famous for its white truffle) and the neighborhood of Trequanda and Chiusure from where you have a marvelous view on the monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. It’s maybe one of the most enchanting panoramas of the entire province: the Benedictine monastic complex, surrounded by the poetic, misty landscape of the Crete Senesi.
It is easy to visit the Crete by car starting from Asciano or Buonconvento which are close to Siena, but for a really unforgettable journey you should travel with the Treno Natura, an old locomotive with wagons from the beginning 19th century, which slowly runs on the old railway track between Siena and Monte Antico in the province of Grosseto, passing gorges, forests, old railway stations and the fields of the Crete and the Asso valley and even the slopes of Mount Amiata.
For further information: www.trenonatura.terresiena.it/trenonatura2010/.
A mysterious and charming place about 30 kilometers southwest of Siena, situated along the old road to Grosseto close to the village of Chiusdino. A beautiful, imposing church which was built during the Gothic epoch by Cistercian monks, rises in the middle of rolling green hills and fields of sunflowers. It is the abbey of San Galgano that is famous because it has remained roofless. The pavement has gradually been covered by earth, grass and little wild flowers, and the great columns reach, tree-like, up towards the open sky. A magic place that is well worth a visit.
Some hundred meters further you will find the small, round chapel of Montesiepi on a little hill. It is a mysterious and fascinating building due to its circular shape and the domed roof with 24 concentric circles of alternating white stone and terracotta, but the real mystery of this place is hidden inside the chapel: the sword in the stone. Only the hilt and a few centimeters of the blade protrude from the rock in the shape of a Cross. According to the legend it was the young hermit Galgano (to whom the abbey below is dedicated) who plunged his sword into a rock in 1180 to have an altar to pray at. Since then, nobody has been able to pull the sword out of the rock. The parallel between this legend and the myths and legends of King Arthur and the knights of the round table makes the mystery become even more curious considering that among the king’s knights there was a man called Galvano (Italian for Gawein), a name which is strikingly similar to the one of the young hermit of Montesiepi.
A landscape which is quite different from the typical Senese landscapes is the one of the Colline Metallifere (metal bearing hills) which surrounds the hilltop village of Radicondoli. The little village is situated about forty kilometers from Siena and links the valley of the river Elsa with the provinces of Pisa and Grosseto. Radicondoli is characterized by numerous steep, perpendicular alleyways. The intense green of the woodlands around Radicondoli merges in an original way with the nearby geothermal power station of Larderello (province of Pisa) which exploits the heat of the subterranean waters to produce electricity. The landscape has got a unique and fascinating character because of the unusual buildings, towers and the pipelines stretching for miles. A curious contrast between the beauty of nature and the progress of electricity production like it was invented in the middle of the 19th century. A place that is worth a visit!
There is an unknown Siena that exists beneath the “official” one: an intricate maze of tunnels and underground passages meandering for kilometers through the subsoil of the city. These so called “bottini” are not just simple tunnels, but a bold and functional system of medieval aqueducts which were constructed in the beginning of the 13th century to supply the city, that lacks of a river, with water. The “bottini” (the name derives from the vaulted shape of the tunnels’ ceilings; “a botte”: Italian for “vaulted”) have been hollowed out from tuff and stone and are fed by water-bearing strata and infiltrating rainwater. During the Middle ages the “bottini” were capable of supplying water to the public wells and the fountains of Siena thanks to their slight and constant slope and even today the water that gushes out of the city’s fountains, like the famous Gaia fountain in Piazza del Campo, still derives from this fascinating, medieval hydraulic system.
The “bottini” are still entirely walkable and represent the river which Siena never had. But according to a legend there is a river in the city: the mythical river Diana. The Senese in fact have always been convinced of its existence. Many of them have searched for it with great enthusiasm over the centuries, but nobody has ever found it. Dante Alighieri teased the Senese about their painstaking, fruitless search of the Diana river in his Divine Comedy and called them “gente vana” (vain people). But still today some inhabitants are convinced to hear, in the silence of the night, the roar of this legendary water course in the center of the city.
The Province of Siena preserves many traces of its own past, beginning with the Etruscan origin of many places. But it was during the Middle ages when the territory grew and developed, that’s why we can find so many medieval castles, fortified villages and fortresses in this area.
Almost every village has its own fortress and the countryside is spangled with picturesque castles and towers, many of them are still perfectly preserved and inhabited, others are abandoned or have been used for other purposes in the following epochs.
The most famous one is certainly Castello di Brolio. It is situated in the Chianti region and belongs to the aristocratic Ricasoli family; nearby the Meleto castle overlooks the village of Gaiole.
Just outside the city gates of Siena you will find the Castello di Belcaro, while the Montauto castle rises in the territory of Castelnuovo Berardenga. The castles of Frontignano and Capraia dominate the valley of the river Merse. In the middle of an oak forest rises the watch tower of the abandoned Castello di Cerreto The old walls have crumbled and nature has conquered the medieval building. The half destroyed tower of Rocca di Crevole is situated on a hilltop between Murlo and Casciano, but its unmistakable charm is still perceptible.
Many of these castles are the setting for spooky legends and ghost stories. The Brolio castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of baron Bettino Ricasoli (prime minister of the monarchy during the Risorgimento), who seems to appear at night to take a ride over his property and quite a lot of people are convinced to have heard or even seen him.
But not only the castles are haunted, even Siena has its own ghost: in the botanic garden of Via Mattioli a monk’s soul is said to wander the Senese streets at night. In the society of the Contrada del Drago close to Piazza Matteotti, people tell about the haunting spirits of the nuns that lived in the former monastery.
The true spirit of the Senese is revealed during their most important traditional event, the Palio. Even if Siena’s citizens seem to be like all the other people of Tuscany, during the days of the Palio, or just when talking about it, they will suddenly change behavior. They will show with great, almost crazy enthusiasm, how devoted they are to their Contrada (historic city district) and to its symbols and colors: The Contradaioli are people with a strong sense of belonging and an uncurbed passion for their neighborhood.
The Palio is the world-famous, historic horse race which takes place twice a year (2nd of July, 16th of August) on the Campo square, but for the Senese it is much more than that: It means affiliation and participation all year through. The Contrade in fact are like little cities in the city, where family relationships and friendly ties are indissolubly related to the love for the Contrada’s colors and emblems. Siena counts 17 Contrade and each of them has its own church, society, stables and a museum, where curious and attentive visitors can discover a lot of precious treasures. The museums preserve the beautiful Palio banners, the prize given to the winning Contrada of the race, which are often painted by world-renowned artists (among them: Guttuso, Adami, Fiume, Botero, Maccari, Possenti, Olla, Arroyo, Folon, Campeggi, Luzzati and Mitoraj).