Siena is a world famous town thanks to its cathedral, the tower “del Mangia”, and its wonderful square “Piazza del campo”, where the renowned Palio takes place every year, renewing the old rivalry among the different Contrade (seventeen historical districts the city is divided into), and testifying how the modern town cannot leave its medieval and renaissance past out of consideration.
The town lies between the rivers Arbia and Elsa: in the north the Chianti hills with Monteriggioni and San Gimignano, in the east the valley Valdichiana with Arezzo, in the south the famous area “Crete Senesi” with Montalcino and Montepulciano, in the west the metal hills. According to an old legend Siena was founded by Remo’s son, Senio, from the roman Julia family, and this might be the reason why Siena’s heraldic symbol is the classical roman wolf.
Most probably this area was already inhabited during the Etruscan period. The original roman city centre dates back to the 1st century B.C., when a Roman outpost rose here in order to protect the roads leading to Rome by the northern border. After the fall of the Roman empire Siena is occupied by the Longobards (6th century A.D.), and its importance increases during the following centuries thanks to its key position along the road “francigena”, the town soon becomes a privileged stage for all the pilgrims who want to reach Rome from the north.
Maybe because of this position Siena is chosen as an Episcopal seat during the 7th century: thanks to this privilege the town quickly develops its economy and culture, and finally during the 10th century it is declared a Free city-republic.
During the following centuries the town is an important centre of trades and different financial activities, but this growing political importance in Tuscany brings it to clash with Florence.
After the Ghibelline victory in Montaperti (1260) Siena is forced to surrender to the Guelphs of Carlo d’Angiò and to the Florentine army at the battle by Colle Valdelsa. The political leadership is given to a group of rich noble men (known as “the council of nine”) until 1355. During this time most of the civic and religious building in the town are erected: the town hall with its bell tower (del Mangia), the cathedral and – last but not least – the university.
The Sienese painters become popular in Tuscany and in Italy: Guido da Siena, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti. This welfare era comes to an end owing to the famine and the plague around 1348, when at least two thirds of the population (about 100.000 inhabitants) die.
In the last decades of the 14th century the town is controlled by the Visconti family, and in 1472 the Monte dei Paschi di Siena is founded: it is believed to be the oldest bank in the world, created in order to help the lower classes of the town.
Siena’s slow decay begins between 1400 and 1500, under the seigniory of Pandolfo Petrucci, until it is defeated, once and for all, by the emperor Charles V in 1555.
After the peace treaty of Cateau–Cambresis in 1559 even the last resistance of its people (gathered around Pietro Strozzi in Montalcino) is finally overcome, and the town is definitively given to the Florentine Medici family.