Before I depart on my journey, I thought it might be a good idea to research the city’s history (Yes, I am nerd and the worst kind too; a history nerd. I make no apologies!). So here is a solid history profile on Siena for all of those who are too lazy to google it themselves. Enjoy!
Siena, like most Tuscan towns, was first thought to be settled in the time of the Etruscans (900-400 BCE) by a tribe called the Saina. However, for all the myth lovers out there, there is also an origin legend of Siena that is tied to the supposed nephews of Romulus, the founder of Rome which I personally think is way more entertaining. The legend states that Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, the two sons of Remus. The story goes that the boys fled Rome after Romulus murdered Remus and took with them the statue of the Capitoline wolf (she-wolf suckling the infants….I know what the hell were the early Romans smoking to come up with that one?). This act essentially appropriated that symbol for their new town and explains why it is carved into so many of Siena’s important buildings. They also supposedly rode white and black horses which supposedly explains the colours of the Balzana (coat of arms of Siena which displays a white band atop a dark one) and Siena’s connection to the horse with it’s il Palio festival.
It wasn’t until the 1st century BCE, that Siena began to grow into a proper town. This was due to the Roman’s establishment of a military colony called Sena Julia in Siena. The military background in Siena’s early history explains a lot about the city today. The city itself was built as a fortress which explains its layout and it also explains the contrade culture of the city. Contrade culture means that the city is organise into wards or neighbourhoods. These wards were originally formed as battalions for the city’s defence. They are extremely tight-knit communities now and each have an animal emblem. Their loyalty to their inner community has outlasted their military purpose.
In the 12th century, Siena became a big baller in Italy as it’s size, wealth and power grew with its increasing involvement in commerce and trade. With this Siena’s rivalry with it’s neighbour florence also grew proportionately. This led to numerous wars during the first half of the 13th century which were, in retrospect, rather petty. For example, in 1230 Florence besieged Siena and then decided it would be a great idea to rub salt into the rather disgusting wound by catapulting dung and donkeys over its walls. Like I said, PETTY. Siena got their own back in 1260 but their victory was unfortunately short-lived. In 1270, Siena’s bad luck streak continued when they were defeated by Charles of Anjou. This meant that for almost a century Siena was allied to Florence. I don’t care what you say that is worse than being put into the same group project as your psychopathic ex-boyfriend.
It was during this period that Siena was ruled by the Council of Nine. This was a group of bourgeois lads who constantly bickered with the Sienese aristocracy. The Council knew how to actually run a city properly (a skill that many of our current world leaders lack) and Siena saw great prosperity under them. They were also the leaders responsible for the construction of the city’s most recognisable buildings, such as the Cathedral, the Palazzo Comunale and Il Campo itself. These were built in what is now seen as the signature Sienese-Gothic style that gives the city it’s striking aesthetic. Other developments in art also occurred under the council’s leadership with the establishment of the Sienese school of painting, which reached its peak in the early 14th century. Artists like Duccio di Buoninsegna and Ambrogio Lorenzetti came from this school of art.
Unfortunately Siena hit a bit of a major roadblock with the outbreak of plague in 1348. This tragically killed two-thirds of the city’s 100,000 inhabitants and ultimately led to a period of decline. Then at the end of the 14th century Siena came under the control of Milan’s Visconti family. This was then followed in the next century by the the autocratic patrician Pandolfo Petrucci. Under Petrucci, Siena’s fortunes improved a little bit. Although I would argue that when you hit rock bottom, little improvement probably isn’t that much of an achievement. Any hope in this slight improvement was once again dashed by the good ol’ Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who conquered Siena in 1555 after a two year siege that left thousands of people dead. Good ol’ Charlie V then handed the city over to Cosimo I de’Medici, who as much as I admire his madness acted like a bit of a ruthless jackass and barred the Sienese from operating banks thus curtailing the city’s power and wealth for the period of his reign. It eventually recovered some of it’s previous economic power and prosperity with it’s Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank which is currently still one of the city’s biggest employers.
Siena was fortunate during World War II as it escaped any major damage and so remains unchanged and authentic. Since the 19th century, Siena’s previous misfortune has apparently taken a hiatus as they have enjoyed quiet peace and prosperity. They were even one of the first European city’s to banish motor traffic from it’s heart in 1966 in order to reduce carbon monoxide outputs and pedestrian related road accidents. (YAY TO SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT!)
All in all they have had a turbulently rich history which I have only scratched the surface on.
See you next time folks X