Siena - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Siena


Siena is a popular holiday destination. The red-brown stone of this medieval city throngs around Italy's finest old square, the Piazza del Campo. As old as the square itself are the traditions reverberating off its pavements twice yearly during the Palio delle Contrade. It is Italy's most colourful festival with rehearsals, processions and pageantry leading up to the climactic bare-back horse race around the Piazza. It is taken very seriously as it provides an outlet to the fierce rivalries that have raged for centuries among the town's 17 medieval districts.

All of Siena's streets are a delight to explore while on holiday but some of its most notable landmarks include the Torre de Mangia, Palazzo Pubblico, the Duomo, Palazzo Piccolomini, Pinacoteca Nazionale and Museo dell'Opera. Torre del Mangia is the bell tower to the left of Palazzo Pubblico which stands at 330ft (102m), the second highest in Italy. It is named after the first bell ringer who was known for his infuriating idleness. The Palazzo Pubblico still serves as Siena's town hall although sections of it are open to the public.

The Palazzo Piccolomini, built in 1460 for the prosperous Piccolomini family, contains Sienese state archives and financial records. The Pinacoteca Nazionale gallery is noted for its collection of works by artists of the Siena School. Siena's spectacular Duomo is unsurpassed amongst Italy's churches, built in full Gothic style. The carved pulpit panels, by Nicola Pisano, are magnificent depictions from The Life of Christ. Many of the original statues on the church's façade are copies; the originals are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.

Information & Facts

The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureaux de change. ATMs are widespread. Travellers cheques can be exchanged with ease in the large cities, not so in the smaller towns. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates than casas de cambios.

A circular route from Siena through the Chianti hills provides visitors to the region with a wonderfully scenic and sensory travel experience. The route covers the villages of the Chianti Classico wine region, garnished with ancient castles and rambling farmhouses. The vineyards and wooded hills of the Chianti are best explored along its winding back roads or from within its sleepy hamlets. By car, visitors would keep a lookout for signs marked 'vendita diretta' ('direct sales'). The first stop is at Castello di Brolio, a magnificent vineyard owned by the Ricasoli family since 1167. The SS484 will take you south of Brolio and north past the hamlets of San Gusme, Campi and Linari before rejoining the road for a diversion to the Meleto castle. Another worthwhile stop is at Badia a Coltibuono for its restaurant and Romanesque church. The winding road west to Radda in Chianti is especially picturesque. A further nine miles (15km) from here north to the hamlet of Volapia is a delightful way to feel as though you've traveled back in time; as is a visit to sleepy Castellina in Chianti. Within the ramparts of this walled village is the Bottega del Vino Galla Nero at Via della Rocca 13, showcasing the region's delectable wines and olive oils.

Attracted by the mineral wealth found in the regions of Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria, the Etruscans made their way to Italy around 900 BC. Traces of Etruscan civilisation can be found in their burial sites and in the artefacts found in their tombs. They were preoccupied with the afterlife and dedicated much effort to building burial sites carved into rock, or constructed from stone slab and reached by purpose-built rock-cut roads.

For an exploration of Etruscan artefacts start at Grosseto. The Museo Civico Archeologico in Grosseto contains a selection of Etruscan artefacts that were found in tombs nearby. Head north from here to Roselle, the most important excavated Etruscan and Roman remains in Tuscany. From here, follow the road leading east for 34 miles (54km) to the Etruscan village of Saturnia to explore its rock-cut tombs and then on to Sovanato to see the famous Ildebranda Tomb.

The town of Pitigliano is peppered with Etruscan tombs and tunnels. The town itself is a spectacular vista of houses jutting out over soft limestone cliffs and caves bordering the River Lente. The cliffs contain numerous caves that have been used to store local wines and olive oils and the town itself is a labyrinth of medieval streets that have carried the passage of many a traveller. From this quaint town, head west to the extensive necropolis on the outskirts of Marsiliana. Complete the trip with a stop at Talamone and Maremma, for a visit to the Etruscan temple, Roman villa and baths.

Montepulciano is Tuscany's highest hilltop town, built along a narrow limestone ridge at 1,950ft (605m) above sea level. Sheltered within the town's fortified walls are charming streets packed with Renaissance-style palaces and churches. Its most celebrated achievement is its Vino Nobile wines. Also of interest is the Madonna di San Biagio, a delightful pilgrimage church on the outskirts of the town. For a dip into Etruscan reliefs and funerary urns collected by Pietro Bucelli, visit his Palazzo on Via di Gracciano del Corso 73. For splendid views, take a stroll to the Palazzo Communale and climb the tower.

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