Siena is the embodiment of a medieval city. Its inhabitants pursued their rivalry with Florence right into the area of urban planning. Throughout the centuries, they preserved their city's Gothic appearance, acquired between the 12th and 15th centuries. During this period the work of Duccio, the Lorenzetti brothers and Simone Martini was to influence the course of Italian and, more broadly, European art. The whole city of Siena, built around the Piazza del Campo, was devised as a work of art that blends into the surrounding landscape.
© Bruno Doucin
Siena, an outstanding medieval city that has preserved its character and quality to a remarkable degree, and its influence on art, architecture and town planning in the Middle Ages, both in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, was great.
The historic centre of Siena is delimited by a 7km enceinte of ramparts (14th-16th centuries), the route of which follows the contours of the three hills on which the city is built. These walls, with their bastions and towers, are pierced by gates that are double at the strategic points, such as the Porta Camollia on the street of Florence. To the west they embrace the Fort of Santa Barbara, rebuilt by the Medici in 1560 and reconstructed in 1580. The walls themselves, which have been enlarged on several occasions, also include part of the 25 km network of galleries, the bottini, which evacuate the spring waters distributed by the public fountains. Siena doubtless benefited from the experience of the monks of the Cistercian abbey of San Galgano. The main fountains, mostly from the 13th century, are veritable buildings in their own right, constructed like Gothic porticoes.
The historic centre developed along the Y-shaped segments defined by the three main arteries that meet at the Croce del Travaglio, represented by the Piazza del Campo, and on to which the network of minor roads are grafted. Houses and palaces follow one another in rows along the main streets, creating a characteristic urban space with certain notable elements. The Piazza del Campo, sited at the junction of three hills, is one of the most remarkable urban open spaces in all Italy. Its formation coincides with the growth of the medieval city and the assertion of communal power. Financial and commercial activities were concentrated halfway along the Via Francigena, the entire lengths of the present-day Via dei Banchi Sopra and Via dei Banchi Sotto, and the market-place proper was located in the Piazza del Campo, at that time divided in two sectors.
At the end of the 12th century, the communal government decided to unite the two sectors to create a unique semicircular open space, and promulgated a series of ordinances which regulated only commercial activities but also the services and dimensions of the houses (their style twin-arched or triple-arched windows), in order to make the facades around the piazza uniform. The building of the Palazzo Pubblico, the seat of the communal government, began at the same time. Its gently incurving and crenellated facade is highlighted by the Gothic triple-arched windows. There is a number of masterpieces of medieval paintings inside, such as the Maestà of Simone Martini and the allegorical Ciclo del Buon Governo of Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The Palazzo Pubblico was in all probability the model for the Gothic palaces of the great families of the nobility or the merchants (Palazzo Tomei, Palazzo Buonsignore), which are characterized by an increase in breadth, the use of brick, large windows, and the so-called 'Guelph' crenellation.
Once the public authorities were installed in the Palazzo Pubblico, work began on embellishing the piazza with the laying down of the paving, construction of the Fonte Gaia, decorated by Jacopo dalla Quercia, the Torre del Mangia, and the Cappella della Piazza, the latter two built up against the palazzo. Under the Medici, the piazza became the ideal setting for spectacular festivals and was opened up to the palio , the famous horserace between teams from the different quarters of the city.
The highest point of the town is crowned by the Cathedral of Santa Maria. Its facade, the lower part of which is the work of Giovanni Pisano, was completed by Giovanni di Cecco after construction of the Nuovo Duomo (New Cathedral), a vast project inspired by the Gothic cathedrals of north of the Alps. The cathedral preserves a remarkable pavement and the pulpit carved by Nicolà Pisano. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The situation Oof Siena, between the Arsia and Elsa valleys, away from the main communication routes, does not favour the growth of a town. Nevertheless, a modest settlement, Etruscan in origin, entered history under the name of Colonia Julia Saena in 29 BC.
With the displacement of the road network joining northern Italy to Rome towards the centre of the peninsula Siena became an obligatory stopping place during the period of rule by the Lombards (568-774) and then the Franks. The development of the medieval town coincided with the route Of the Via Francigena, taken by pilgrims on their way to Rome, becoming fixed around the year 1000. On the high ground adjoining Castelvecchio, site of the ancient castrum, to the east of the original core of the medieval town, and Santa Maria, see of the bishopric created in the first half of the 5th century, grew up the villages of Camollia to the north and San Martino to the south, both later to be brought within the walls of the town. The town centre moved from its ancient nucleus towards the triventum or Croce del Travaglio, where the roads from Rome, Florence, and the Maremma met. The campo, at the crossroads of these routes, became the centre for trade and commercial activities. The town's most important families lived in veritable fortified villages, built round a central courtyard, on the model of the feudal curtis, and in part surviving (Ugurgeri, Malavolti, etc).
In 1186 the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederic I confirmed the independence of the city and granted it the rights of electing its own consuls and minting its own coins.
The definite urban structure of Siena evolved in just over three hundred years, from the end of the 11th to the beginning of the 15th century. The internal and external struggles of this period were more or less directly linked with episodes in the contest between the Empire and the Papacy. The Republic of Siena's policy of territorial expansions invoked the envy of its rival, Ghibelline Florence. From the first half of the 12th century the two cities engaged in a series of still famous battles, such as Montaperti (1260), as a result of which the victorious Sienese placed their city under the protection of the Virgin Mary, and Colle val d'Elsa (1269), after which the Guelphs became established in Siena. The city owed its prosperity to the banking activities carried out by certain families at the papal Court in Rome and on the great international markets of northern Europe, Marseilles, Champagne, and London. The streets named dei Banchi di Sopra and dei Banchi di Sotto preserve the memory of this past prosperity. Under pressure from the merchants who dominated its political life, the city was endowed with a network of secondary streets and public and private buildings in the Gothic style. Siena enjoyed relative political stability under the Council of the Nine (1287-1355), which left an enduring imprint on the structure and appearance Of the city with, for example, the laying out of the Piazza del Campo and the construction of the Palazzo Pubblico. The Sienese school of painting manifested itself from the late 13th century in the work of its most famous representatives, Duccio di Boninsegna (1260-1318), Simone Martini (1284-1344), the Pietro brothers (fl 1305-48), and Ambrogio Lorenzetti (fl 1319-48). Siena maintained relations with Milan, Naples, and France. Simone Martini was in contact with the Angevin court in Naples and went to Avignon in 1339. Exchanges such as this involved Siena closely with the development of western art in the mid-14th century.
Between 1420 and 1555, when the Republic Of Siena came to an end, there was a succession of governments operated by merchants, interrupted by the attempt by Pandolfo Petrucci (1487-1525) to introduce a nobility and the intervention of the Emperor Charles V (1530>' The events of the city's internal political life became more closely linked with the relations between the Empire and France. In 1552 the Imperial garrison that had occupied the city for two years was driven out by the Sienese, who remained faithful to the French side. The defensive walls were strengthened, some Of the gates were reinforced, and the suburbs were razed. At the end of the siege of 1555 the city was surrendered to the Imperial forces by its defender, Blaise de Montluc. Philip II offered Siena to Cosimo I de' Medici, who merged it into his Grand Duchy of Tuscany while respecting its autonomy. The crisis that overtook its banking and commercial activities plunged the city into economic stagnation. Its efforts became concentrated on developing agricultural activities in its lands. Urban development had reached its peak before the Black Death of 1348, when the population was cut from 25,000 to 16,000 inhabitants. Projects began to reconstruct or enlarge palaces, churches, and monasteries. The prestige of Siena was restored in 1457, when its Bishop, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, was elected pope under the title Of Pius II. The Franciscan Bernardino Albizzeschi and Catherina Benincasa, the pride of the city in the 14th century, were canonized. Despite the role of the Piccolomini family in spreading Renaissance art (the Loggia del papa, the palazzo Piccolomini, the palazzo Piccolomini delle papesse), Gothic persisted in most 15th century works (Palazzo Marsili, 1458) and even later (Archbishop's palace, 1718)
After rejoining the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Siena was integrated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1849, but it was not touched by the industrial development of the 19th century. Expansion took place outside the walls and in small nuclei, often Sited on hills away from the historic centre.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation