I’ve sort of gone off Siena lately. I blame the people who call their babies after the city… or the over-the-top and endlessly gushy romantic comedies that have been filmed there.
You might be surprised to know that most Tuscans rarely feel the need to visit Siena. It gets the snide “There’s nothing there to see” remark that is usually reserved for poor Pisa.
Now I think implying Siena is a city of one piazza is a little harsh. Siena, after all, embodies the indescribably romantic aura that has come to define all of Tuscany. Most Tuscans should keep their mouth shut and thank Siena for the endless tourists who visit their towns after becoming besotted with the red terracotta roofs and venerable cobblestone streets of this city.
Siena enchants us with its history and art, as well as the mystique that seems to exude from every one of its elegant boutiques and ancient houses.
But it’s not on the top of my weekend drive list anymore. Why you ask? Because it has become… too commercial.
Ah the catch cry of all homesick foreigners-turned-locals who have spent so much time basking in the beauty of Italy that they’ve become blind to it.
But that’s not what’s happening here. I suggest you to visit Siena if you’re ever in Tuscany. I just think it’s incredibly difficult to really experience the real Siena anymore- if the real Siena even exists anymore that is.
Take Piazza del Campo – the piazza that has defined Siena for decades of tourists. There is nothing more inspirational, more humbling than sitting on the shell-shaped steps that dip towards the Palazzi Signorili. All that traventine! All those gorgeous buildings marked with the enchanting stories of bitter princes and vengeful noblemen! It’s enough to leave you struggling for words. Unfortunately, most tourists stop there. Equating a trip to the piazza, an artificial gelato and a tacky souvenir key chain on their fanny pack with Siena.
Siena has so much more than Piazza del Campo and anyone who doesn’t get lost in the mazes of streets behind the piazza hasn’t seen a thing. The vibrancy of Siena is dimmed in the main piazza. Where tourist traps trump reality every time.
Wandering around the back streets filled with the smell of delights cooking in home kitchens, stumbling across gorgeous church after church has always been the true Siena for me.
Behind its tourist façade, Siena is less artsy and more intellectual. Its residents are mostly students attending the famed university or scholars who know more about the city than you thought was physically possible.
Siena has some of Tuscany’s most darling bookshops, most endearing restaurants and most striking craft stores.
They love their history and almost burst with pride every time their palio is on. Just in case you didn’t know, Siena’s famed palio is held twice a year (July 2 and Aug 16) and is a horserace between the historic districts of the ancient city. Except that any horserace you have ever seen before pales in comparison to this festival of sights, sounds, colour and, of course, emotion!
So all I’m saying is: Don’t let the absolute splendour of Palazzo del Campo blind you to the hidden treasures that are jealously guarded away in the streets that surround it.