hen most people think of Italy, the images that pop into their minds look like Siena. It is the quintessential quaint Tuscan town. Home of one of the oldest universities in Italy and the oldest bank in the world, Siena boasts a stunning cathedral, gorgeous historic buildings, and one of the most spectacular central squares in Europe. The artists of late medieval Siena gave their Florentine counterparts a run for their money. One of Italy’s two patron saints, Saint Catherine, hails from Siena and her head (yes, her head) is one of the many things not
Length of Trip: Day Trip
Transportation: Private bus to Siena
Activities & Sites Visited: Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Pubblico with its Torre del Mangia, Siena’s cathedral complex, Candle making demonstration, visit to a specialty olive wood shop. See below for more details.
The medieval city of Siena rivaled Florence for centuries until the Black Death decimated its population. The Palazzo Pubblico provides the perfect place to admire the glory of this Tuscan town where time virtually stopped. See where the elected 9 officials (the nove) governed this budding Republic. Stand under the Torre del Mangia, the impressive bell tower designed to surpass its rival in Florence and marvel at one of the tallest medieval structures in Italy. Then hear about how the Piazza del Campo still acts as the epicenter of Sienese life during the centuries old summer horse race called the Palio. Choose a contrada (neighborhood) to vie for first place and see if your selection brings you a year’s worth of bragging rights just like the Sienese.
At the height of its power, Siena sought to erect what would have been the largest cathedral in the world. Construction halted in 1348, stopped in its tracks by the devastation of the Black Death. The unfinished walls (called the Facciatone) are accessible today via a staircase, but they give us a sense of the attempted monumentality of the cathedral. The existing duomo (cathedral) is elaborately decorated in the Italian Romanesque Gothic style on the inside and out. It also houses works by Donatello, Michelangelo, Bernini, and a majestic marble floor revealed in full only once a year.
The art of turning wax into creative and colorful candles is on display at La Fabbrica delle Candele. Watch the candle makers at work, constructing and ornamenting their creations into a staggering variety of shapes and colors. Head next door and discover how the wood from olive trees can be fashioned into beautiful and practical works of art. There are no two alike, so select your favorite mortar and pestle, cutting board (good luck fitting one in your suitcase), or even bracelet made from this particularly Tuscan material.
Situated just outside of Florence, the American Cemetery acts as the final resting place for 4,402 American military men and women killed in Italy in World War II. Visit the memorial complex to learn more about their efforts, including a monument dedicated to the missing. Hear about the sacrifices made by thousands of American soldiers to protect the freedom of Italians from Nazi occupation, as well as their efforts to save the cultural patrimony of the most famous city of the Renaissance. This special Select Study Abroad visit is as historically significant as it is poignant for Americans studying the history of Florence.