24 HOURS IN ROMANTIC SIENA

A brief walk through one of the most-sought town in Italy, reveals the romance of antiquity blended in a modern context.

{Image attribution via Wikimedia Commons}

Buongiorno amici:

When we discuss Tuscany, we often concentrate on Florence, but there are many other breathtaking cities and landscapes in the region's palette. I prefer Siena out of the two for its historical, artistic, and cultural heritage of infinite richness. It is an extraordinary destination. A fascinating medieval village whose architectural and cultural beauties attract visitors worldwide every year. Over the centuries, the city has always stood out for its strong identity, history, and refined urban architecture. And it is thanks to its extraordinary beauty that in 1995, its historic center became a UNESCO heritage site.

Piazza del Campo alone can be the purpose of a trip for those who live on the other side of the world. However, the square is the heart of the city, the starting point for any visitor wishing to discover the history and culture of Siena. It is a city to be experienced on foot, getting lost in alleys, historic buildings, museums, churches, and monuments, without forgetting the many historic shops where artisans tell the tradition of an entire city.

As a chef and a food historian, I am focusing on Sienese gastronomy, a blend of traditions, and genuineness, evidenced in the ancient local recipes and products of excellence available throughout the territory. I would choose the cured meats, olive oil, decadent desserts, and the vast array of savory delectables such as crostini di spleen (or black crostini), pici al ragù di cinta senese, or a tasty ribollita. In Tuscany, the meat is renowned. Breeds such as the Cinta Senese Dop and the Chianina Igp cattle breed abound in the local pastures.

La Cinta Senese is a famous black pig surrounded by white, whose tasty cured meats produce hams, salamis, sausages, capocollo, and the prized lard, a chef's favorite and used in many recipes. Among the bovine breeds, the Chianina is the one that boasts the noblest and most established image, excellent for an excellent ragù and of course perfect as a steak. As for desserts, walking through the streets of Siena, there is no shortage of temptations! You can buy freshly baked desserts in local ovens and pastry shops, prepared following ancient recipes handed down for generations, such as Pan co 'Santi, ricciarelli, and cantuccini. Each dish in Siena tells a story of a city that has maintained a strong identity over the centuries, making itself known and appreciated worldwide as a medieval jewel, a wonderful gothic dream.

{Cinta Senese salame via Sapori di Val Dórcia}

The Sienese landscape is a land of vineyards and great labels known all over the world. Here you can find wine production of the highest quality. There are five DOCGs (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) in the province of Siena, and there are numerous DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin).

In any restaurant or trattoria it is possible to taste a good glass of Chianti Classico, the famous Vernaccia di San Gimignano, an excellent Brunello di Montalcino or the Nobile di Montepulciano. For wine lovers, there is certainly no shortage of opportunities for tastings, visits to the cellar, and experiences related to the world of wine. After lunch or dinner, I suggest tasting local sweet "Vin Santo," known as a symbol of hospitality. Winemakers collect the most delicate grape bunches and leave them to dry under the sun. Once dried to specification, the grape will go through the normal pressing process and store in small kegs, from which the previous generation of Vin Santo gets carefully removed.

As part of the local tradition, you must enjoy the vin santo accompanied by the famous Sienese cantucci.

{The Palio. A rivalry of 17 contrade (districts)} Attribution via Sienafree.it

The city's size may convince you that you'll be able to visit the entire territory in few hours, but I think that is deceiving. There are so many must-sees here, especially within the historical center.

You cannot ignore the artistic and cultural heritage of immense value, including numerous museums, historic buildings, churches, and monuments, when visiting this splendid city. The city center is home to the imposing Palazzo Pubblico, built in the early 1300s by the Government of the Nine of the Republic of Siena.

In addition to being the seat of the municipal administration, it also contains the Civic Museum. Here are great masterpieces of the golden age of Sienese art, including the famous fresco https://www.fondazionepirelli.org/en/corporate-culture/blog/economic-reforms-and-sustainable-development-with-an-eye-on-the-allegory-of-good-government/"the Allegory and the Effects of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti'.

There are also many famous works by Simone Martini, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Sodoma, and Beccafumi. To these must be added the extraordinary works located at the National Pinacoteca of Siena, another significant city museum.

There is a vast collection of works from the Sienese artistic school, such as the Palazzo Pubblico and the well-known Torre del Mangia, a city symbol.

The lucky visitors allowed to climb to the top can admire the splendid square from above. When you turn the Turning the corner of Palazzo Pubblico, you will find the Magazzini del Sale headquarters of expositions of local and international artists. Returning to Palazzo Pubblico, from the Cortile del Podestà, you have access to the prestigious Teatro dei Rinnovati, which boasts over seven centuries of collectibles.

{Ricciarelli, almond cookies}

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Another symbolic place of Siena is the Duomo, whose interior is an actual treasure chest of art masterpieces, starting from the pulpit by Nicola Pisano, one of the most important sculptural works of the Italian thirteenth century. At the same time, in the Piccolomini altar, you can admire four sculptures youth of Michelangelo immediately after the altar is the Piccolomini Library, which houses the rich book heritage collected by Pope Pius II.

Next to the Duomo, we find the Santa Maria della Scala Museum Complex, one of the oldest and most prominent European hospitals. It offers a wide range of tour itineraries focused on architectural spaces of great artistic importance. Throughout history, the hospital performed multiple functions, from assisting the sick to sheltering the poor and caring for abandoned children and pilgrims.

{Pici, pasta dish the precursor of spaghetti a specialty of Siena} Attribution Virgilio.it}

Well, I could have stayed forever in Siena, but time is a tyrant, as you know. So when you get here, don't forget to visit the Accademia dei Fisiocritici, the Accademia Chigiana, the Synagogue, the Orto dei Pecci, the Bottini, and the numerous historical sources, not to mention the uniquely different churches, baptisteries, and the 17 well-kept museums. I did my best within 24 hours, visiting the various districts scattered throughout the historic center. Hopefully, you’ll do better than me.

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Thanks for reading. Eat safe! Ciao Chef W

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