Historic Center of Siena (1995)
Italy

Back to index

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. 

Siena (ancient Saena Julia) is a city in central Italy, the capital of Siena Province, in Tuscany (Toscana) Region. Siena retains its medieval architecture, including walls and gates that surround the city. The city is a tourist center and a market for the wine and marble produced in the area. Terra (or raw) sienna, used as a pigment in paints, is produced in the vicinity. 

The cathedral (11th-14th century) is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Italy. The Gothic style municipal palace, begun in 1288 and finished in 1309, contains numerous paintings by Sienese artists. Among the city's noteworthy public institutions is the University of Siena (1240), with faculties of medicine and law. An ancient Roman town, Siena became an independent commune in the 12th century. In the 16th century Siena was subjugated by its rival, Florence. 

  • Italy 1953. Torre Mangia, Siena. 

Italy 1953. Torre Mangia, Siena.

Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-80) 
was a Dominican nun (tertiary), mystic, and Doctor of the Church, who played a significant role in the public affairs of her day. Originally named Caterina Benincasa, she was born in Siena, Italy, on March 25, 1347, to a family of modest means. She probably learned to read at an early age but could not write until she was an adult. Even as a child she claimed to have visions and lived austerely. 

At the age of 16, she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic in Siena, where she became noted for her gift of contemplation and her devotion to the poor. She soon began to dictate letters on spiritual matters that won her even more admiration. In 1374 Raymond of Capua, future master general of the Dominican order, became her spiritual director and was from then on closely associated with all her activities. 

Italy 1962. Saint Catherine of Siena.

In 1376 Catherine journeyed to Avignon to plead with Pope Gregory XI on behalf of Florence, then at war with the papacy. Although she failed in this mission, she convinced the pope to return to Rome and end the Avignonese exile of the popes. Catherine returned to contemplation and works of mercy in Siena and simultaneously tried to promote peace in Italy and a crusade to recover the Holy Land, long one of her favorite projects. 

Deeply distressed by the Great Schism (see Schism, Great), which broke out in 1378, she went to Rome in November to rally support for Pope Urban VI and work for unity. She died there on April 29, 1380; her body is buried in the Church of Saint Maria sopra Minerva. She was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461 and made a Doctor of the Church in 1970; her feast day is April 29.

  • Italy 1962. Saint Catherine of Siena. The stamp is part of a set of three stamps of different colours and face values. 

Siena's Palio, an Italian Inheritance from the Middle Ages
From earliest morning there was a thrill in the air, as if of some portentous event about to occur. And well there might be, for Siena the classic, Siena the medieval, was about to celebrate its great annual civic festival, the Palio, a striking pageant inherited from the Middle Ages, still held in the costume of the period, and featured by the running of a strange, almost barbaric, horse race on the historic Campo. 

There is no other place in the world where one may lay hand so palpably on the Middle Ages as in Siena. The architecture, the customs, the very people, have a touch of bygone days. It gives the impression of a segment of the fifteenth century passed down to modern times, with its good and evil, and, above all, with its intense local attachments, practically unchanged.

For upward of four hundred years the little Tuscan city has been organized as it is now, in contrade, or wards, each a distinct and separate entity, though part of the common life. Each still clings to its own individual tradition, its own loves and hates, and is ready to rally to the same flag and colors that it has cherished for centuries. This gives to Siena a characteristic atmosphere, which more than anything, save its art, has contributed to center upon it the continued interest of the traveler. 

  • Italy 1981. The Palio of Siena.

Italy 1981. The Palio of Siena.

Italy 1946. Republic of Siena. Fresco of Peace by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Before Florence, Siena established the first international banks and covered Europe with its textile warehouses. Its silver florin and bills of exchange inspired universal confidence. 

It raked in money from the whole of Christendom on behalf of the popes ad, along with a very nice rate of commission, was granted the privilege of excommunicating bad payers -- in other words, consigning them to hell. 

For hundreds of years, Siena enjoyed the world's respect and was admired for its Gothic art. Its artists, sculptors, architects and painters -- Giovanni Pisano, the Lorenzetti brothers, Simone Martini, Domenico Beccafumi, and Francesco di Giorgio, to name but a few -- were in constant demand. 

  • Italy 1946. Republic of Siena. Fresco of Peace by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Italy (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Italy for further information about such sites. 

Back to index


Revised 01 aug 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
All Rights Reserved