Glorious Gothic, effortlessly civilised, intimate, harmonious and at ease with itself, Siena is Tuscany’s most seductive calling card. This compact, pink-tinged city is endlessly intriguing, from the shell-shaped Campo to the galleries full of doe-eyed madonnas and sad-eyed saints. Born middle-aged, Siena is an antidote to hot lists and cool lists. A city that has looked smugly the same for nine hundred years has no truck with trends. In essence, Siena is Italy’s last surviving city state. It is a city with the psychology of a village and the grandeur of a nation.
Siena is the counterpoint to Florence and is as medieval as its ancient rival is Renaissance. It is the feminine foil to Florentine masculinity. Siena paints madonnas while Florence prefers the machismo of Michelangelo’s David. Siena is soaringly vertical while Florence is boldly horizontal. Florentine art is perspective and innovation. Sienese art is sensitivity and conservatism.
Change is anathema to the Sienese. But what is there to change? The rose-brick cityscape is too coherent to tweak. The mood is too mystical for most saints. The hearty food and wine would convert hardened sinners. The citizens’ sense of belonging runs deep. The Palio horse race commands the passion of the whole population. In short, the locals have been giving us lessons in living since the enlightened city council first set the tone in the 13th century.
Today, romantics drift along medieval alleys suffused with melancholy charm. Tall, rose-brick palaces conceal world-class art collections. Culture-vultures slaver over the turreted town hall and the theatrical mansions. Mystical churches and monumental fountains are simply part of the furniture. Wine-lovers quaff Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino in the Medici Fortress. Tomorrow it might be a tour of the vineyards by Vespa. Or a Tuscan cookery course in a timeless kitchen.
Siena is a chiaroscuro city, from its striped marble Cathedral to its black-and-white city emblem. Tunnelled backstreets open into the brilliant, light-bathed Campo. All roads eventually lead to the Campo, the heart of civic life. The Sienese liken it to the enveloping cloak of the Madonna, the city’s patron saint, along with St Catherine of Siena. Yet Italians call Siena `a misura d'uomo’ – a city `made to the measure of man’. When your horizons shrink to just one neighbourhood bar, you’ll know you’re Sienese. Set your clock to Sienese time and start walking.