The Roman origin accounts for the town's emblem – a she-wolf suckling the infants Romulus and Remus. According to legend, Siena was founded by Senius, son of Remus, who was in turn the brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Statues and other artwork depicting a she-wolf suckling the young twins Romulus and Remus can be seen all over the city of Siena. Other etymologies derive the name from the Etruscan family name "Saina", the Roman family name of the "Saenii", or the Latin word "senex" ("old") or the derived form "seneo", "to be old".
Siena did not prosper under Roman rule. It was not sited near any major roads and therefore missed out on the resulting opportunities for trade. Its insular status meant that Christianity did not penetrate until the fourth century AD, and it was not until the Lombards invaded Siena and the surrounding territory that it knew prosperity. Their occupation and the fact that the old Roman roads of Aurelia and the Cassia passed through areas exposed to Byzantine raids, caused the roads between the Lombards' northern possessions and Rome to be re-routed through Siena. The inevitable consequence of this was that Siena prospered as a trading post, and the constant streams of pilgrims passing to and from Rome were to prove a valuable source of income in the centuries to come.
The oldest aristocratic families in Siena date their line to the Lombards' surrender in 774 to Charlemagne. At this point the city was inundated with a swarm of Frankish overseers who married into the existing Sienese nobility, and left a legacy that can be seen in the abbeys they founded throughout Sienese territory. Feudal power waned however, and by the death of Countess Matilda in 1115 the Mark of Tuscia which had been under the control of her family – the Canossa – broke up into several autonomous regions.
Siena prospered under the new arrangements, becoming a major centre of money lending and an important player in the wool trade. It was governed at first directly by its Bishop, but episcopal power declined during the 1100s. The bishop was forced to concede a greater say in the running of the city to the nobility in exchange for their help during a territorial dispute with Arezzo, and this started a process which culminated in 1167 when the commune of Siena declared its independence from episcopal control. By 1179, it had a written constitution.
This period was also crucial in shaping the Siena we know today. It was during the 1100s that the majority of the construction of the Duomo, that it means the Cathedral of Siena, was completed. It was also during this period that the Piazza del Campo, now regarded as one of the most beautiful civic spaces in Europe, grew in importance as the centre of secular life. New streets were constructed leading to it and it served as the site of the market, and the location of various sporting events (perhaps better thought of as riots, in the fashion of the Florentine football matches that are still practised to this day). A wall was constructed in 1194 at the current site of the Palazzo Pubblico to stop soil erosion, an indication of how important the area was becoming as a civic space.
In the early 12th century a self-governing commune replaced the earlier aristocratic government. The consuls who governed the republic slowly became more inclusive of the poblani, or common people, and the Commune increased its territory as the surrounding feudal nobles in their fortified castles submitted to the urban power. Siena's republic, struggling internally between nobles and the popular party, usually worked in political opposition to its great rival, Florence, and was in the 13th century predominantly Ghibelline in opposition to Florence's Guelph position (this conflict formed the backdrop for some of Dante's Commedia).
On September 4 1260 the Sienese Ghibellines, supported by the forces of King Manfred of Sicily, defeated the Florentine Guelphs in the Battle of Montaperti. Before the battle, the Sienese army of around 20,000 faced a much larger Florentine army of around 33,000. Prior to the battle, the entire city was dedicated to the Virgin Mary (this was done several times in the city's history, most recently in 1944 to guard the city from Allied bombs). The man given command of Siena for the duration of the war, Bonaguida Lucari, walked barefoot and bareheaded, a halter around his neck, to the Duomo. Leading a procession composed of all the city's residents, he was met by all the clergy. Lucari and the Bishop embraced, to show the unity of church and state, then Luceri formally gave the city and contrade to the Virgin. Legend has it that a thick white cloud descended on the battlefield, giving the Sienese cover and aiding their attack. The reality was that the Florentine army launched several fruitless attacks against the Sienese army during the day, then when the Sienese army countered with their own offensive, traitors within the Florentine army killed the standard bearer and in the resulting chaos, the Florentine army broke up and fled the battlefield. Almost half the Florentine army (some 15,000 men) were killed as a result. So crushing was the defeat that even today if the two cities meet in any sporting event, the Sienese supporters are likely to exhort their Florentine counterparts to “Remember Montaperti!”.
Siena's university, founded in 1203 and famed for its faculties of law and medicine, is still among the most important Italian universities. Siena rivalled Florence in the arts through the 13th and 14th centuries: the important late medieval painter Duccio di Buoninsegna (1253–1319) was a Sienese, but worked across the peninsula, and the mural of "Good Government" by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall, is a magnificent example of late-Medieval/early Renaissance art as well as a representation of the utopia of urban society as conceived during that period. Siena was devastated by the Black Death of 1348, and also suffered from ill-fated financial enterprises. In 1355, with the arrival of Charles IV of Luxembourg in the city, the population rose and suppressed the government of the Nove (Nine), establishing that Dodici (Twelve) nobles assisted by a council with a popular majority. This was also short-lived, being replaced by the Quindici (Fifteen) reformers in 1385, the Dieci (Ten, 1386-1387), Undici (Eleven, 1388-1398) and Twelve Priors (1398-1399) who, in the end, gave the city's seigniory to Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan in order to defend it from the Florentine expansionism.
In 1404 the Visconti were expelled and a government of Ten Priors established, in alliance with Florence against King Ladislas of Naples. With the election of the Sienese Pius II as Pope, the Piccolomini and other noble families were allowed to return to the government, but after his death the control returned into popular hands. In 1472 the Republic founded the Monte dei Paschi, a bank that is still active today and is the oldest surviving bank in the world. The noble factions returned in the city under Pandolfo Petrucci in 1487, with the support of Florence and of Alfonso of Calabria; Petrucci exerted an effective rule on the city until his death in 1512, favouring arts and sciences, and defending it from Cesare Borgia. Pandolfo was succeeded by his son Borghese, who was ousted by his cousin Raffaello, helped by the Medici Pope Leo X. The last Petrucci was Fabio, exiled in 1523 by the Sienese people. Internal strife resumed, with the popular faction ousting the Noveschi party supported by Clement VII: the latter sent an army, but was defeated at Camollia in 1526. Emperor Charles V took advantage of the chaotic situation to put a Spanish garrison in Siena. This citizen expelled it in 1552, allying with France: this was unacceptable for Charles, who sent his general Gian Giacomo Medici to lay siege to it with a Florentine-Imperial army.
The Sienese government entrusted its defence to Piero Strozzi. When the latter was defeated at the Battle of Marciano (August 1554), any hope of relief was lost. After 18 months of resistance, it surrendered to Florence on April 17 1555, marking the end of the Republic of Siena. The new Spanish King Philip, owing huge sums to the Medici, ceded it (apart a series of coastal fortress annexed to the State of Presidi) to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to which it belonged until the unification of Italy in the 19th century. A Republic government of 700 Sienese families in Montalcino resisted until 1559.
The picturesque city remains an important cultural centre, especially for humanist disciplines.
Inside is the famous Gothic octagonal pulpit by Nicola Pisano (1266–1268) supported on lions, and the labyrinth inlaid in the flooring, traversed by penitents on their knees. Within the Sacristy are some perfectly preserved renaissance frescos by Ghirlandaio, and beneath the Duomo in the baptistry is the marvelous baptismal font with bas-reliefs by Donatello, Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and other 15th century sculptors. The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo contains Duccio's famous Maestà (1308–1311) and various other works by Sienese masters. More Sienese paintings are to be found in the Pinacoteca.
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the town square, which houses the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, is another architectural treasure, and is famous for hosting the Palio horse race. The Palazzo Pubblico, itself a great work of architecture, houses yet another important art museum. Included within the museum is Ambrogio Lorenzetti's series of frescos on the good government and the results of good and bad government and also some of the finest frescoes of Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
On the Piazza Salimbeni is the Palazzo Salimbeni, a notable building and also the medieval headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, one of the oldest banks in continuous existence and a major player in the Sienese economy.
Other churches in the city include:
The Medicean Fortress houses the Enoteca Italiana and the Siena Jazz School, with courses and concerts all the year long and a major festival during the International Siena Jazz Masterclasses. Over two weeks more than 30 concerts and jam sessions are held in the two major town squares, on the terrace in front of the Enoteca, in the gardens of the Contrade clubs, and in numerous historical towns and villages of the Siena province. Siena is also home of Sessione Senese per la Musica e l'Arte (SSMA), a summer music program for musicians, is a fun/learning musical summer experience.
In the neighbourhood are numerous patrician villa, numerous of which attributed to Baldassarre Peruzzi:
The 'Calcio' (soccer) Association of Siena was founded in 1904 and fully established in 1908. It has participated in the National Championship of Soccer in Seria "A" (The highest level of the Italian soccer leagues) since the 2003-2004 season. The soccer club A.C. Siena hosts its games at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
The premiere society of men's basketball in Siena is called Mens Sana Basket (also referred to by its sponsored name of Montepaschi Siena). It is also the oldest sports society in Siena. Mens Sana Basket participates in the highest level of play in Italy, Lega Basket Serie A, and it won the national championship in the 2003-04, 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. The team host their home games at Palasport Mens Sana indoor arena.
There exist several female University sports teams organized under the CUS (Centro Universitario Sportivo.) These include such sports as fencing, volleyball and rugby.
July 2 and August 16 are the dates when the Palio di Siena is held. The Palio is a traditional medieval horse race is run around the Piazza del Campo each year. This event is attended by large crowds, and is widely televised. Seventeen Contrade (which are city neighbourhoods originally formed as battalions for the city's defence) vie for the trophy: a painted flag, or Palio bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ten of the seventeen run in each Palio: seven run by right (having not run in the previous year's corresponding Palio) together with three drawn by lot from the remaining ten. A horse is assigned to each by lot. Though often a brutal and dangerous competition for horse and rider alike, the city thrives on the pride this competition brings. This event is not without its controversy however, and recently, there have been complaints about the treatment of the horses and to the danger run by the riders. In order to better protect the horses, steps have been taken to make veterinary care more easily available during the main race. Also at the most dangerous turn of the race formula one race cushions are used to help protect both the riders and horses.
Siena can be reached by train from both Pisa and Florence, changing at Empoli. Siena's train station is located at the bottom of a long hill outside the city walls, and travellers with luggage should look for a taxi or bus (from the stop opposite the station).
Buses leave from Piazza Gramsci, located within the city walls. Buses are available directly to and from Florence, a one hour trip, as well as from Rome (three hours), Milan (four and a half hours), and from various other towns in Tuscany and beyond.
By road, Siena is linked to Florence by a "superstrada" (the Raccordo Autostradale RA03 - Siena-Firenze), a form of toll free autostrada, albeit with narrower lanes, with a less well maintained surface and sharper bends. The superstrada to Florence is indicated on some road signs with the letters SI-FI, recalling the pre-1994 license-plate designations. A continuation of the same four lane road to the south east is under construction and will when completed facilitate the drive towards Perugia and Rome. However, drivers should be aware that almost no traffic is permitted within the city centre. Several large carparks are located immediately outside the city walls. The "La Fortezza" car park is closest to the centre, and is free of charge. Commercial traffic is permitted within the city only during the morning hours, while in the afternoon pedestrians dominate.