Via Francigena and Siena
The Via Francigena in Siena is not to be missed for many reasons. My favourite reason is to see the fresco Allegory of Good and Bad Government, by Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico. Every time I go to Siena I have to visit the Palazzo Publicco and absorb every detail of the fresco. So why am I so captivated by it? Mostly because we can see how Siena looked in medieval times. Also, it is fascinating to realize that the Sienese aimed for ‘good government’ way back in medieval times. Even more so, ‘good government is still a big issue in today’s world!
The Via Francigena route is based on Archbishop Sigeric’s diary. In 990 AD, when he was travelling home from Rome to Canterbury, Seocine (Siena) was the 15th (XV) place where he stopped for the night. I like to imagine that Sigeric is one of the pilgrims in the Allegory of Good and Bad Government walking through Porta Romano into Siena. Today, pilgrims still walk through Porta Romana as they leave Siena and walk to Rome!
History of the Via Francigena and Siena
My second favourite reason for liking Siena is its history. Legend has it that Siena was founded by the twin sons of Remus, Senio and Aschio. They fled from Rome after stealing the Capitoline She Wolf. They built a castle at the highest point and Siena grew around it. But, their uncle, Romulus sent two centurians, Camulio and Montoria to recover the symbol and attack Senio. Eventually, Camulio founded the Camollia district in north Siena. Whilst Montoria founded Castelmontori and Valle di Montone in the San Martino district in South Siena. The Via Francigena passes through both districts. Over the centuries Siena grew to be one of the most important stopping places along the Via Francigena to Rome.
Terzo di Camollia
The city of Siena is divided into three areas or Terzi. The first third is ‘Terzo di Camollia’. According to legend Camulio took command of north Siena which was entered through Porta Camollia. Today, pilgrims walking from Monteriggioni still enter Siena through Porta Camollia. Then they walk along Via Camollia past the ancient fortress Fortezza Medicea.
Terzo di Camollia is my favourite Terzo. This is mostly because I have always been fascinated by Catherine of Siena. Today, her presence is strongly felt in this part of Siena. Firstly, there is the Basilica of San Domenico which contains her relics and some of her personal objects. Then there is the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina which is dedicated to the saint. The gates to the Sanctuary are an inspirational masterpiece offering a warm welcome to her Sanctuary!
Nearby is the famous water source, Fontebranda. It was mentioned by Dante and Boccaccio who attributed it to the ‘bessaggine’ or the madness of the Sienese. Indeed, today it looks very spooky!
Equally fascinating are the Palazzo Tolomei made famous in Dante’s Purgatory when Pia utter her dying words, ‘Remember me, for I am Pia; Siena created me, while I am destroyed by Maremma’. She went to her death thrown from the beautiful Gothic mullioned windows by her husband, Maremma!
Lastly, there is the massive Rocca dei Salimbeni, home to the wealthy of Siena! It always makes me think of Harry Potter’s Gringotts! Also, the beautiful Piazza Salimbeni is worth a visit.
Terzo di Città
Terzo di Città is the oldest part of the city. This is where you will find the Piazza del Campo and the highlight Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Also, there are four exits known as Porta Fontebranda, Porta Laterina, Porta S. Marco and Porta Tufi.
The Museum Complex of Santa Maria Della Scala is in the Piazza del Duomo. It was one of the oldest hospitals in Europe and was built to give assistance and hospitality to pilgrims travelling the Via Francigena. There are many interesting things to see in the Museum. But don’t miss the fresco cycle telling the story of the Hospital in the Pilgrims’ hospice.
Another exciting place to visit is the castellare. This is the highest place in Siena where Ascio and Sieno built their castle. Today, there is a group of colourful, medieval houses built close together around a small central courtyard. In the Middle Ages, castellari were the fortified homes of the noble families. In times of unrest these houses could become an urban fortress.
Terzo di San Martino
The district of San Martino grew around the church of San Martino. This area became important for pilgrims on the way to Rome. Today, there are many buildings and churches of historical significance to see in this district. Today’s pilgrim leaves the Via Francigena in Siena along Via Roma and heads to Rome through Porta Romano.