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!
Keep reading and discover all the other fabulously interesting reasons why the Via Francigena in Siena is not to be missed.
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 reached the highest point in the hill, Castelvechhio and with the help of shepherds built a castle. Siena grew around this castle. 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. Both districts grew around the Via Francigena road axes. Over the centuries Siena grew to be one of the most important stopping places along the Via Francigena to Rome.
In 990 AD Sigeric stopped at Siena on his way home to Canterbury. But, in those days it was called Seocine. My favourite artwork gives a glimpse into what Sigeric would have experienced when he walked through Porta Romano into Siena. Today, pilgrims still walk through Porta Romana as they leave Siena.
Terzo di Camollia
The consequence of Siena’s history is that it is divided into three areas or Terzi. The first third is ‘Terzo di Camollia’. In legendary history Camulio took command of north Siena which was entered through Porta Camollia. Today, pilgrims walking from Monteriggioni still enter 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!
One of my greatest fascinations is the Fontebranda. This is considered to be the most important and famous water source in Siena. And it was mentioned by Dante and Boccaccio who attributes to it eater 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. From the Piazza il Campo it leads to the South West branch of the city. The roads lead to four exits from the city. These are the Porta Fontebranda, Porta Laterina, Porta S. Marco and Porta Tufi. Most importantly, it is where you will find the Piazza del Duomo. Here you can visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
The Museum Complex of Santa Maria Della Scala is highly significant to the Via Francigena. It was one of the oldest hospitals in Europe . Originally, it was built to give assistance and hospitality to pilgrims. Today it is a museum complex. It is worth seeing the fresco cycle in the Pilgrims’ hospice that telling the story of the Hospital.
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 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. Then the area became an important road 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 this road and heads to Rome through Porta Romano.