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History

History (1A)

According to an ancient legend, Siena was founded by Aschius and Senius, sons of Remus, one of the mythical founders of Rome. So, if you are observant, you will find many statues and other depictions of a she-wolf suckling two young children, Romulus and Remus.

Beyond the myth, we know that, in Roman times, the city was known as Sena Julia, though much earlier, from the 9th century BC, another civilisation was here: the Etruscans. It was the Etruscans who, for example, introduced modern irrigation systems and turned land, which had hitherto remained uncultivated, into fertile fields. 

Like many other Tuscan towns founded at that time, Siena sits strategically on hills so as to be easy to defend, but its location remote from Roman roads meant that it did not prosper as much as other neighbouring cities. And the truth is that even Christianity took its time to get here. It did not arrive until the 4th century.

The development of Siena had to wait for the Lombard invasion of the 6th century, when, among other things, roads were rebuilt, as they were overexposed to Byzantine attacks. In this way, since the new roads passed through Siena, the city began a period of great commercial expansion. And, in fact, even the pilgrims who were travelling to Rome stopped here.

In 774, the Lombards surrendered to Charlemagne and later, after the death of Matilda and the fall of the March of Tuscany in 1115, the Republic of Siena was finally established in 1125, although the state was not recognised by the Holy Roman Empire until 1186. The March of Tuscany included several counties and was a frontier march within the Carolingian Kingdom of Italy, limited to the south and east by the Papal States and to the north by the Kingdom of Italy. It was from this time on that Siena, the capital of the republic, became the most feared rival of Florence. In fact, the most prosperous period of Siena was in the 13th century, a period in which the main buildings of the city, including the Cathedral and the City Hall, were built.

It was somewhat later, in 1348, that the Black Death ravaged Siena, unfortunately killing a third of the population, which marked the beginning of the city's decline.

A decline that became acute when, in the 16th century, Siena entrusted its defence to Piero Strozzi and, despite being a relative of the Medici, he fought them and was defeated at the Battle of Marciano in 1554 against the Duchy of Florence. After 18 months of siege and countless casualties, he surrendered to Florence on 17 April 1555, whereby the Republic of Siena disappeared.

After their victory, the Florentines slowed and prevented the development of Siena. That is why, on your visit, you will see that the city seems stuck in its medieval splendour of the 13th and 14th centuries, with all its buildings perfectly preserved.

Even its most important and world-famous festival is a purely medieval celebration. Perhaps for all these reasons, Siena is for many the most beautiful medieval town in Italy.

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