The first inhabitants of Siena were the Etruscan Saina tribespeople arriving sometime around 9-400 BC. Their building of defensive forts with great vantage points established the tradition of hilltop towns.
Several centuries later, during the reign of Augustus that spanned from 27 BC- 14 AD, the Romans declared the town Saena Julia.
It is likely that this is how the symbol of Rome also became that of Siena – a wolf nursing Remus and Romulus, statues of which can be found scattered throughout Siena.
Many centuries passed before Siena came to prosper and then, only once it had been conquered by the Lombards who rendered Siena a centre of trade and thus a popular pilgrim trail. The location of Siena avoided many of the more popular roads that were susceptible to attacks and theft on the way to Rome.
The rule of the Lombards came to a bloody end in the late 700s, when power fell to Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Many of his fellow countrymen flocked to Siena, where they integrated well with the locals and contributed to the construction particularly of abbeys.
Eventually this rule also came to an end and in the late 1000s, the Republic of Siena was established.
In the 1200s, the site of the signature shell-shaped Piazza del Campo was used as a market. Later in the century, the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) went up, together with its tower, Torre del Mangia. Today, climbing to the top awards some fantastic views over the splendid Tuscan countryside in the surrounds.
Also during the period of the Republic, the gothic Siena Cathedral - Il Duomo - was completed. Whilst projected to be the grandest cathedral in the world, funds were exhausted and the result is a stunning, albeit it smaller version than that initially planned.
Various famous artworks are held within the Siena Cathedral, including by Donatello, Ghiberti, Ghirlandaio, Pisano, di Speme and della Quercia.
Many other churches and even a synagogue also went up.
The Republic of Siena lasted until Spain, with the aid of the Duchy of Florence, overpowered the territory in 1555, albeit it after a bit of a struggle to do so.
To pay their significant debts, the Spanish gave Siena to the Medici family and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was only the unification of Italy in 1861 that bought this tenure to an end.
The University of Siena, founded in 1240, established this Tuscan town as a great centre of learning, particularly for medicine and law.
Throughout its history, Siena has proven an important financial hub, being home to Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472 and today the world’s oldest bank still in existence.
On a lighter and more musical note, Siena is also home to its own conservatory of music, the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, founded in the 1932 and the Siena Jazz School.
Whilst Siena in general is one of the most visited towns in Italy, it is never so popular as throughout the period of its two famous and historic “Palio” horse races that take place in the Piazza del Campo.
In English, Siena is occasionally spelt Sienna.