As summer vacation and study abroad beckon, Babbel is selecting its favorite hidden treasures — mind-blowing places to visit with some new language skills. Make sure to check back for new locations!
Italian Language: Siena, Italy
Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan — with all these famous destinations to choose from, visiting tiny Siena seems silly. But a visit to Siena might just be the most authentic way to experience medieval Tuscany, if not Italy.
Siena, like other Tuscan hill towns, can trace its rich history all the way back to the Etruscans (900 – 400 BC) and its own tribe, the Saina. The town did not prosper, however, until long after Roman rule ended, around 1115. At that point, the Canossa family relinquished control of large swaths of Tuscany, leaving many city-state republics behind, including the Republic of Siena.
The next 400 years would witness Siena’s golden age — a time of Sienese-Gothic architectural feats, the bourgeois Council of Nine, and the rivalries of aristocratic families à la Montagues and Capulets — the black death, and culminate in Siena’s capitulation to nearby Florence after a protracted war. Today, the city revels in the traditions and glory of its past. They even banned motor traffic in 1966 to preserve the medieval spirit that is the core of the city’s identity.
What to see and do
If you’re interested in culture, history and good food, there are almost limitless attractions to see in Siena. Here are just a few of the highlights:
- Duomo: Among Italy’s grandest cathedrals, this architectural masterpiece sports a unique, striped theme both inside and out. It’s a truly mesmerizing design.
- Palio: Held twice a year (July 2nd and August 16th), the Palio horse races signal each of the town’s historic families, to put on their medieval finery and march in their respective neighborhoods in the days leading up to the actual wild race, which occurs in the Piazza del Campo.
- Piazza del Campo: The social and historical epicenter of the town, this piazza is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.
- Walls of Monteriggioni: Just a short ride from Siena’s city limits lies the impressive fortification of Monteriggioni. Fun to climb around on!
- Museo Civico: This museum is the place to go to get your fix of fine art and history. Many masterpieces, including Simone Martini’s celebrated Maestà (Virgin Mary in Majesty; 1315), reside here.
It’s Italy, prepare to eat heartily and drink well! In Siena, try fettunta, Tuscan-style bruschetta rubbed with garlic and lavishly drizzled with green olive oil. Or try pappa al pomodoro, a soup of bread, juicy tomatoes and olive oil, for some good Tuscan comfort food. And, of course, enjoy the region’s renowned wines. Montalcino and Montepulciano are two classic Italian reds, but when in doubt, the vino della casa, house wine, is almost always a delicious Tuscan wine.
Be an insider, not a tourist
Whether you’re cheering with locals at the Palio or ordering pappardelle alla lepre from one of Siena’s cozy restaurants, speaking Italian is the only way to make Siena your home away from home. Learning a new language makes your vacation a cherished experience, not just a momentary diversion.