Over the centuries, Siena has had a rich tradition. This itinerary retraces the architectural results achieved in various eras – from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth century – by numerous families of Siena who have played leading roles in its social, economic and cultural development and thereby contributed to its present-day urban appearance, and, where institutions have been established, have significantly perpetuated the active civic role of these spaces up to the present day. We refer specifically to Palazzo Buonsignori, home of the National Art Gallery, Palazzo Piccolomini, which houses the State Archives and Palazzo Chigi Saracini, headquarters of the internationally renowned Chigi Academy.
Palazzo degli Ugurgieri
Now the site of the museum of the Civetta district, this impressive architectural complex, more accurately described as a castellare (fortress-house), owes its compact, vertical appearance to its noble defensive structures, forming a model fortified dwelling. The fortress-house owes its name to the Ugurgieri family, which dates back to the 9th-century Winigis (o Guinigi) counts, whose long genealogy includes names such as the Berardenga and Gherardesca families and, of course, the Ugurgieri. More specifically, this name derives from the Sienese consul Ugo Ruggieri, whose descendants played a prominent role in the political life of the city: a plaque still displayed on exterior of the building speaks of the merits of an Ugurgieri. The palazzo remained the property of the noble family until the mid-19th century.
The residence of one of the oldest Sienese banking families (whose name it bears), Palazzo Tolomei is a beautiful example of 13th-century architecture, with an imposing stone façade, three important entrances and two rows of ogival mullioned windows with trefoil decorations. The Tolomei family, like many others of the time, accumulated wealth through their commercial relations with northern Europe and their services to the papacy. One descendant of note was Pia de’ Tolomei, whose unhappy marriage and sad end are known thanks to Dante, who mentions them in his Divine Comedy. The façade of the church of San Cristoforo is also linked to this noble family: rebuilt in the 19th century, it displays the family coats of arms as well as statues of the two blessed Tolomei, Bernardo and Nera. The family tomb, however, is located in the church of San Francesco.
Palazzo del Capitano
Palazzo del Capitano is a majestic thirteenth-century building which owes its name to having once been the seat of the most important military judiciary of the Sienese Republic, “il Capitano della Guerra” (“the Captain of War”). In the mid-19th century, the building was restored by the architect Giulio Rossi at the behest of its owners, the Grottanelli de Santi, in the wake of the rampant neo-Gothic revival. The façade was redesigned with nine pointed arches to harmonise the building in relation to the upper mullion windows. Other works included the creation of the battlements, the renovation of the internal courtyard and the placement on the façade of coats of arms representing the Captains of War who lived in the building, including Guidoriccio da Fogliano, known for the famous Victory of Montemassi in the battle against Castruccio Castracani.
Palazzo dei Diavoli
A medieval complex built in masonry and enlarged in 1460, with an adjoining chapel located outside the walls, along Via Francigena. Numerous popular legends make this palazzo, which belonged to the Turchi family (as seen from the engraving “Palatinum Turcarum” on the main doorpost), one of the most mysterious buildings in Siena. Despite popular rumours about strange nocturnal rituals that allegedly took place here during full moon, it seems likely that its name derives from the fact that in this area, in July 1526, a few Sienese soldiers dispersed a large papal and Florentine contingent by fighting like devils.
Palazzo Piccolomini and Palazzo delle Papesse
These two excellent examples of Renaissance architecture were built at the behest of the sister and nephews of Pope Pius II Piccolomini. The buildings were erected within a few years of each other – the foundation stone of the first was laid in 1469 and that of the second in 1464 – and can be attributed to the genius of Bernardo Rossellino, trusted architect of the pontiff. Both are characterised by an imposing yet elegant ashlar façade and two orders of mullioned windows in the upper section, with a structure reminiscent of the forms of contemporary buildings by Alberti in Florence. Since 1858, Palazzo Piccolomini has been the location of the State Archive. Prior to this, it changed over the centuries from being a private residence to become the first Jesuit college and then the seat of the Grand Duke’s offices. Palazzo delle Papesse also changed from being a private residence to become the first headquarters of the Bank of Italy and then, until recently, headquarters of a Contemporary Art Centre.
Loggia del Papa
The Logge del Papa, distinguished by their harmonic travertine façade featuring three elegant arches supported by columns with Corinthian capitals, were built in 1462 by the Sienese architect and sculptor Antonio Federighi and are a valuable example of Renaissance Siena. As stated in the dedication “PIUS II PONT. MAX. GENTILIBUS SUIS PICCOLOMINEIS “ (Pius II Supreme Pontiff to his Piccolomini relatives), it was commissioned by Pope Pius II, born Enea Silvio Piccolomini, as a tribute to his family members who lived in the palazzo opposite. To overcome the building’s structural problems, considered too serious for it to remain standing, Federici designed the reinforcement chains which ensure the stability of the columns.
Palazzo Buonsignori is a Renaissance building that takes its name from the ancient Sienese family that purchased it in 1476. Since 1932, it has housed the National Gallery, which preserves works by the most important exponents of Tuscan and central Italian painting of the fourteenth and fifteenth century: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Sano di Pietro and Francesco di Giorgio Martini. Equally important are the sixteenth-century paintings from the Spannocchi-Piccolomini collection, which includes works by Beccafumi, Durer and Lorenzo Lotto, as well as the famous self-portrait of Sofonisba Anguissola, ideally portrayed by Bernardino Campi.
Characterised by the sober masonry of its external façades and its elaborately frescoed interiors, Palazzo Coli Bizzarrini (formerly Francesconi and then Mocenni) is one of the most important examples of Mannerist architecture in the city. It was commissioned in 1520 by Bernardino Francesconi to the famous architect Baldassarre Peruzzi, however, due to his numerous Roman assignments, the works were soon entrusted to his pupil Pietro Cattaneo. Today the building is best known as the residence of the eighteenth-century noblewoman Teresa Regoli Mocenni, who made it a lively and renowned literary salon. Frequented by illustrious Sienese scholars, it even hosted such figures as Ugo Foscolo and Vittorio Alfieri, with whom the woman had an affair.
Considered one of the city’s most precious architectural treasures, Palazzo Chigi Saracini bears the name of the family that inherited it through the testamentary bequest of Alessandro Saracini in 1877. One particularly important figure was Count Guido Chigi Saracini, who in 1932 founded the Chigi Academy of Music, a prestigious international centre for musical studies. After Count Guido’s death in 1965, the building was opened to the public so that everyone could appreciate the rich art collection housed here, which includes more than ten thousand works by great Italian painters, such as Sano di Pietro, Beccafumi and Salvator Rosa, and an important collection of musical instruments, including the oldest harpsichord known to date, made in 1515.