Sienna is not only famous throughout the world for the horse-race called the Palio and the magnificent works of art it so proudly possesses, but also for its sweets and confectionery: the candied, spicy panforte and pampepato; the almond-flavoured ricciarelli; the honeyed-fruit biscuits called copate and the honeyed-nut cavallucci.
Still celebrated today, these culinary traditions beautifully compliment Sienna's past, which is on show everywhere in the city center.
Sienna was originally an Etruscan foundation that became a city during the Roman Republic. Under the Emperor Augustus, whose family name was Julia, it also became a military colony called Saena Julia.
The 3rd century AD saw Sienna converted to Christianity through the impassioned preaching of the gospels by the young Ansàno who, after his martydom by the Romans, became one of the city's patron saints. A special devotion to the Virgin Mary developed and the city became known as the civitas virginis – the city of the Virgin.
The Lombards invaded during the High Middle Ages and gradually occupied the city and its neighboring territory. The Lombard aristocracy, especially, and their more commonplace kinsmen prevailed. Their Germanic origins partly helps to explain why, up until almost the middle of the 16th century, the Republic of Sienna was predominantly Ghibelline and supported the Germanic Holy Roman Emperor. This political affiliation resulted in a conflict with Florence, which had sided with the Guelphs, supporters of the papacy, and led to the battle of Monteaperti in 1260 when the Sienese Ghibellines defeated the Florentine Guelphs.
Other important factors in the economic development of medieval Sienna were its links with Rome, France and the rest of Europe. Indeed, after Monteaperti, Sienna was one of the most flourishing city-states in central Italy. The terrible plague of 1348, however, ended its expansion and made its antagonism with Florence last all the longer.
The 15th century, which was already a difficult period for internal politics, saw the territory of Sienna encircled as its rival Florence conquered first Arezzo and then Pisa. The conquest of Pisa gave Florence an efficient port to help develop its commerce with the Mediterranean, while the economic activities of Sienna were always seriously hampered by the fact that it never possessed an outlet to the sea.
Internally, the struggle for power eventually led to the absolute rule of Pandolfo Petrucci between 1487 and 1512. Well skilled at balancing the different factions, he was astute enough to survive not only pressure from Florence but also the dangerous machinations of Cesare Borgia, son of Alexander VI, who was trying to establish his own rule in central Italy.
When Petrucci died, his son was unable to carry on his father's policies of maintaining the internal and external balance. New problems arose and, in 1526, Sienna was attacked by the Medici Pope, Clement VII, who was the real power in rival Florence.
The following year, as a result of the Pope's direct collision with the Hapsburg Charles V, who was both the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Sienna practically fell into the Emperor's hands since Charles was seen as providing the only guarantee of independence.
When Cosimo de' Medici became Duke of Florence, he was increasingly supported by the Emperor. Finally, when Charles ordered the construction of a fortress in Sienna in order to protect the power that he wielded over the city, the people rebelled and threw the Spanish garrison out, thus breaking off the alliance.
At this point, Sienna proceeded to form a friendship pact with Henry II, King of France. The reaction of Charles V was immediate: an army was organized to punish the rebel city and Cosimo de' Medici, now confident of Florence's economic and military alliance with Charles, began a war with Sienna which lasted from 1552 to 1555, when the city was captured by both the imperial and the Florentine troops.
In 1557, sovereignty over the city was unequivocally passed to Cosimo who thus became the Duke of Florence and Sienna. This new political arrangement was ratified with the celebrated Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis of 1559 between Charle V's son, Phillip II of Spain, and the king of France. From that time on, Sienna's fate was determined by that of Tuscany, until the Unification of Italy.