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The Tuscan city of Siena is one of those stunningly beautiful places that once you have visited you want to return to time and time again. This historic city, located in the heart of Tuscany and surrounded by some delightful countryside, is a mere 1/2 hours train journey from Florence, and simply should not to be missed by any traveler to this fascinating region of Italy.

Siena plays "second-fiddle" to no city and small though it may be, it is a proud place with a great deal of interest for the visitor. Self-obsessed it is but this beautifully-preserved town has few equals anywhere in Italy for sheer urban beauty and elegant architecture.

The Piazza del Campo is the most important magnet of Siena's many attractions and every visit to the city seems irresistably to commence there. It is hardly surprising for the campo ranks among the finest squares in all of Italy and is enclosed by a series of elegant palaces. Not to be missed too is the splendid Gothic Palazzo Pubblico or City Hall and its Museo Civico chocker-block with Sienese paintings. A great place to take a peep into Sienese culture. Nearby there is the graceful Torre del Mangia (Mangia tower) with a one-handed clock that used to sound the hour of mangiare (to eat).

The Duomo - the colourful cathedral - took some three centuries to complete. The wait was worthwhile for it is a beautiful building, with its exterior dressed in distinctive alternate layers of white and dark green marble.

On July 2nd and August 16th the Campo is the scene every year for an utterly mad cap horse race, which is preceded by a costumed parade of the dignatories of ten of Siena's neighbourhood's or contradas. The Palio race takes place between the contradas of the city and each team have their own flag and uniform.

Siena is famous not only for its art and architecture but also as a center of banking. Indeed the Monti dei Paschi di Siena bank is probably the oldest bank in the world-its was founded back in 1472 some two decades before Columbus managed to discover the new world. Many of the local citizens love to take their evening stroll or passeggiata along the walkway's of Siena's financial district.

If the Sienese have a proud tradition of banking, they are no less gifted in the culinary arts. Like all Italians good food is very important to the inhabitants of this city and it is difficult to have a really bad meal in Siena. Ristorantes and Trattorias, serving-up wholesome Tuscan food abound. There are fine soups such as minestrone, zuppa pavese (clear soup with an egg), pasta dishes galore, veal dishes including osso buco, a veal shin bone cooked in wine and stock with tomatoes-it actually originated in Milan-steaks, for which Tuscany is renowned, and wine is plentiful, especially Chianti, for which Tuscany is justly famous.

Siena has its beautiful Piazza del Campo, the world-famous palio horse race, its outstanding museums, fine churches such as the 13th century Gothic San Domenico and above all-a magnetic effect on all who seek out its charms.