According to tradition, Siena was founded at the beginning of Roman times by Senus, the son of Remus (see Romulus). It became a free commune in the 12th cent. and, gradually extending its territory, developed into a wealthy republic. The city was characterized by continuous internal strife between popular and aristocratic factions. Despite frequent wars, particularly with Florence, Siena maintained its independence. After the rule of the Petrucci family (1487–1523), the Spanish and French struggled for control of the city, which fell after a siege (1554–55) to Emperor Charles V. Shortly thereafter it passed to Cosimo I de' Medici, duke of Tuscany.
The local interpretation of the Gothic style produced fine works of architecture and sculpture, but the city's artistic fame is due mainly to the paintings of the Sienese school (13th–14th cent.), best represented in the works of Guido of Siena, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, and the two Lorenzetti. On the fan-shaped main square, the Piazza del Campo, are the imposing Gothic Palazzo Pubblico (1297–1310), containing works by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Martini, and Guido of Siena; the slender Mangia tower (334 ft/102 m high); a 14th-century chapel; the Fonte Gaia (a copy of the 15th-century sculptured fountain by Jacopo della Quercia); and several medieval palaces. The Corsa del Palio, a horse race first run in 1656, is the centerpiece of a festival held in the Piazza del Campo twice each summer. The city's cathedral (11th–14th cent.), a splendid example of Italian Gothic, has an elaborate striped facade of polychrome marble (mostly by Giovanni Pisano) and a pulpit (1265–68) by Nicolò Pisano. The adjoining Piccolomini library (1495) is adorned with ten famous frescoes by Pinturicchio (1509). Also of note in Siena are the Baptistery of San Giovanni, with a 15th-century font by Jacopo della Quercia; the rich art gallery (Pinacoteca); the Gothic St. Dominic's Church, with frescoes by Il Sodoma; and Piccolomini palace. The city has a university (founded in the 13th cent.) and an academy of music.
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