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Siena, like many ancient cities and towns of Italy, boasts two equally compelling accounts of its earliest history, one historical and one rooted in legend. According to the former, Siena 'was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (circa 900 B.C. to 400 B.C.) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Siena. The Etruscans were an advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land, and their custom of building their settlements in heavily armoured hill-forts' (www.en.wikipedia.org). The legendary founding history of the city claims that 'Siena was founded by Senius, son of Remus, who was in turn the brother ofRomulus, after whom Rome was named. Statues and other artwork depicting a she-wolf suckling the young twins Romulus and Remus can be seen all over the city of Siena' (www.en.wikipedia.org).
Whichever history you choose to believe, nearly everyone agrees on one important fact: Siena is one of the most beautiful towns in modern-day Italy, and its influence on the history of ancient Italy is on par with that of the more famous cities of Florence and Rome.
The fortunes of the town ebbed and flowed as power shifted between various other cities on the peninsula. But it always seemed to maintain some amount of importance, whether it was in the arts, politics, or trade. And by the earliest years of the 13th Century, its importance in education also grew. 'Siena's university, founded in 1203 and famed for its faculties of law and medicine, is still among the most important Italian universities. Siena rivaled Florence in the arts through the 13th and 14th centuries: the important late medieval painter Duccio (1253-1319) was a Senese but worked across the peninsula, and the mural of "Good Government" by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall, is a magnificent example of late-Medieval/early Renaissance art as well as a representation of the utopia of urban society as conceived during that period. Siena was devastated by the Black Plague of 1348 and never recovered its earlier glory, losing out to Florence in inter-urban rivalry. Siena retained its independence in Tuscany until 1557.
The picturesque city remains an important cultural centre, especially for humanist disciplines' (www.en.wikipedia.org).
The modern town of Siena is known for its architecture, the great art housed in its museums, the beauty of its surrounding countryside, and the famous Piazza del Campo, which is to this day considered one of the most gorgeous public spaces in all of Europe. Notable museums include the Archivio di Stato, which houses 'the ancient tablets of the state ledgers and a collection of ancient manuscripts and books;' the Duomo, or cathedral, of Siena, which is home to 'precious frescos, sculptures, stained glass designs and marble masterpieces;' and the Museo Civico, which 'holds masterpieces of Sienese art. The astronomical frescos in the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sala della Pace are not to be missed. Frescos from the 19th century, which depict Italy's first king, can also be found there. You can climb to the top of the bell tower (Torre del Mangia), for a stunning view of Il Campo, Siena and the surrounding countryside'.
Siena exerts a strong pull on students from around the world. This is a result of both its beauty and historical importance as well as of the University of Siena and all the programs for foreign students that are based in the town. And like much of the rest of Italy, Siena provides an exhilarating mix of the ancient and the modern to create an exciting, stimulating environment in which to live and learn.
So whether you are considering Siena for a year-long stay or just a semester, it truly is a wonderful choice. The range of activities, the dolce vita famous to this region of Italy, and the prevalence of students from all over the world who choose to take classes here all combine to make Siena a fantastic place to study abroad.
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