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Siena and Florence used to be rivals, and Florence won. That means that Siena is still frozen in time, and on a smaller scale than Florence. You can visit it without the crowds that you encounter in Florence, and it is equally worth visiting.

The Duomo (cathedral) with its striped marble is one of the most remarkable in Europe. Don't miss the Piccolomini, the ornate library accessible from inside the cathedral. This is almost as interesting as the cathedral itself.

Sienese painting developed its own traditions apart from the school of Florence. You can see the masterpiece of the Siena school, Duccio's famous Maesta, a large altarpiece painted on wood, that now is in the museum of the works of the cathedral.

The main piazza (Campo) forms a remarkable outdoor amphitheatre which is the setting for the Palia, the horse race that is held twice a year right in the town square, on July 2 and August 16. This event, and the festivities leading up to it, are among the most colorful in Europe. The event has been held since the Middle Ages.

We were lucky enough to arrive in Siena on the morning of June 29, three days before the palia. Representatives of two of the parish contingents were parading through the streets in their medieval costumes, throwing their flags in the air. I think they wound up in the Campo for further parading, but the press of the crowd was great, so we visited the Duomo. I don't know how manageable it would be to try to see the horse race itself, but it was great fun being there to witness the parades leading up to it.