Siena's origins are obscured by the legend that Senio and Ascanio, the sons of Remus and nephews of Romulus, founded the city after they fled to Tuscany to escape the murderous intentions of their uncle in Rome.
Siena's black and white balzana or emblem can be traced back to the black and white horses of the two brothers, or perhaps to the protective clouds that shielded them on their journey north.
Public sculptures of the she-wolf suckling twin boys are another reminder of the town's mythological foundation and link with Rome. More historically accurate is the fact that Siena was a small development during Rome's Republican government and a Roman colony called Sena Julia by the time of the emperor Augustus.
In the early Middle Ages, the Lombards and Franks governed the city, carrying out important public works such as the creation of the via Francigena that linked the rich economic centers on the North Sea to France and Italy. This road became a vital link for pilgrims, merchants and travelers going to Rome and helped Siena prosper as a mercantile and economic center.
The mid 1200s to mid 1300s can be seen as Siena's heyday. It was then, under the government of the Nine, that the most prestigious public buildings and palaces were erected, the streets were paved and the cathedral was completed. This period came to an end in large part when the plague of 1348 decimated the city's population.
Siena's early prosperity and Ghibelline policies continued to stir the envy and resentment of her Guelf neighbor Florence. Political tensions, territorial expansion, economic rivalries and the division of alliances between emperor and Pope often led the two cities to combat. Battles were won and lost on both sides, however, by the mid 16th century the Florentine Grand Duchy of Tuscany had absorbed Siena into its territories and Siena's days as a self-ruling independent state were over.
Today Siena's beauty and careful preservation have inspired UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site. It is often among the top ten cities considered the most livable in Italy. Thanks to its artistic treasures, its Monte dei Paschi bank, its renown university and its tourism industry, the city today continues to prosper and to beckon visitors from all over the world.