Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Italy Day 4: Siena

Siena! We spent a day in Siena. We had time for one day in one small Italian town and it came down to Pisa, Siena, or Assissi. Siena won out. Siena is a little Tuscan town, most famous for being the origin of the Crayola color "Burnt Siena".
Just kidding, not about the origin of the color, but of the "most famous" part.
We left Rome very early in the morning by train. From the train station we sought out our hotel - the Borgo Grondaie.  The Borgo Grondaie is a Tuscan farm converted into an interesting little bed and breakfast complex. It was the nicest hotel we stayed at the entire trip - too bad it was only for one night and we spent no time at the hotel...

We had this whole townhouse to ourselves, and for not much more than the cheapest hotel options I found for the whole trip!
However nice the hotel is, it's kind of a hike from the train station - probably should have found a way to call for a taxi. We dropped off all our stuff and after taking the most beautiful picture of my parents, took a taxi about a mile into the city walls of Siena.
Told you it was beautiful.
Siena is like a Medieval town unchanged since before the Renaissance, except for the inclusion of certain modern comforts (automobiles, refrigeration, and lots of fashion stores). It was once one of the two great cities of Tuscany, but plagues and wars left Florence number one... I mean, it's still pretty great. Just not as great in size and scope as Florence.

We taxied from across the train tracks into the city walls of Siena. On our way to the tourist-y things of Siena, we got a little distracted by this huge souvenir market.
I don't care for shopping so much...
Lots of trinkets.
The souvenir market is in Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, but only on certain days in case you were wondering.
So we made our way south towards Il Campo.
Il Campo translates to "The" Campo
As you can see, Il Campo is the central town square of Siena. The plaza itself is all curved/slanted downward toward the entrance to the town hall. The semicircular plaza is divided by lines of brick flooring into nine trivial pursuit-like wedges, for the nine Noveschi who ruled Siena during the height of its power. Believe it or not, since the 1650s Il Campo has been the site of the Palio di Siena horse races. Twice a year, the Campo is covered with a thick layer of dirt and a three-lap horse race around the plaza is held. Hard to imagine the place converts from the setting seen in the above picture to this:
That clock tower building dominating the left half of the picture is the town hall. It, along with most of the impressive buildings of Siena is an impressive example of Medieval architecture. The clock tower was the tallest structure in Italy when completed and has no metal reinforcements at all within the shaft of the tower. It was built mostly to out-do Siena's then-rival city Florence. Our very brief stay in Siena didn't allow us the time to take the full tour/climb of the town hall - but we hung around the outside/courtyard for a bit.
We are hilarious.
Across from the town hall is the Fonte Gaia - Fountain of Joy. Like the Trevi in in Rome, it was created to be a focal point for where the aqueducts that brought water to the city ended. The fountain itself is so-so. It's not quite on the same scale as the Trevi fountain in Rome, but there is one remarkable thing about it: the pigeons. Somehow the fountain has hypnotized these birds into being orderly water consumers. See this dog water spout?
Well - pigeons are known to wait patiently in line along the heads and backs of these dogs to take their turns leaning over the dog noses to take a drink directly from the spout. Why not drink from the rectangular bowl of water sitting right there? Perhaps they find the water from the spout more refreshing and clean? Perhaps they look down on the other pigeons of the world for being so inconsiderate to one another and unrefined as to simply drink water from wherever they find it without offering up their spot in line first with an, "after you, good sir." The world may never know.
"I must say this water is most refreshing to me on this most humid of days!" - polite pigeons of Siena
Before we left Il Campo, I tried out an old Ohio State University legend: that if you yell out "O-H!" in a crowded tourist square anywhere in the world, that someone will shout back, "I-O!". You can't really hear it, but it worked!
After Il Campo we headed toward the Siena Cathedral - referred to as the Duomo. It's impossible to miss the tell-tale white and dark green striped complex of the Duomo. It's really several tourist attractions in one. There's the cathedral itself, the museum which includes the attempted extension of the Duomo, the crypts, and the baptistery. If you've got the time, I highly recommend the all-encompassing ticket that gets you into all of these museums. The place is incredible - even more so because it was all built in the 1200s.
Looks like we made it. 
That's me in the blue shirt in front of the center door.
The Duomo is set up in a traditional Cathedral style. Typical floor plan. Click this link and you'll get a pretty good idea. At the level above the arches formed by the columns, encircling the entire nave of the church, is a row of heads with the names of all the popes from Peter to the 1200s listed beneath them. The heads are actually just the same four figures used over and over.
Pope heads.
Awesome Pulpit.
Hey look! There's the dome!
Also of note is the floor of the Cathedral which is spattered with enormous and elaborate mosaics depicting scenes from the bible.

There's a room just off of the nave of the Cathedral called the Piccolomini Library. The walls are filled with colorful murals depicting scenes from the life of Piccolomini who was from Siena and became Pope. The walls are lined with displays of ornate choir books.
Scenes from Piccolomini's life.
More scenes - these blocked by some nudes.
My mom sits below a choir book that is nearly her size.
After the main building of the Siena cathedral, we sat for a little while on the front steps... dad took a little nap.
OK time for a history lesson. Here's how most churches are arranged:
It's a cross - get it? Cause of Christianity?
And here's the layout of the Siena Cathedral.

The nave here is labeled "1, 2, 3, 4, 5" and you can figure out the rest. 
You see that part extending out to the right? The red wall that's an almost complete rectangle? Got it? OK. See, in their quest to be the number one town in Tuscany over Florence, the people of Siena decided they were going to expand the cathedral. They were going to do this by making the existing cathedral the transept/crossing of the new cathedral. That doesn't sound as dramatic when I read it... The expansion was going to more than double the existing cathedral. It was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Too bad the black plague came through and decimated the town. The plan was abandoned, but the beginnings of the project were left up and incorporated into the cathedral museum (labelled on the map).
Line of arches and the inside of a would-be new facade of the unfinished expansion. See those two levels of empty windows over there on the right? We're going to climb that!
The museum is in the building above. It contains many great works of art including original stained glass windows from the Cathedral. No pictures were allowed, but in a back room away from the docents I took pictures of a couple of wooden statues. I believe they might both be candidates to be the next big internet memes. So I made some mock-ups for a test run.
Skeptical Saint is skeptical.
Modest Mary is modest.
The museum is the entrance to the would-be facade of the expansion of the church. Access to the two different levels of the expansion is granted via tiny spiral staircases.
My mother is afraid of heights. Very afraid. When we went on a family trip out west and came to the Grand Canyon, she became so overwhelmed on one of the walking paths that she crawled along most of the way to the look-out point. She didn't even let my younger sister out of the lodge there for fear that she would fall in along with the hundreds per day that also fall in according to her. Climbing the extension to the Siena Duomo was a huge step for her. Just look at this nervous smile:
Also this nervous smile:
She did put on a good face for most of the pictures, but not for all of them:
Consider this video a gift to the world:
Some of the views were pretty incredible:
Il Campo.
Tuscan fields.
look at all the burnt siena
The Duomo.
We all made it back down alive!
The Siena Duomo Baptistery is at the base of the retaining wall holding up the extra part of the hill that had to be built to support the Siena Cathedral - see map above. A Baptistery is a separate chapel meant specifically for baptisms (big surprise there). Usually they come with batismal fonts - ornate holders for the holy water used in these baptisms. That was our final stop in the Siena Duomo complex.
Baptismal Font depicting scenes from the life of John the Baptist (another big surprise).
The last real attraction we visited was the Basilica of San Domenico.
There it is across this valley.
We walked the long way around to avoid the climbing. The inside of this Cathedral is very plain. Virtually no decoration compared to every other church we visited in Italy. The plain walls made it seem even bigger than most, but overall we probably could have skipped this one and done something else. One remarkable thing we saw here was the head of Saint Catherine of Seina. No exaggeration. Her head! Apparently the people of Siena smuggled her head and thumb back to Siena in order to be put on display as relics. The practice of displaying human remains as relics is strange to me personally. We didn't see it at all in Rome, but in Siena and Florence it was everywhere. 
The Siena Duomo from nearby to the Basilica of San Domenico.
We ate dinner in a restaurant called Trattoria Papei. It's next to the large gazebo on the opposite side of the town hall from Il Campo. The food was very delicious and my dentist mother bonded with the dental hygienist waiter from Kosovo who served us - so he gave us some limoncello liqueur for dessert! My younger sister took advantage of the lenient drinking age laws in Italy.
Buon Appetito!
After dinner, we took a taxi back to our villa at the good ol' Borgo Grondaie.
Farewell, Siena.

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