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Published: March 31st 2018
Duomo di Siena
Soaring architecture, high above the city
This morning I lay around until breakfast at 9:00 with Jim and Mary and Dave and Betty from my Rome tour. Then we all walked into town. The Duomo
is so extraordinary as to be indescribable. It is on the highest point of the hill of Siena, of course, and is itself tall and elegant, made of white marble with a tower striped horizontally black and white. The façade soars over a relatively small plaza. The shape of the front is a triangle on top of a square and the length of the cathedral recedes away from the plaza. Another set of unfinished arched building elements extend at right angles. When the plague hit Siena, the economy and population collapsed and the money ran out. I am hoping to visit the Duomo and the museum later in my tour.
From the cathedral square we went down to Il Campo
, where people were gathering or hanging out. There seemed to be a sense of expectation but nothing much happened for an hour or more. We drifted through some souvenir stands. There were many pretty shawls (plain, damask and patterned) for €5-€8, attractive silver rings for €2-€5, and Palio flags for about €5. Palio
Built for walkers and donkeys, not cars
banners represent the original 17 neighbourhoods of Siena.
In the centre of the Piazza del Campo we noticed four ambulances and some tents. These didn’t connect in our minds until we saw they were for a toy animal hospital. That is, little kids were bringing their toys to be “admitted” and then taken for an “operation”, an injection, or bandaging, etc. Naturally the kids were cute and the medical people talked to them very seriously. I assume this is to reduce the fear of hospitals.
During this time, we kept hearing drumming, but still nothing was happening except everyone was enjoying the sun. We wandered along some streets and made minor purchases. Finally we all agreed to lunch at a patio restaurant on Il Campo. I had a tuna and tomato Panini – common here – and a beer for €10.50.
Finally the drumming came to the Piazza in the form of a parade of the “Nobile Contrada de l’Oca
”, a neighbourhood with a banner featuring a white goose with a background of red/green/white stripes or checks. (The banners varied somewhat in design). A few little boys led followed by others in groups of increasing age (mostly men). All were
dressed in red tights (except the little boys who had one red leg and one white leg), green and white jerkins of various combinations of stripes in a quartered design, and red hats also of various designs. Each group consisted of banner wavers and several drummers. They walked slowly around Il Campo until they were evenly distributed all around. Then the drum-beat quickened and the flags were tossed several times in display, like batons.
As they left drumming and we finished our lunch, we could still hear them, so we followed to see what else was happening. After a few blocks, it became obvious we were in their neighbourhood, because banners were hanging from the homes (all thick stone). Some doorways even had stylized goose-shaped sconces, again of several designs.
The flag bearers and drummers dispersed, but by then we saw a notice that this was the final day of a four-day celebration of St. Catherine
, patron saint of Siena. In one street, across the whole street, was a representation of a fresco a couple of stories high, forming a backdrop for the bust of the saint.
We continued walking downhill, thinking we could walk by the City wall to our hotel and avoid more uphill climbs. Just as we thought perhaps not, we saw a sign that there was an escalator. What a surprise! It is new, still with its construction sign indicating the project cost over a million Euros. Five or six escalators (lost count) at various angles took us about three-quarters of the way up the hill to Il Duomo.
There, the other couples decided to tour the Duomo and the museum, and I walked back to the hotel. When I asked for my key, the receptionist told me there were light refreshments for the Elderhostel
guests. I had a rest and a ten-minute nap first. Shortly afterwards, I was happy to select a fortified wine (new to me – part-way between rosé and sherry, Vinsanto
I later learned), and a piece of pear tart with melon. Eventually, the guide, Michele, arrived with some jet-lagged participants who had just arrived from the Florence airport.
At 6:00 we met for a welcome drink (2 in a row!) which was Prosecco
. Then Michele went over the program and delivered a quick history of Siena, which was a bit different than I had read previously. He more fully explained the “contrada
”, which is more like “parish” than “neighbourhood”, although no one much differentiates.
Dinner was at this hotel, elegantly served from platters. The primo was penne with black olives and several types of mushrooms; secondo was very thinly sliced roast pork with a light mushroom sauce (probably just olive oil, stock and onions and mushrooms) with deep fried potato chunks; dolce was fresh fruit salad; and red wine was included. A great start!
A note: all day long the birds sing in the fields outside my window, a beautiful audio background when I am in my room.
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