We had a wonderful sunny day for our trip to Siena from Gaeta. We left the marina at 10am, caught a bus to the train station, had time for a cappuccino while waiting for the train to depart and we were off. We traveled past lots of greenhouses, vineyards, mountains and beautiful vistas. We had a 2 hour layover for the next train giving us time to wander out of the station to stretch our legs and have lunch. Arriving at Siena about 6pm we headed up the hillside using numerous escalators to get up to the central historic portion of town. It didn't take too long to check in and we were out of our room again so we could get a feel for the town before dark. It was pouring when we left, but it didn't last too long so we got a chance to wander the streets with very few people out. This is one of the nice things about staying over in a town as the day tripper holiday makers are gone and the place quiets down.
We got a chance to see the Duomo (cathedral) which reminded us of Florence with its green and
white marble striped tower and elaborate facade. We continued to wander through the numerous winding streets feeling like we had gone back in time. Many streets were lined with the tall austere brick buildings of the medieval times, but other streets were full of shops and restaurants bringing us back to today.
We found a small place to share a pizza and salad before heading back to our room for the night. Looks like we will have plenty to see while here. We were hoping to go to another town while here in Tuscany, but the weather predictions were not the best with 100% chance of rain most of Tuesday and a good part of Wednesday so figured we’d play it by ear as we wanted to see the lovely Tuscany countryside. In the end, we found there was plenty to see in Siena so stayed there allowing for a very relaxed trip giving us time to enjoy what the town had to offer.
The first full day in Siena started with it being sunny and dry so followed along with an audio-guide on a walk around Siena. It started out in Il Campo, the major "square" of
the city of Siena. One thing that definitely makes this stand out from the main square of other cities we have visited is that its main focus is the City Hall and not the Cathedral. This makes Siena stand out as being famous for its being a financial and marketing city, rather than one centered on religion. Il Campo was established before the 13th century as a marketplace on a slanting site near where the 3 hills meet in Siena. It is quite an impressive square covered in a fish bone pattern of red brick with lines of travertine dividing it into 10 sections. As mentioned it is on a slant similar to a beach – we found out on nicer days that people actually lay down and sit on it as if it is a beach!
The town hall started in 1297 stands as a focal point here with its bell tower being added between 1325-1344. Florence was the major rival of Siena and as a result this tower was built to be taller than the one in Florence. It was built to be the same height of the bell tower of the Cathedral to show that
the Church and the State had equal power here in Siena (344 feet tall). Attached to the town hall in 1348 is an open chapel to celebrate the end of the Black Plague that killed one-third of the residence of Siena. The economy of Siena which was dependent on marketing and banking was destroyed as a result of the plague causing it to lose its prominence in Italy. In its place the Franciscan religious order rose to power and the stagnation of Siena caused it not to develop as other cities did during the Renaissance period.
The famous Il Campo "square" is not square at all but oval. In fact 2 times a year it is transformed into a race track with the winning horse (the jockey does not have to still be on the horse at the finish line) being honored by the presentation of a banner of the Madonna and bragging rights for that section of the town. The town is divided into 17 areas (wards) and 10 of these enter a horse in the race. We didn't see the race while here, but there are plenty of videos of it around the town that you
No Matter Which Road You Go in Siena
it is usually a choice of UP or DOWN
can watch. If you want to see what it is like just do a google search on the Palio di Siena. It was hard to imagine while standing here to think of what it must be like on the days during the race – that is one festive we are glad we missed!
The other notable feature on Il Campo is the Fountain of Joy completed in 1342 celebrating the bringing of water to the square. Underground pipes brought water to this central market place for all to use. The frame around the fountain was added in 1419 with numerous sculptures telling a story. One that stands out is "Justice" with her balance scales to show that all are equally entitled to water here. The she-wolf that stands guard at the fountain is the symbol for Siena and is seen in numerous places around the city.
This was just the first stop of our audio-tour so we moved on to get to as much as we could before the predicted rain started in the afternoon. We got a chance to wander through numerous parts of the town, learning more of the history of this place and
Siena Is Divided into Numerous Section
Each Section Showed on the Street Corners
the importance of two rival banking families. To this day one of the squares where one of the banking families was in power is still a bank after all these centuries.
With Siena being built on 3 hills you don't go far without climbing either up inclines of going down ramps and staircases. Definitely great exercise, but can't imagine being physically handicapped in anyway and getting around Siena. The walk took us to the Basilica of San Domenico which was started in 1226-1265, but increased in the 14th C. to its present size. One well known chapel within it is dedicated to St. Catherine with relics housed here. As this was located on a different hill from where the Duomo was located it gave us a chance to take a few photos of it from a different angle. We then stopped for a nice lunch giving our legs a rest as well and time to decide what to see
In the afternoon we started with a visit to the baptistery and the crypt of the Cathedral. With Siena being built on three hills there was not much land for a large building, therefore the baptistery is
located under the Cathedral unlike in Florence and Pisa where it was a separate building. The baptistery was built between 1316-1325 in the Gothic style. The font is made of bronze, marble and enamel. Some of the well-known artists that created it are Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo Della Quercia and others. The panels on the font represent the life of St. John the Baptist. The font is the most prominent feature, but it does not distract from the numerous wall frescoes and paintings on the walls or the mosaic tiles on the floor. It was quite an impressive start to the day.
Next we climbed up the marble staircase to visit the crypt. What hits you immediately as you walk in is the vibrant colors of the frescoes on the walls. We found that this was the case as this space was only discovered quite recently in 1999. The museum in Siena had wanted to expand and they were planning to use the space beneath the Cathedral, only to discover this area covered in paintings from the second half of the 13th century. Uncovering this area has given new insight into the painting of that time period, but
also clarified more of the architectural history of the Cathedral's construction. They have left uncovered some of the structural elements showing the various styles and periods of development of this complex. The walls, columns, pilasters and capitals were brightly colored with paintings and geometric designs. The lower area has paintings depicting scenes from the New Testament and the upper area from the Old a Testament. To think that the need to expand, led to a wonderful discovery and a wealth of new knowledge of this period of time.
Now it was time to enter the Duomo itself. Fortunately as it was later in the afternoon there weren't as many tourist around so we could easily move around to see the various chapels and highlights. The 56 marble mosaic floor inlays are very impressive with each of them telling the visitor a message. These were completed by 40 artists over a period of two centuries (1373-1547) with scenes from the Old Testament and allegories. One of the first ones you see is quite interesting in that the center design is that of a she-wolf which depicts Siena. It is surrounded by other “orbs” labeled with cities such as Pisa,
A Few of The Door Knockers In Siena
they seem to be much "bolder" than other places
Rome and Florence which was to show that Siena was the center of the Italian universe at that time. Quite an interesting depiction to see as well as the many other intricate designs.
We were wandering around enjoying all that we were taking in when we noticed that a couple of the chapel areas were closing. Luckily we asked about this as we found out that instead of closing at 7PM the Duomo was closing at 6PM. With only about 15 minutes remaining now we were told we should be sure to visit the Piccolomini Library. We were very glad we were informed of this as it is a room filled with very brilliantly colored frescoes. They were done more than 550 years ago but have never been restored during that time adding to the amazement of how vivid they were. These were all done by one artist, Pinturicchio who was commissioned to celebrate the life of Aeneas Piccolomini who was born in Siena but later became Pope Pius II. Around the edges and under the frescoes there were also exhibits of sheet music (on sheepskin) with very intricate painted details. They were quite large and the explanation given
was that in this way many people could use the same music from a great distance.
The Duomo contains amazing mosaics, frescoes and sculptures – it is hard to take it all in. Fortunately we listened to an audio guide to help us as we wandered through this immense space. The pulpit was carved from marble in 1268 by Pisano, but unfortunately it was being worked on so we were not able to see this piece, but we did get to see Michelangelo’s sculpture of St. Paul and Donatello’s carving of St. John.
The first full day was definitely a full one, but a good one. The 2nd
day when we left the hotel it was raining so hard that there were streams running through the streets. We waited for a few minutes to see if it would lighten up, when it didn't look likely we used our training that we learned while in the UK -just push on and don't let the rain stop you! About half way to the museum we were aiming for this morning, there was a break in the rain, but it seems obvious it wasn't going to be for long so it
was a great day to be inside exploring the Santa Maria Della Scala. This building historically had been the hospital, a foundling home for orphans and a place of lodging for pilgrims. One of the first rooms you enter is the Pilgrims Hall which is lined with frescoes that tell the story of the various activities that were carried out in this building. They show that the hospital started in the 11th C. with caring for the sick and abandoned children. The work here was recognized and many benefactors provided funds to maintain and expand this enormous structure over the years. It was interesting to learn that it remained the hospital here in Siena until the mid 1990’s.
The frescoes in the Pilgrim’s room was very informative as it showed the very advanced thinking of the hospital. The hospital in the 13th
C. had large agricultural areas outside of the town walls that were used to grow the food to improve the nutrition of the patients. It also provided a place for people to work as they took in cast off babies, educated them and taught a trade. Any profits that they earned from their trade was
The Top of the Tower at City Hall
was designed to be as tall as the one at the Cathedral
kept by the child. When the child reached the age of 18, they could leave with the savings that they earned, a set of clothes and furnishings for a home in order to have a good start. Any females that left were also provided additional funds as a dowry. This definitely sounded very progressive for any time period in history.
The poor were provided meals here 3 times a week and any people that were sick were given free meals and treatment. The records show that the sick here were given one bed per person and clean sheets were provided. There was a physician and a surgeon employed at the hospital, with an additional surgeon added in the 16th
C. One of the frescoes explained that in the 17th
C. medical training of physicians was also important here as it provided hands on training and even became part of the University here.
Siena is on one of the major Pilgrim’s route, therefore the hospital also cared for the pilgrims by providing free lodging and board with vouchers for more food and drink in the surrounding area on their future travels.
In the basement area there
was space provided to confraternities that were dedicated to various Saints and the good work being done in the hospital itself.
The admission fee includes the use of an audio guide which was supposed to start the appropriate section when you entered that space. Well, between the two of us we got most of it to work, but unfortunately missed a few of the details provided. One thing for sure is that you can easily get lost as you seem to enter rooms, go through doorways, tunnels and hallways to find the next section where the exhibits were. Having a better understanding of the expansions over the years of this facility, it was somewhat understandable that the buildings did not flow together smoothly, making the traffic flow for visitors now a little cumbersome. Even with this it was well worth our time. The Archeology Museum is also located here so as you wander you manage to enter this section as well which has on exhibit items from Etruscan times which were excavated from tombs dating from the 8th to 5th C. BC.
When we finally emerged from the museum about 1:30pm it was raining again, but
not as hard as in the morning. We had stopped for a quick light lunch at the museum earlier so on our way back to our room we treated ourselves to a cappuccino and shared a tarimusi - enjoying Italy to the fullest! With Siena being built on 3 hills there are plenty of stairs and hills to climb. We are pleased that they haven't bothered either of us and gives us at least that false feeling that stopping to share this dessert that afternoon was OK to do.
In the evening we decided to walk in the opposite direction from our usual path and wound up going toward the university. It was a lovely evening for a stroll and window shopping checking out the various fashions on display. We found an osteria that wasn't crowded as it was still a little early by Italian standards for dinner. We had a lovely dinner starting off with 3 types of brushetta and shared two main dishes- chicken in a wonderful tarragon sauce and the other was gnocchi with a cheese and walnut sauce. Both went very well together and of course we had a lovely Italian wine followed
Pisano's Pulpit Done in 1268 Was Covered
so all we could see was this photo of it unfortunately
by coffee. The meal was not only wonderful, but it wasn't heavy so you didn't feel like you had over-eaten. A great way to end the day.
Wednesday was the last full day here in Siena. It was predicted to rain in the morning and continue on and off all day. When we return to Gaeta we will be catching a bus first and then changing to a train. We had asked at the visitor center where the bus station was so decided to check it out first this morning to be sure to know how long to figure to get there in the morning. We found it was a good exercise as the bus station we were directed to was for a different bus company, we instead had to retrace our steps and go back down the escalators to the train station. Even though we will start out on a bus it is connected to the train company. They are doing this to cut down on the lesser used train routes and use buses instead for these smaller trips. Sure glad we found out today as they were in very different locations and we will need
to leave quite a bit earlier than we had planned.
While at the wrong bus stop we did notice that close by there was a market going out in the streets so decided to check it out. This market was mainly selling clothes, material, shoes and pocketbooks but they also did have some wonderful looking plants for sale. Too bad we can't have any of them on the boat as can't figure where we would put those rose bushes or other wonderful plants.
In wandering through the market we noticed that it actually bordered the fortress here. We figured as the weather was still cooperating we would wander around the grounds of the fortress. We had to chuckle that the old moat was full of vendors selling at the market - an interesting use of an old moat – fortunately it is now dry! A signboard provided some history of the fortress which told that it was turned over for use by the public back at the end of the 18th
C. The fort itself had been built between 1561-1563. As with most areas we have traveled there has been lots of fighting over
territory and Siena was no exception. The city came under the control of the Spanish in 1548 and at that time a fort was built at this location. Siena fought back against the Spanish with the help of French allies and in 1552 destroyed that fort. The city of Siena continued to be constantly under siege by the Spanish which resulted in their surrender three years later. Peace was agreed to between France and Spain in 1559 which resulted in Siena not having any allies anymore and were again taken control of by the Florentine Duke who was a Spanish ally. The Spanish Duke decided to build this current fort two years later in order to control the people of Siena from uprising against them again. It was demilitarized in the late eighteenth century allowing people to wander its grounds and enjoy the views. Eventually this area became a public park in 1937 allowing the numerous joggers, walkers and tourists like us to enjoy the space. They even put in an outdoor amphitheatre so people can now enjoy concerts here as well – a great use of this space. Wandering to the other side of the fortress gave us a
wonderful view looking out over the countryside toward the mountains. Yes, we got a different view of the central city of Siena with its easily identifiable tower and Duomo, but it was nice to see the surrounding landscape as well.
Wednesday was going to be a museum day with two more to visit so headed over to the Duomo (Cathedral) Museum. It is located in the corner of what would have been a huge addition to the Cathedral. Unfortunately due to the Black Plague the addition was not completed and there is now only an end wall and some of the nave columns. They now allow people to climb up to the top of the one completed wall and have a wonderful view of Siena. First, you wander through the museum which holds many of the original masterpieces that once were housed in the Cathedral. It not only preserves this historic artwork, but is now at a level where the viewer can see the details of these magnificent sculptures and paintings that had been commissioned for the Cathedral. As you enter the museum you are greeted with a close up view of the rose stained glass window
The Original Window Created in 1288 in the Museum
this copy to preserve the original is in the Cathedral
that once was installed in the Cathedral. It was made in 1288 but had been removed with painstaking care before WWII to protect it from harm. A duplicate was made which is the one that visitors to the Cathedral actually see. The window is 20 feet in diameter and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. With it now being easier to see at a very reasonable height you can appreciate the details in the panels even more.
At the next level of the museum we were treated to panels that had been part of the altarpiece in the Cathedral. It is a great piece of medieval art by Duccio called "Maesta" (enthroned Virgin, 1311). Both the back and front are on display showing off the artist work which was in a more realistic style than in the past.
Other rooms in the museum held numerous statutes, paintings, and pieces of silver work that had been located in the Cathedral. Thankfully they have been moved here for safekeeping as well as allowing us to see the detail much closer than if they were still in the Cathedral.
We got in line to
A Few of the Domes in the Cathedral
notice the cherubs hanging their feet over the "side"
climb up to the panorama lookout point on top of the wall of the unfinished Cathedral extension, but the line was long and they only allow a few people up at a time. We decided that as we had gotten some nice views this morning from the fortress we would bypass this opportunity and spend more time checking out the various displays in the rest of the museum.
One room contains the original statutes done by Pisano in the early 14th century. They are of the apostles that once stood on the exterior of the Cathedral in quite a high location. In the 1700's duplicates of these were carved by Mazzuoli and were put in place on the facade so the originals could be preserved in the museum. We read that the duplicates made in the 1700's were sold in 1890 and are located in London, but the originals by Pisano from the 1300's are still standing well preserved here in the museum. When examining them up close it is almost hard to imagine how he was able to produce such details even down to the lace fabric when you remember that this is all carved out
By the time we got out of the museum we figured it was good to stop for a light lunch before moving on to the next museum. Surprisingly it still was not raining so we were able to sit outside at a lovely stop nearby. After we wandered over to the City Hall where the other museum, the Civic Museum was located. This is where the seat of government showed its independence from the Pope and Holy Roman Empire. We went into the courtyard, but by this time it was mid-afternoon. We looked at each other and decided that it probably would be very educational, but we were sort of burned out with museums over the last couple of days so decided we would have to give it a pass. It would have been interesting to get the other non-religious slant on the city, but not sure how much we would have absorbed with our current state of being (both physically and mentally). Instead we wandered through a few more streets that we hadn't yet come across and did a little bit of souvenir shopping both for us and others. Neither of us are usually
much for shopping, but it turned out to be a welcome break.
Early the next morning we packed up and headed to the bus station. We found that using the bus for part of the return was actually quite a bonus as it took us through a very different part of the area with beautiful rolling hills and spectacular views. It also gave us a chance to be on a few of the very hilly, narrow roads of the country side but with the benefit of not driving ourselves so we could enjoy the views. We had a very short connection time with the train, but as the bus company is connected with the train company here it worked out fine and we continued our journey back to Gaeta.
Once we started to see the ruins of Rome we didn’t have to concentrate as much on the views as this part of the trip back to Gaeta we have done a few times now, but Janice still seems to spend most of her time gazing out the window ‘just in case” while Bob spends his time reading. It really is a very civilized way
to travel without the stress of driving (especially when you see how many of the locals drive!)
It was a wonderful way to spend four days seeing another area of Italy. It has been working out well keeping Gaeta as our base for Tsamaya and moving around seeing a few places that we have wanted to see while over here. Siena was well worth the time.
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