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Published: September 8th 2018
We left Florence early to drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to the walled city on a hill that is Siena. The typical Italian houses with red tile roofs dot the hills. At one of the gates in what seems like a bustling town if you gauge the traffic traveling In around it. Our guide Camilla was a lot of fun. She is s long time resident and obviously loves living there. We walked up to the Duomo, one of the most beautiful inside and out. The outside is striking with its alternating Black and white stripes and its highly decorated facade with sculptures all over. But inside, not an inch is left undecorated. The floor is covered with marble inlay scenes. The vaulted ceiling is covered with Biblical scenes. We went into a library, where there were amazingly well-preserved frescoes telling the story of how the family ( who gave a lot of money for the cathedral) had one of their sons become Pope. There is a Michelangelo sculpture of St Peter on one altar and another he started but probably did not finish. He was a busy guy, highly in demand, and he got pulled away from projects by
more important customers (the Pope).
Walking around Siena is a killer with many steps and hilly stone streets. We went the the home of the forest contrada(Contrada della Selva) where we first saw the chapel and then the meeting room and museum.
There are 17 contradas, or city wards, each with a different symbol and colors. If you are born into one, you stay in it for life, even if you physically move to another. Twice a year the contradas hold a palio, named for the prize, a colorful banner. Only 10 contradas may run a horse. The contradas and the horse they get to run are chosen by lotteries right before the race. The jockies are paid by the contrada. After they get assigned a horse it goes back to the contrada and is blessed in the church by the priest. They say if the horse relieves himself while this is happening, it's good luck!!
About 35000 people stand in the Piazza del Campo for the race which takes a couple of hours for a minute and a half race. The winning contrada is responsible for putting on dinners--as many dinners as their contrada has won palios. The
contradas have allies among each other and they share in the dinners. It's a wild and crazy tradition!
We returned to Florence pretty beat. We had two lectures by Allan before dinner on our own. We decided to eat in the hotel. Others in our group went out and were able to see part of a lantern festival parade through the city.
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