Saturday, June 18, 2011


The Medieval City

The inconveniences we endured the previous day were justified by the location of our apartment. We took a right out of our door, a left onto Via dei Pellegrini, another twenty steps, and were faced with the massive wall of the baptistery. Siena is much more hilly than I remember, but it creates a great deal of drama and variety for architecture. We hiked the steep steps beside the pink and white marble front of the baptistery, and beneath a large doorway of similar architecture into piazza del Duomo. With a look toward the sky, the striped duomo tower soared above the dome. We circled the side of the church and stood back to take in the facade. Due to the fact that Siena and Florence were rivals in the middle ages, it is no surprise that this Sena duomo follows the same style and color scheme as the one in the rival city. It is quite impressive, and the large circular window reflects the clouds. The best part, however, is inside.
The interior of the Siena duomo is one of the most unique I have ever seen. It is dim in medieval fashion, yet well lit with a good number of windows and lamps. The most remarkable aspect of this duomo isn't its size- as it is in fact quite intimate, but in its striped columns. In an almost moorish style, black and white marble trade off to create a truly mesmerizing pattern. Another aspect I love about Siena's duomo is the organized jumble which the columns create. At a certain point to either side of the main dome, the columns align between each other to form a fascinating, complex arrangement that accentuates the depth of the space. To the right of the main dome is a small tranquil chapel, adorned with Bernini's work. The duomo claims fame from the work of Duccio and Giotto as well, among many others. A library with long windows is lined with massive ancient illuminated manuscripts beneath glass.
We emerged into the sunlight only briefly before ducking back into the duomo museum. It is a modest collection which forbids photographs, though it allows you to see the original sculptures from the old facade, and original paintings by Duccio and others which had been completed for the duomo. The greatest part of the museum was in fact its connection to the Siena panorama. A 100-step climb in a narrow, spiraling stairwell rewards you with a commanding, uninstructed view of the sandstone hued medieval town, and surrounding rolling Tuscan countryside.
We took a brief lunch break, a massive slice of moderate quality pizza with a coke for €4, in the atmosphere of Il Campo. Returning to the baptistery, we viewed the dank yet once elegant marble basins. The crypt, right next door, was worth a quick look for the deteriorating frescoes and old brick ceiling. No need for a return next time.
After spending our morning inside, we decided to do the opposite for the remainder of the evening. We headed down via Fontebranda, feeling a bit like a rustic San Francisco, and wound our way to the church of San Domenico. Arguably it is the biggest church in Siena, though it is very austere in its decoration. Plain wooden floors and a ceiling supported by wooden beams stretch for a hundred yards, the floorboards bathed in shafts of sunlight from the few yet tall stained glass windows. This church is impressive for its size and humility, but the most interesting factor is the head of St. Catherine, Siena's patron saint, and her finger, preserved and on display. This practice seems a bit barbaric to me.
We returned toward the city by way of a tiny little cobbled road which led steeply back from the outskirts of town. We followed the road past San Mateo, a church I had seen on my last visit, so we stopped inside. Interestingly enough, some kind of mass was in session, and we realized as we sat down that the locals in the pews were reciting some kind of scripture. It was fascinating but a little too creepy so we quietly escaped before we could be abducted by the cult.
We finally found the edge of town, and a great view of the countyside. Vineyards and cypress trees lined the green rolling hills, topped with little red roofed villas. Beautiful.
On our journey back to the center of town, we turned a corner and witnessed a street sporting a multitude of blue and yellow flags. As we continued toward Il Campo, crowds of locals had formed on the street and were sporting the same flags around their necks. Something was going on but we didn't know what.
Il Campo seemed to be the place at which all of our evenings seemed to come to an end, and we spent the evening there, updating our journals and absorbing the activity of the square. We ate dinner at a fancier place farther down the square, me with roasted chicken topped with Sienese spices which reminded me immediately of thanksgiving. Erik ordered lamb, which was very good but the portion small. We ended the day in our usual fashion, taking in Il Campo as the shadows slowly engulfed the buildings, panna cotta gelato in hand.

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