I’m not quite sure what we were expecting of Siena, but it has surpassed all expectations. While ‘all Gaul is divided into three parts’ … Italy is politically divided into 20 regions (like states in the USA) and then further divided into 110 provinces (like state counties). Siena is the capital of Siena province in the Tuscany region with a population of ~59,000. The historic centre of Siena was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. There’s so much to say about Siena, I couldn’t wait to write this blog and describing it all in one blog is a travesty, but at some point, I need to get back to walking the Via Francigena. So here in brief is sensational Siena!
I’ve relied on Wikipedia for some of this paraphrased info because a little background is in order. Siena, like other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c. 900–400 BCE) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. According to local legend, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus and thus nephews of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. Supposedly after their father's murder by Romulus, the brothers fled Rome, taking with them the statue of the she-wolf suckling the infants (Capitoline Wolf), thus appropriating that symbol for the town.’ The she-wolf statue is found everywhere throughout the city. Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the photo.
The Capitoline Wolf was everywhere!
We wandered cobble stoned streets, trudged up and down the steep hills, peeked in alleyways and doorways and tiny shops until we were on sensory overload. We found the shops to be unique and intriguing. Some days we walked legs of the Via Francigena and some days we just reveled in the beauty of the city and our ability to meander and explore at will.
The Duomo, the Assumption of Mary Cathedral, is a highlight of the city and we spent several hours inside exploring this wondrous building. Originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure, this medieval Catholic church’s exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes. Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, linked to the black and white horses of the legendary brothers who founded the city, Senius and Aschius.
Built in a French Gothic / Tuscan Romanesque style, the cathedral is considered one of the finest and most fascinating in Italy. The intricate facade could have kept us occupied and impressed (with very stiff necks) for a week or more. Click here for interesting facts about this cathedral.
We paid a few Euros to tour the inside of the Duomo. Oh, my … there was so much to see, so much to comprehend, so much beauty to behold. A day, a week, a month… and still we could not have absorbed it all.
The Piccolomini Library was an added surprise for us. Inside this smallish room (comparative to the size of the cathedral) was a collection illuminated manuscripts… beautiful, but the amazing frescoes on the ceiling and walls by Pinturicchio and his workshop (including a young Raffaello Sanzio later known as Raphael) were what stole the show and made people literally gasp in awe.
But wait, there’s so much more. Il Campo is a huge oval plaza where the Palio, a horse race, is run twice a year in July and August to commemorate an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the mid-1600s. The 90-second race (three laps of the plaza course) is world-renowned, but when we visited, it was a busy, but marvellously open, pleasant place for locals and tourists to gather.
We were most fortunate that long-time Swedish cruising friends, Peter and Ulla, who have settled on Italy’s east coast, were able to meet with us for a few days. We filled the days with walking, drinking, eating, catching-up, laughing, old stories, new stories and then more eating and drinking. An absolutely wonderful reunion with hopefully more reunions in our future.
The photos tell the story more than my words and at that, only a portion of the story. There’s so much more. If you’re thinking of a visit to Italy in the future, consider putting Siena on your itinerary. It’s sensational.
And now, back to the job at hand … walking. Join us next time for walks from Siena.