Sensational Siena – WOW!

Here’s where we are.

Here’s where we are.

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.

Siena’s glorious Duomo … it’s breathtaking!

Siena’s glorious Duomo … it’s breathtaking!

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.

Gargoyles, grotesques, saints and demons adorn the intricate facade of this cathedral.

Gargoyles, grotesques, saints and demons adorn the intricate facade of 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.

Despite the crowds, we found the Duomo to be mind-bogglingly beautiful. The detail is beyond belief.

Despite the crowds, we found the Duomo to be mind-bogglingly beautiful. The detail is beyond belief.

Nicola Pisano’s marble pulpit (1265-68) is considered one of the most important sculpted pieces of the Italian 13th century.

Nicola Pisano’s marble pulpit (1265-68) is considered one of the most important sculpted pieces of the Italian 13th century.

Even the floors took your breath away. ‘The 56 etched and inlaid marble panels were designed by 40 of the leading artists between 1369 and 1547, all from Siena except for Bernardino di Betto, known as Pinturicchio who was Umbrian. Completion of the designs took six centuries, the last ones finished in the 1800s.’

Even the floors took your breath away. ‘The 56 etched and inlaid marble panels were designed by 40 of the leading artists between 1369 and 1547, all from Siena except for Bernardino di Betto, known as Pinturicchio who was Umbrian. Completion of the designs took six centuries, the last ones finished in the 1800s.’

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. 

A collection of illuminated manuscripts were fantastic, but…

A collection of illuminated manuscripts were fantastic, but…

the frescoes on the ceiling and walls by Pinturicchio and his workshop stole the show.

the frescoes on the ceiling and walls by Pinturicchio and his workshop stole the show.

The frescoed ceiling of the Piccolomini Library.

The frescoed ceiling of the Piccolomini Library.

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.

Piazza del Campo … aka il Campo… is considered the heart and soul of the city and one of the reasons UNESCO considers Siena the ‘ideal embodiment of a medieval city’. The clock tower is Torre del Mangia which was constructed between 1325 and 1348 and is 102m (~330’) tall.,

Piazza del Campo … aka il Campo… is considered the heart and soul of the city and one of the reasons UNESCO considers Siena the ‘ideal embodiment of a medieval city’. The clock tower is Torre del Mangia which was constructed between 1325 and 1348 and is 102m (~330’) tall.,

At a prosecco bar with Peter and Ulla celebrating a long overdue reunion.

At a prosecco bar with Peter and Ulla celebrating a long overdue reunion.

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.