After Chef Mike cooked up his eggs Florentine (eggs with cheese and spinach) and plain toast, accompanied by peach juice and espresso, we were on our way to Siena. The forecast was for rain, so we took our raincoats and umbrellas despite the day’s auspicious partly-sunny beginnings. Actually, clouds scuttled across the sky, but I held on to my optimism through much of the day, until it actually started raining in Siena at 2:30.
We stopped along the way to take pictures of the beautiful farms lined with cypress trees.
On the way into Siena, one of Italy’s best preserved medieval towns, we passed the huge Basilica of San Dominico, an imposing red brick box begun in 1226. Named for the founder of the Dominican order, it is now more closely associated with St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380).
We stopped first for coffee and croissants and then bought tickets for one of Italy’s finest Gothic churches, Siena’s Duomo, or Cathedral. It was completed in two brief phases at the end of the 13th and 14th centuries. Giovanni Pisano designed the white, green and red marble facade. Multicolored marbles and painted decoration seemed to be the Italian approach to Gothic architecture.
The Duomo has a striking interior with black and white striped columns and a gilded dome. It holds the oldest example of stained glass in Italy (1288) in a circular window; the carousel pulpit, carved by Nicola Pisano in 1265, and Renaissance frescoes in the Biblioteca Piccolomini.
The Duomo is famous for its inlaid marble floors, which took nearly 200 years to complete. They include 56 separate compositions, including Biblical scenes, allegories, religious symbols, and civic emblems. These sorts of “Bible in images” were created between 1369 and 1547 to the designs of great painters such as Matteo di Giovanni and Dominico Beccafumi.
The interior was exquisite in many ways.
We then went into the Museo dell’Opera, where we waited in line for a while to climb the tower inside the museum, the Panorama del Facciatone. They only allowed 28 people go up at a time as the stairway up was extremely narrow. People who climbed up were only allowed 15 minutes at the top.
We walked briefly through the Museo dell’Opera, which contains the Duomo’s treasury and some of the original decoration from its facade and interior.
The masterpiece at the museum was Duccio di Boninsegna’s Maestà (1308-1311). One side of the altarpiece had 26 panels showing episodes of the Passion, and the other side had a Madonna and Child Enthroned. Duccio’s Maestà set Italian painting on a course leading away from the representations of Byzantine art towards more direct presentations of reality.
Also in the Museo dell’Opera:
We popped into the Battistero di San Giovanni, the Duomo’s 14th century Gothic Baptistery, built to prop up the apse of the cathedral. There were beautiful frescoes throughout. The highlight was the huge bronze 15th century baptismal font designed by Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1438).
After the Battistero, we went in search of lunch. We settled into a small outdoor cafe on a side street, Ristorante Le Campane, where I finally discovered one of the orange drinks I’d seen everywhere, Aperol Spritz, vino bianco secco e soda (dry white wine and soda).
I was finally able to order the dish my daughter Sarah had recommended: Picio Cacio e pepe: Homemade Sienese pasta with black pepper and pecarino (ewe’s milk) cheese. Mike ordered a Pumpkin Velouté with sausage crumbles (a soup) and a side dish of spinach and Swiss chard.
It was all yummy, and we relaxed at the cute outdoor cafe with greenery and flowers hugging the balcony. We thanked the waiter: “Va tutto benissimo, grazie,” or “Everything’s great, thank you.”
We strolled down to the Piazza del Campo, a fan-shaped sloping plaza simply known as il Campo (The Field). It was built toward the end of the 12th century and is the heart of the town. The focal point of the Piazza is Palazzo Pubblico, a Gothic building that has served as Siena’s town hall since the 1300s. Its distinctive bell tower, Torre del Mangia, completed in 1349, apparently offers superb views, but we didn’t climb.
On July 2 and August 16 of each year, the Palio, the famous horse race preceded by a splendid historical procession, takes place at il Campo.
It started raining at 2:30, so we headed toward our parked car. Our parking expired at 3:30, so on the way out of town, we dipped into a scarf shop. I would have bought two more Italian scarves, but the saleswoman reprimanded me for taking one of the €59 scarves off the rack and trying it on; she pointed to a sign written in Italian. I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t read Italian,” and she said she’d have to write it in every language to accommodate every tourist. As we were the only ones in the shop, she easily could have told us directly not to try on her scarves. It was ridiculous and I refused to patronize someone so unaccommodating and rude. There was no skin off my neck; I’d bought plenty of scarves already. 🙂
Leaving Siena, we drove on to Monteriggioni.
*13,001 steps, or 5.51 miles*
Saturday, May 4, 2019*