Una Passeggiata a Siena

First glimpse of Siena's centro storico.

First glimpse of Siena’s centro storico.

To say that relations between Florence and Siena have been strained for some time is truly a dir poco (to say little).  They spent most of the Middle Ages at war fighting for control of Tuscany.  Eventually the Florentine troops, backed by the powerful Medici’s, won that war, but in modern times Siena appears to be winning a new contest – the claim to be Tuscany’s most beautiful city.

View from my attic room at the Palazzo Ravizza

View from my attic room at the Palazzo Ravizza

One of the things that adds to Siena’s charms is the way the countryside – olive groves and vineyards – comes right to the walls of the medieval centre.

There was lots of light but to see the view you have to climb the staircase leading to...

There was lots of light but to see the view you had to climb the staircase.

Who knows where the stairs once led to.  Love that notch in the door.

Who knows where the stairs once led to. Love the notch in the door.

Whatever the official outcome of this latest battle, and as much as I love Florence, in the last few years Siena has grown on me.  With all that art, and all those tourists and street vendors in Florence’s tiny historic centre it’s easy to end up, if not quite stricken with Stendhal Syndrome – a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations (!), first experienced by the 19th century French author, Stendhal, while gazing on Florence’s art – at least longing for a little less.  Of everything.

One thing I’m sure even the most ardent fans of Florence will agree on is that, of the two, Siena has the more beautiful piazza – perhaps even the most beautiful in Italy.

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Siena’s City Hall, which stretches across one end of the piazza, is also one of the most beautiful in Italy.

And no matter from which direction you approach the piazza, there is always lots to see along the way.

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You can’t go far in Siena without going up and down a few hills.  One night as I was enjoying an aperitivo of Vernaccia at one of the bars around the margins of the piazza, I overheard a tourist talking about a wine tasting he and his companions were going on the next day.  “I wonder how many hills we’ll have to climb.  I don’t think we believe him (the guide) anymore.”

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Keeping things horizontal.

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The menu was tantalizing, but it was martedì (mar-teh-dee).  Giorno di riposo – the day of rest.

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Most towns have a section of wall dedicated to politics. There were quite a few candidates for the position of sindaco (mayor).

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Someone didn’t care for Falorni. Tucci My totally uninformed guess as to the results? Corsino. In a culture where hyperbole is often second nature, his simple message – Courage. Real change. – stood out.

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It’s impossible not to stop and admire the displays in the food stores. Ironically, they are so artfully done that in some stores gawkers have become persona non grata. On my last trip there was a sign inside this store – No Photographs.

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Fortunately I had taken this shot – first day on the job – on a previous trip.

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Another temptation. Cuoiocwoy-yoh.

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WE RECYCLE AND SUPERVALUE. 3 EURO FOR EVERY OLD BRA.  All old bras will be recycled to create insulating panels.

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If shopping isn’t your thing, it’s fun to see how many emblems of the contrade, the neighbourhoods that compete in the Palio, the crazy horse race I mentioned in the post on Villa Cetinale, you can spot.  Above – The Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar.

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The territory (!) of the contrada of the owl.

The oca needs no introduction.

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And then there’s “I spy the She-wolf”.

The symbol of Siena is the She-wolf suckling the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. According to legend, when the twin brothers were all grown up, they rode off astride black and white steeds to fulfill their destiny.   Romulus founded Rome and Senius, the son of Remus founded… Siena.

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When we reach Via Banchi di Sopra we’re very close to the piazza.

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Finding your way in the labyrinth of Tuscany’s medieval towns and cities is made even more challenging when the names of the streets get changed. ‘Già‘ (in this case!) means ‘formerly’.

In medieval times, banchi – ban-key – (market tables) lined the two alleys that encircle the piazza – one of the alleys is on a slightly higher level so it was called Via Banchi di Sopra (above) and the other was called Via Banchi di Sotto (under).  If the owner of a table did not pay the rent for the space his table occupied, or as sometimes happened, competition for customers got out of hand, thugs would smash the offender’s table, leaving the poor wretch with a banco rotto, (broken table) from where we get ‘bankrupt’.

As I continued towards one of the narrow passageways that open on to the piazza, I began to hear an astonishing sound.

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First glimpse of my favourite Italian piazza – Piazza del Campo.

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In places like Siena, the juxtaposition of modern and medieval worlds creates some surprising, often incongruous, effects, like this all-girls Swedish marching band belting out Mamma Mia in the centuries old piazza.

Piazza del Campo. siena's user-friendly main piazza.

Time for a break.  Maybe I’ll just plop myself down in the middle of the piazza…

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…or join these ladies resting at the foot of the tower.

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Then again, perhaps a glass of something cool at one of these tables – prime viewing spot for watching life unfold in the piazza.

TBC…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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