Up at 8 and the weather’s gloomy. Sat on the balcony, drinking my coffee, practising semaphore with Farelli when she rose. Needed NO breakfast, no way! Not after last nights monstrous dinner.
Eventually we set off for Siena through some pretty ordinary countryside. Actually it’s probably pretty amazing but the fog and the rain and the concentration left a pretty ordinary impression.
We eventually arrived at a parking area on the outskirts of the town. It’s a fairly sizeable place again with narrow medieval streets leading to a piazza. This time the world famous Piazza Campo, the meeting place of the 9 districts and the only place in the world where a cafe latte costs the national debt of Norway.
It all looked a bit eerie in the fog – the top of the tower on the Palazzo Pubblico had vanished – as we sat at an outside café drinking our solid gold drinks.
Afterwards we split up, Bob and Claire going one way, we three the other. We started off at the Palazzo Pubblico, the council building which dominates the Campo – the other sides consist of the 9 palaces which have long since become very expensive cafes.
The fountain in the middle is the Fonte Gaia (Joyous Fountain) and was built in 1858 but replaced one built in 1419 which was built over the top of the original Fonte Gaia built in 1343. It’s very pretty and, in the 1419 version, held the first female nude statues shown in a public place that were neither Eve or some repentant saint.
The Palazzo Pubblico now houses the Civic Museum which we dutifully roamed (and I bought a t-shirt). There is room after room of beautiful frescos and statues dating from majorly old to quite recent. A couple of the statues were very poignant (Sorrow by Emilio Gallori and was intended for the tomb of the Sienese artists and Luisa Mussini Lying Down by Giovanni Dupre) and quite superb.
In one of the last rooms, the Room of Peace, there’s a series of frescoes covering three walls and depicting the Allegory of Good and Bad Government. They were painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (on commission) for the Government of the Nine between 1338 and 1340. They are really superb and deserved the long time we spent deciphering them.
I wanted to climb the tower (of course) but it was closed because of the rain. So it was back into the piazza and we headed for the cathedral.
This looks a bit like monochrome Lego or black and white Liquorice Allsorts all piled up. Unfortunately the photos, again, are obscured by the weather so I include this silly one of me and Farelli under the Romulus and Remus statue!
It’s in a small Piazza (Piazza Duomo, naturally) and is really something to behold. Must look great in the sunshine. Inside it was quite dark and gloomy, I guess to protect the art. The floors are brilliant. There is 52 panels of inlaid etched and coloured marble and they were designed by the greatest Seinese artists of the 15th and 16th centuries. “Great scenes teeming with hundreds of figures against the bristling towers of the fortified towns and idyllic landscapes unfold beneath our feet.” as the guide book tells us. Last years donations paid for their restoration which is a good thing. There were a lot of tourists there with us but, for a change, they were mostly, pretty much, well behaved.
Bought a guidebook at the shop (“there’s always somewhere to spend your money“) and, of course, a some postcards.
We then ventured back into the now darkened streets.
A few notes regarding Siena:
- The Government of Nine, as the governing body of Siena was called, moved in to the Palazzo Pubblico in 1310. Nine was the number of areas in Tuscany. The building had 10 doorways, one for each region and one for the Chapel of Nine (this all starts to sound like the Lord Of the Rings after a while). The nine members of the government were never allowed out of the Palace except on feast days so it’s no wonder there is so much epic art since they had no television.
- The Roman statue of Romulus and Remus suckling at the she-wolf is everywhere in Siena. I wondered about this as it’s the myth about the creation of Rome but the guidebook says that Remus is the father of Aschius and Senius who fled the wrath of Romulus, bearing the effigy as a symbol of their lost homeland. They took refuge in the Tuscan hills where Senius founded the city.
- The Mangia Tower gets its name from the bell ringer who was nicknamed Mangiaguadagni which literally means ‘earnings gobbler’. The book doesn’t say why this guy ate his wages but one assumes he had a hunchback and loved pretty girls from afar.
- The Duomo is built on the site of a temple dedicated to Minerva. According to a ‘reliable tradition’ the church is the result of many different constructions. Or rather, it was started and stopped quite a few times from its consecration on 18th November 1179 until the late 14th century although things have been added or replaced right up to the present day.
From the cathedral we found a shop selling electrical goods where we managed to buy a toaster and a kettle even given the fact we don’t speak Italian and mimed most of the transaction. We then had a cafe latte and some seriously yumbo sweet things in a rather popular cafe with realistic prices thus explaining the popularity. We then met Bob and Clare back at the Piazza Campo to begin the long trek back to the car.
The drive back was horrendous. A combination of bad weather (it was raining and sometimes seriously foggy), the Italian drivers, inadequate signage, night and driving on the wrong side of the road, made for a mighty scary time for Bob.
Anyway, we managed to get back to the villa safely and all cheered Bob for his wonderful driving and Mirinda for a reasonable navigation. I made a wild boar and truffle salami pasta, which all said was lovely.