The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Seductive Siena

I have never been so completely enthralled by a place as I was with Siena . Built on three hills surrounded by olive groves and the famed Chianti vineyards, its origins date back to the Roman era. However, Siena was not prosperous under the Romans since it was too far from the major trade routes. It was during the Middle Ages that Siena enjoyed a measure of good fortune. From the moment I entered Siena , it was like I had stepped back in time.
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The streets are narrow, the buildings of sombre dark-red bricks. Decoration on the houses is minimal. There is none of the frivolity and extravagance of the later Renaissance and Baroque periods. In Siena what you see is what you get. Austere and simple; aloof and mysterious – a town of winding streets and steep hills.
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Then, surrounded on all sides by these brick houses, a square, in the midst of which is a cathedral like no other I have seen. For in contrast to the simplicity around it, the duomo of Santa Maria dell’Assunta is like an exotic orchid. Seeing its dazzling whiteness for the first time took my breath away.
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All the artistic effort of the city seems to have been focused on this one building. It is built in the Romanesque style and there is not one small nook or cranny that does not boast a work of art whether it is a carving, a statue, a mosaic, a painting or a stained glass window.
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The façade alone is worth a thousand pictures and the interior is as flamboyant as the exterior had hinted. Few churches have made me gasp at their sheer beauty. The duomo of Santa Maria dell’Assunta is one of them.
Walking away from Piazza del’Duomo and delving once more into the narrow, winding streets we walked towards the world-famous Piazza del Campo.
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Shaped like an enormous sea-shell, this piazza hosts the Palio horse race every July and August. In the race the different contrade (districts) of Siena compete for the coveted Palio -  an embroidered banner bearing the image of Mary. The jockeys ride the horses bareback at break neck speed around the piazza and fatalities of both horse and rider are not uncommon. Animal Rights activists have been lobbying for an end to this race for a number of years, but, like bull fighting in Spain and fox hunting in England , this tradition is too deeply rooted in the culture of Siena for anything to change anytime soon. Piazza del Campo, or simply, Il Campo as the Siennese call it, is dominated by the tall bell tower adjacent to the Palazzo Pubblico.
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The Torre della Mangia is the second tallest medieval tower in Italy and one of the most recognised landmarks in Siena . The climb to the top of the tower is not for the faint-hearted but the view from the top is well worth the effort and the breathlessness. From the top of the tower, Siena spreads out on all sides in an intriguing mesh of houses, streets and churches.
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In the distance, the vineyards and olive groves for which Tuscany is so famous and, at the foot of the tower, Il Campo, filled with tourists, locals and the ubiquitous pigeons. At the northern end of the piazza, is the Fonte Gaia.
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Wandering again around the streets of Siena , it was the little details that caught my eye: carvings on a door; a Gothic window here or there; a splash of colour and, of course, the exuberant pottery of Siena – all of it lovingly hand painted.
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Saying goodbye to Siena was hard. Its medieval beauty is captivating; its allure is bewitching. Siena is not a place that embraces you in a flamboyant expression of welcome. Instead it draws you in gradually, revealing itself slowly and seducing your soul. Perhaps that is what makes it so dangerous.


  1. I like how you describe the cathedral as being like "exotic orchid" in contrast to the simple brick houses and austere buildings on the streets of Siena. Fantastic post!

  2. You have such an eye for detail!
    And don't you just love the laundry hanging agaisnt the wall......

  3. I would love to be there. The description is very detailed. The buildings are wonderful.

  4. What a wonderful trip you've just given me, Loree! The pictures are just stunning, and the cathedral is outstanding..

  5. all beautiful - those narrow alleys make me feel claustrophobic just looking at them.

  6. Loree, you are a wonderful tour guide! Siena is a truly beautiful city. My BIL and SIL have been there for the Palio. They love it there! :)

  7. Wow. Stunning!
    Thanks for taking me on this trip with you.

  8. I lived in the Piedmont for a year. Never tired of visiting Sienna. Beautiful shots!

  9. Loree, you really captured some magnificent views in your photos...views I know I will never see in thank you!

  10. I have just had a browse through your previous posts, they are great. I love this one and all its pictures. The Catheredral is amazing!

  11. I would like to thank you all for your positive comments. I am glad that I could take your imagination on a trip to Siena.


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