Last weekend, a group of students from my program and I jumped on Trenitalia for a weekend getaway in Siena. Even though Viterbo is my new paradise, its still exciting to get away for a weekend and see what else Italia has to offer, which is a never-ending list anyways.
The trip began on Friday night for all intents and purposes because I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. if I had any hope of catching the train that left at 8:30 a.m. Our train ride northward to Siena consisted of some train-hopping so we arrived in Siena by noontime.
When we arrived, our first mission was getting to the hotel near Piazza del Campo that we would be staying at overnight. The hotel is called Albergo La Perla, and is a very short walk to all of the hotspots in Siena.The hotel was small, but offered free wifi and a semi-comfortable slab of concrete to sleep on. The beds in the hotel were not something I would call a spinal cushion. If nothing at all, it was a cheap place to sleep with a small shower and awesome location.
The shower and bathroom at the hotel were nothing to die over either. Picture a gym shower — cramped and constantly shooting cold water through every hole on the shower head. It was like Lake Superior by the time myself and four roommates that had showered.
Though I can’t completely bash the hotel because it only cost 21 Euro per night and offered an incredible view of Siena and Basilica di San Domenica. My roommate Mike and I stepped onto the roof via this small door fit for a gnomo (midget). Inside this room were cleaning supplies, repair tools and lots of cobwebs. Clearly no one had been up there in quite some time. But we didn’t care. We slid through pipes, tip-toed over buckets of cleaning solution and under a main water line to sneak a peak at the most beautiful nighttime view I could have asked for. The best parts of any vacation, no matter how short, are the moments you capture through your lens and in your heart. Mike, my roommate has been telling me for the last few days that when I have kids, I ‘ll be telling them about how him and I crept onto the roof when we visited Siena. He is right, if you want to know the truth.
Palazzo Publicco, the massive medieval center of Siena is humongous and gorgeous. During the day the stone ground sizzles under the sun and the wonderfully crafted buildings bake from constant exposure from a crystal clear sky. At night, perfectly placed lights brighten the center to make it the most popular gathering spot in Siena. The center is one place that’s always guarantee to be packed. But if you ask the locals, they would tell you that Siena is molto tranquilo (very quiet) compared to Firenze (Florence). I remember asking this one woman where we should eat in Siena on Saturday night, which was a challenge because I don’t speak perfect Italian. But what she did tell me was that the restaurant behind Piazza del Campo serves some scrumptious boar’s meat.
Our first stop was to Il Duomo, a historic landmark of Siena. The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projecting transept, a dome and a bell tower. The dome rises from a hexagonal base with supporting columns. The lantern atop the dome was added by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The nave is separated from the two aisles by semicircular arches. The exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the façade. Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, etiologically linked to black and white horses of the legendary city’s founders, Senius and Aschius.
The inside of the cathedral ranks among the most amazing things I have seen on my trip so far. The pillars were painted with a unique pattern unlike anything I have seen before. Not similar to the Basilica at the Vatican either. I really loved it too. Stepping inside reminded me of being at the Vatican because it was just as appealing. It wasn’t nearly as crowded, either, which made it much easier to enjoy. No screaming four year olds more concerned about their next meal than the sheer artistic beauty by some of Italy’s most renowned artists such as Donatello and main artistic influence behind much of the design of the inside of the Duomo, Giovanni Pisano. He abruptly left Siena in 1296 over creative differences with the Opera del Duomo. Being inside of the Dumo gave us access to the cathedral, museum, crypt, battistero, and library because we spent eight Euro each on an “everything pass.”
I have to say that the museum was my favorite part of the Duomo because all of the artifacts in there dated back as early as the 13th century. There were daggers, jewelry boxes, articles of cloth (possibly used for the alter on days of service), cutlery sets, and the statues of the apostles. While most of the sculpture decorating the lower level of the lavish façade was sculpted by Giovanni Pisano and assistant depicting prophets, philosophers and apostles, the more Gothic statuary adorning the upper portion — including the half-length statues of the patriarchs in the niches around the rose window — are works of later, unattributed, sculptors. Almost all the statuary adorning the cathedral today are copies. The originals are kept in the “Crypt of the Statues” in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Heading up to the tip-top of the monument was incredible, though, because it offered the nicest view of the Duomo.
Fontebranda is the most ancient and impressive fountain of Siena. It was also quoted by Dante in the thirtieth canto of his Inferno (the Divine Comedy) and built in 1246. Fontebranda not only provided water to the city, but also enabled the functioning of the mills and gave work to tanners and dyers of clothes. The fountain is also famous because Saint Catherine of Siena, the so-called Saint of Fontebranda, grew up here. The fountain was built in travertine and the facade is decored with four stone lions. During the past, the first basin was good for drinking, the second was used for animals to drink from, the third was the washtub. I took some pretty great photos here. You can see them in my Siena album (link at bottom of page).
Other notable structures in Siena include the Medicea Fortress, a huge red-brick fortress built for Cosimo I by Baldassarre Lanci in 1560, following Siena’s defeat by the Florentines in the 1554-1555 war.
More than 8,000 Sienese died either from battle wounds or through starvation and disease in the 18-month siege, reducing the town’s population to a mere 6,000. The town was repressed by its florentine masters, its banking and wool industries were suppressed and all building work ended. The fortress now houses an open-air theatre, and from the antrance bastions there are glorious views of the country-side.
Osteria Il Campaccio
A small tavern recommended by locals for its authentic food, mainly pasta, which is made fresh every day and the boar (I already mentioned how good the boar is!) The meal I had here was the best I’ve had in Italy so far. The wild boar pasta featured large pieces of pasta, about half the size of lasagna in both directions coupled with a wild boar stew.
Overall, the time I spent in Siena was well worth the money spent and I truly felt like I got to enjoy every moment of this trip. Well, I think I have rambled on quite enough about Siena for one post. Thanks for reading!
CHECK OUT THE FULL ALBUM HERE. Additional pictures of Il Duomo, inside and out, must-see viewpoints and candid moments with some great friends!