Friday, October 1, 2010

Experiencing The Tuscan Town Of Siena

Today we were off to nearby Siena. At one time, Siena vied with Flroence to be the dominant city. Both grew wealthy with banking, both started to build their cathedrals, both suffered horribly from the plague. Florence recovered, Siena never did.

The bus ride was quick and pleasant, and gave us our first views of the country side, albeit from the perspective of a major highway, but we did get some treasured glimpses here and there.

Photographer's note: Obviously the two shots you see below were taken from a bus window. I did not use a poloriser filter. I slighlty underxposed my shots.

Siena is a pretty town. Small and easy to navigate. Its narrow winding streets make it easy to imagine life here in medieval times.

We followed the crowd, winding our way down, until we came to the main square Il Campo. We took a seat and ordered some food and a drink. We knew it would be pricey and not that great, but sitting and relaxing on such squares is a delight on its own.

After our short break, we found our way towards Siena's Duomo, Santa Maria Assunta. It too was built over the site of an earlier church, and we had the chance to visit parts of the old church, and marvelled how colorful were the wall decorations.

Siena, competing with Florence at the time, planned on building a church larger than Florence's. It was to be the largest church in Christendom, but alas, plagues, questionable planning and financial difficulties, forced them to build a smaller, though still impressive church.

It is impressive to see the original wall of the Nave that was built, complete with vaulted ceilings in one of the aisles, and completed windows, the original front wall, as well as parts of the other wall of the Nave. One can only imagine how the church would have looked had they completed the original plan.

The church that stands now, is still no less impressive. Its facade is highly decorated, and we can see the changing styles or architecture as it was built. Romanesque on the bottom moving to gothic at the top.

The interior of the church is very impressive, more so that Florence's Duomo. There is art everywhere. The floor itself is a site to behold, as well as the paintings and sculptures that adorn the church. Bernini, Donatello, Michelangelo, and others are all represented here.

But I was most impressed by the Piccolomini library. The scenes themselves are all superbly executed, with excellent 3D perspective that takes into account the height of the frescoes above the viewers. Even more impressive is how vibrant the colors are, even though the frescoes were painted over 500 years ago.

Equally impressive is the story that the 10 scenes recount. They recount the life of one of Siena's favorite son's. A well educated noble man sent off to make his fortune. On the way, he argues against the Pope, visits England and fathers a couple of illegitimate children, then and acts as a diplomat. He then moves and joins the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in Viena where he is crowned court poet, writing poetry, some racy stories, a play and an autobiography. He then serves on some military campaigns, and again acts as a diplomant this time between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor.

He reconciles his own differences with the Pope, renouces his old galavanting way of life with the Ladies and become a priest. Soon he is promoted to Bishop of Siena, then Cardinal and ultimately becomes Pope Pius II.

Like Florence, Siena also has a Duomo museum that is well worth the visit for the art alone. But an added highlight, was that it allowed us to walk up to the top of the high wall, that was to be the facade of the originally planned church. The views in all directions were spectacular and breath taking.

We decided not to tour the Civic Museum. It sounded interesting, but since we were here only for a day, we prefered to walk the streets, and get a feel for the city. We looked into shop windows, and of course Hera had her gelato.

Across town we came across the austere grand church of San Francesco. Surpisingly, the nearby buildings are now used as part Siena's University. I can only imagine taking a lecture in such impressive decor.

We walked a bit more, before calling it a day, and headed back to the bus station.


Anthony & Hera