Dan’s selection for today was the hill town of Siena in the region of Tuscany, a two and a half hour ride north. We heard that trains from Rome are complicated and involve a couple changes, so we decided to take a tour with a 6:45 pick-up (ouch!) in front of the hotel. First surprise: a black Mercedes came for us. Second surprise: we got a password in the event we wanted to use WiFi in the car. Third surprise: no one else signed up, so there was no need for a minibus; we went alone in the sedan. Well, well, who can complain about that?
The two and a half hour drive took us out of town by way of some 1980’s Olympic facilities and onto the ring road. We exited toward Florence. Once out of town the scenery was beautiful as the mist was burning off the ever present rolling green hills. We passed part of a Roman aqueduct and lots of hill towns to include Orte which dates back to 200 BC.
Back in the day, think mid-1200s to mid-1300s, Siena was larger than Paris and had the infrastructure to prove it. As a major banking, trade, and military center, it was the archrival of Florence until the bubonic plague (Black Death) swept through and wiped out more than a third of the population. Bam, just like that it was sadly out of the game and never recovered.
With limited time we focused on two sites: the Duomo and Il Campo. There was some confusion over the local guide, so we toured the Duomo, a gigantic cathedral, by ourselves. It is in the almost unbelievable category. The front is not as imposing as the one yesterday in Orvieto, although fabulous, but the interior is just amazing. Black and dark green stripped columns support the building, a dozen intricate marble inlays are set into the floor, frescoes are all over the place as well as statues (think Michelangelo) and sculptures (think Bernini).
The issue of a guide was sorted out by the time we were done with our self guided tour of the Duomo. She was wonderful and took us in hand for a walk around town. She explained that the walled city of 52,000 is divided into 17 distinct neighborhoods that date back centuries. The current boundaries go back at least 300 years and involve some long standing rivalries and a few undisputed neutral neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has unique colors and a crest of sorts that features a mascot (elephant, snail, tortoise, goose, etc.) or a thing (forest, shell). Neighborhoods vary in population with as few as 500 residents and as many as 5,000. Small porcelain tiles are on the city walls where one neighborhood starts and the other ends.
An understanding of the neighborhoods was critical before we got to Il Campo, a gigantic town square in the shape of a fan, surrounded by imposing buildings. It is here that the famous Palio horse races are run twice a year. Ten of the 17 neighborhoods are chosen by rotation and lot to sponsor a horse in each race. Each neighborhood hires a jockey (who must ride bareback) and gets a horse by drawing for it. Then the pregames begin as bribes are passed and influence is used to pull support one direction or the other. If by change a jockey falls off, his horse can still win as long as no other horse beats it across the finish line. Each neighborhood has a museum where its winning banners are displayed.
We had a brief time to stroll around after the tour and then we were off to lunch at the Tenuta Torciano winery. Oh boy were we in for a surprise! We were seated at a table with 16 wine glasses, eight for Dan and eight for me! A fun, happy great-great grandson of the original owner seated us and explained that we would be served a three course meal with wine pairings, one white and seven red, and then we would have a dessert wine (enter glass #9) with our biscotti. A lively Russian couple from Vancouver was seated at the table next to us. We enjoyed their enthusiasm for the meal and wines almost as much as we enjoyed our own experience.
After our looooong, delicious meal we piled in the car and drove to our last stop of the day, San Gimignano, a hill town a short distance away. It is famous for its 14 remaining (out of 72) towers once owned and occupied by the rich and influential that give the town of 7,00o a striking profile from a distance. Sort of like a bunch of smoke stacks popping straight up out of the ground. Dan and I walked the streets and poked in and out of shops and just enjoyed the ambiance of the quaint town that, like Siena, lost most of its influence after a six-month plaque wiped out two thirds of its population leaving it ripe to be overcome by a more powerful city. Think Florence.
Our long drive back at the end of a nice day was extended a bit by a traffic glitch of some sort. We got back after nine and headed straight to bed.
5 thoughts on “Siena, Italy (May 6, 2016)”
What a memorable day! Thank you for gorgeous pictures and amazing details!
My pleasure, Leni. Glad you find them enjoyable. Dan says I have to pack before I finish today’s blog. 😊
Sounds dreamy perfect to me!
It was great, Deb. I thought of you the whole time!
Sounds like a fun day, welcome home!!! Happy Mothers day
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