In contrast to Pisa, Siena was ochre colours – reds, browns, yellows, orange – all the earth tones from the surrounding sun-baked Tuscan countryside.
Our first stop was the Palazzo Chigi-Lucarini-Saracini, a historical palace which houses the Accademia Musicale Chigiana. It had wonderfully complicated and beautifully decorated ceilings in the courtyard
Then we walked up the Via Banchi di Sopra (the banks of the upper road – distinguished from Via Banchi di Sotto, the banks of the lower road, by its geographical position) which is one of Siena’s main arteries;
Lined with nice shops and hotels (and of course banks), it is the street that eventually leads you to Siena’s heart, the Piazza del Campo. (Banks are what made Siena rich). We spent the day wandering through its narrow streets, the high buildings providing welcome shadow in which to walk.
Siena is divided into neighbourhoods of the Palio known as contradas, of which there are 17. Each one is represented by a symbol and you can see them everywhere. The Palio is the name given to the horse races which take place twice a year, in the summer, in which members of each contrada are fiercely loyal to their own contrada.
We bought tickets to visit the La Scala museum, the cathedral, the baptistry/crypt, the museo dell’opere del duomo and the oratory. The first museum, La Scala (no photos allowed) had originally served as a hospice and covered a large part of the hillside, with much of it underground and windowless. The former hospital of Santa Maria della Scala was one of the first European examples of a place completely dedicated to offering lodging and shelter to pilgrims, as well as offering support to the poor and a home to abandoned children. It had its own independent organization that was initially run by religious members of the Duomo and later by the Siena municipality. In the “hay loft” you could still smell the hay. Unfortunately it didn’t have any postcards for sale, which was a pity as it was full of wonderful works of art and treasure.
We then visited the museo dell’opere del duomo (the museum of works of art belonging to the cathedral). Here we waited for nearly an hour to be allowed up on to the roof of the tower to be able to see all Siena laid out around us. Only a small number of people are allowed on to the viewing terrace at a time but it proved to be well worth the wait.
Then into the duomo itself. The current (cathedral) structure dates back to 1215 and it is characterized by its black and white striped marble exterior and interior, symbolic of the colors of the city of Siena: black and white.
Inside it had an octagonal marble pulpit by Nicola Pisano (he also made some of the pulpits in Pisa) and lots more wonderful works of art.
Unique in the world, the ornate floor is a sort of “mosaic” (more accurately, it is inlaid marble with graffito technique, where a black marble is ground into powder, made into a paste and used to “draw” an outline of the designs). According to Trip Advisor, it’s “made up of 56 different panels designed by over 50 Italian painters between the 1300s and the 1500s, some of the world’s most precious marbles were used for these decorations, showing off the wealth of this city during this time.” It was extremely impressive
From the left nave we went into the Piccolomini Library. It’s not really used for books as much as it is a beautifully frescoed room holding chorales (books of music manuscripts).
The frescoes depicting the life of Siena’s favourite pope, Pope Pius II, were done by Pinturicchio, an assistant of Perugino; painted between 1502 and 1503 they are still vibrantly colourful.
Then we visited the Baptistry with a hexagonal font.
En route for the Oratory we spotted this piece of trompe l’oeil work (lit. deceives the eye)
Our last stop for the day was the Oratory of San Bernardino, built in the 15th century on the spot where St Bernardino of Siena normally preached during his lifetime, which stands on the right hand side of Piazza San Francesco, next to the church dedicated to the same saint. Today the Oratory functions as a museum and is divided into two oratories one above the other.
The Piazza del Campo, which is characterized by its peculiar shell-shape was impressive and huge. It was easy to imagine the area full to bursting on a Palio day.
The Torre del Mangia is one of the highest and oldest towers in Ialy but we didn’t go up it.
We also admired the Fountain of Joy (Fonte Gaia) by Jacopo della Quercia, actually a copy, which stands on one side of the Piazza.
We only had one day in Siena, just enough to give us a tantalizing taste of its treats…..