Thursday, January 26, 2017

Italy Day 10--Siena

Ciao! Today we took another daytrip out into Tuscany, this time to Siena, which I loooved!  Siena is  preserved as it was in the middle ages, when, in 1260-1348, it was a major banking and trade center.  It was hit  hard in 1348 by the Black Death, and was, by 1550 with its reduced population, conquered by Florence.  Its medieval streets were an interesting contrast to Florence, the leader of the Renaissance. 

So quick travel note:  We took a bus to Siena, but we weren't sure about time and just missed one bus, so we ended up having to wait a half hour and take a slower bus that took an hour and a half.  We arrived in Siena at about 11:25, and (after a brief moment of disorientation to figure out where we were) headed down to our first stop, the church of San Domenico. 

This church was actually rather plan inside, but its claim to fame is that it houses St. Catherine of Siena's head.  St. Catherine was born in 1347 in Siena and died in 1380.  She had visions throughout her life, including one in which she married Jesus, after which she became a Dominican nun.  She is perhaps most famous for traveling (while she was still in her 20s) to Avignon, France to where the Pope was at the time and convinced him to return Rome.  Because of this intervention in the papal schism, she is revered as one of the papal saints of Europe.

As you can imagine, St. Catherine is a big deal in Siena, which brings me to the second place we visited--The Sanctuary of St. Catherine, which is where her home once was. 

It has been a pilgrimage site since 1464, and has been greatly embelished with paintings and other improvements, some of which depict her life.

This was a very tranquil stop along the hills of Siena, which is full of steep slopes.  Right outside the doors of the Santuary were restuarants on the hill with legs of different length so that dinners could eat outside on the steep street. 

There also were not many cars in town--I think only locals and cabs can drive within the old city limits.

Next we headed to Il Campos, the center piazza of the town.

The large round brick center space was filled with lounging people (although not so much the first time we arrived around noon).  We went into the Civil Museum, which is located in the town hall, which anchors this piazza. 

The Civil Museum had beautifully frescoed rooms, including one newer one that illustrated the unification of italy in the 1800s. 

Past that room, you cross into the rooms of the medieval government that met here to rule the city-state, with a beautiful chapel and religious artwork. 

My favorite part, however, was probably the Sala della Pace (Room of Peace) where the leaders of the town met.  The frescos in this room, called the Effects of Good and Bad Government by a Sienese painter, show on one side of the room a Utopia,
(Ladies happily dancing, building construction, prosperous fields)

while the other, lead by bad government, is a descent into a hellish state.

(Dead people, buildings with holes, women accosted)

This fresco reminded leaders that they should rule with justice.  The building also had a large balcony, where we could look out at the surrounding hills.

After a break for lunch in a resturant on the Il Campo (I had a white pizza with sausage and mushrooms),

we headed to the Duomo, which was gorgeous!  This was my favorite church of the entire trip.

The church was originally built between 1215 and 1263.  There were stripes all throughout the church--and it was loaded with all sorts of interesting things to look at!

From 1373 through 1547, 40 artists created panels in the floor portraying allegories, patterns, and scenes from the Bible.

(Siena surrounded by lessor Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and Rome)

(Slaughter of the Innocents, Herod enthroned as he orders the deaths of babies)

Pisano's pulpit, 1268.

In the chapel of the Madonna del Voto, two statutes by Bernini, including this one of St. Jerome.

Donatello's St. John the Baptist (1457)

The beautiful Piccolomini Library:

(These frescos are 550 years old and still vivid--and they have never been restored!)

After Florence built its large Duomo, Siena made plans in 1339 to make theirs even bigger.  Construction began, but was halted in 1348 with the coming of the plague.  Parts of the larger structure are still standing uncompleted.

We then crossed the street to Sana Maria della Scala, a medieval hospital.

One room, the Pellegrinaio Hall, has frescos c. 1442 that depict a bit about the founding of the hospital as well as some of the medical care from that time.

(Depicting the church's care for orphans, educating them so they can rise to heaven)

(Medieval medicine)

(The hospitals work clothing the naked and providing bread to the poor (right back of the painting)
Santa Maria della scala was one of Europe's first hospitals and is one of the oldest hospital buildings still surviving in the world.  The hospital was given a papal bull determining that it would be a lay hospital separate from the church. 

From there, we wandered downstairs into the first basement to look at old Byzantine reliquaries, as well as a chapel for the hospital (which was actualy pretty creepy).

(dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, who is said to have prayed in this chapel)

After one last look at the Duomo, we headed to the Bapistry.

As I mentioned previously, Sienna is very hilly, and there was not enough flat land to build the huge Duomo in the original plans.  To create more flat surface, the Bapistry was built underneath the church to hold it up.

The bapistry matched the striped interior of the Duomo, so of course I thought it was beautiful since I loved the Duomo so much!

(one of the many panels and angels on the font) 

After a tiny bit of shopping, and wondering down the streets,
 (Each neighbor hood in Siena has their own identifying flag and motif/mascot.  They compete twice a year in a horse race that pits neighborhood against neighborhood)

we wandered back to Il Campo to sit on the piazza and eat our gelato in the afteroon shade. 

We walked back to the bus stop, and caught the 6:20 rapido bus back to Florence so we could start packing after we got back to our hotel at about 7:40ish--this was our last night in Florence before our next big move.


  1. Wow, there is so much to take in at every place here. I could spend a whole day in each, examining the details of the art. I especially like the murals of good and bad government. They would be appropriate in every capital building in the world !

  2. Beautiful images! I've always had a fondness for medieval towns (they remind me of Shrek. Heh.) The frescoes are timeless.

  3. Now I'm going backwards! Yay!

    • Okay, now this post hurts a little bit because Siena is literally one of my favorite places on this planet. If/when you return to Italy, it is DEFINITELY worth staying a few days here, even though we obviously hit most of the main sights-- the atmosphere at night is really special, and it is a nice base for daytrips around Tuscany.
    • I vividly recall being SUPER irate at myself for not remembering how to navigate us to the center from the bus stop, given that I had made that trek at least ten times in my life by that point, haha. BUTTT it's not actually surprising as I have absolutely zero innate sense of direction.
    • Photo No. 5 is so good!! I love all the shadows and arches and stuff.
    • Those steep streets... <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
    • And possibly my second-favorite piazza in all of Italy. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 I love to just plop down and people-watch there, especially in the evenings (with gelato, of course). But then you know I generally like to plop, haha.
    • I tried to take photos of those frescoes, but most of mine didn't turn out for some reason. Yours turned out great, though! I'd love to go back here, too.
    • Just pausing to say that I'm overcome by nostalgia, LOL.
    • Photo Nos. 20-21... OMG. *heart eyes emoji*
    • Also making heart eyes at your pizza photo. Because I never ever ever ever get tired of Italian food. :-P.
    • Awww, I didn't realize that the Duomo was your favorite church of all!! It is SO wonderful, though. I love the striped columns and the stars painted on the inside of the cupola.
    • Oh wait, here's a substantive memory. Remember when we were in the reliquary-filled basement chapel area of Santa Maria della Scala and it was completely quiet and full of incense and the atmosphere was vaguely unsettling and then there was that skull in the wall? Which obviously I loved but it was still creepy, haha.
    • Okay, I just got to your pictures from my above anecdote, LOL. Not gonna delete the anecdote, though. :-P.
    • Ooh, I did make us honor my sacred tradition of plopping in Il Campo with gelato! I'm glad. :-P

    This entry as a whole was v. v. educational! I'm so impressed! I feel like my comments for this one are particularly useless because it's just me screeching over all of your photos, LOL. Sorry.


Thank you so much for your comment! I hope you have a wonderful day :)