Columbia Star

Under the Tuscan Spell—

Siena, a living artifact
Originally published September 23, 2005

The walls of the cathedral ( Duomo) in Siena are covered with frescos dating back 700 years.

The walls of the cathedral (Duomo) in Siena are covered with frescos dating back 700 years.

Before we hopped on the plane with Alan Shoemaker and his Merry Band headed for Tuscany, I had heard of the rivalry between Florence and Siena. Both were spared during the Allied invasion of Italy during WWII. Both are popular with American tourists.

Some of our friends said, “Spend all your time in Florence. The rest of Tuscany is wasted time.” Others said, “Siena is the place to be. It is the most beautiful place in all of Europe.” The guidebooks presented Florence as a masculine city of the Renaissance, the center of the art world. Siena was portrayed as the soulful, feminine city of peace and comfort. Florence has great squares full of statues; Siena has Gothic towers and hidden gardens. Needless to say, we had to find out for ourselves.

We drove up the twisting road to the walled city of Siena just before noon. No cars are allowed in, so everyone walks. Linda and I followed the signs to the Piazza del Campo, the site of the Palio.

At the top of long flight of marble steps, through 700–year–old archways, I spotted the shell–shaped piazza. Tables and chairs from sidewalk cafes flowed out into the square. Waiters in tuxedos, and waitresses in long, flowing dresses served Tuscan fare to tourists from all over the world.

For two days a year, the Piazza del Campo is the site of the famous Palio horse race. The rest of the year it hosts thousands of tour ists. The 388– step– bel l tower r ises above the Campo pealing the time every hour.

For two days a year, the Piazza del Campo is the site of the famous Palio horse race. The rest of the year it hosts thousands of tourists. The 388– step– bell tower rises above the Campo pealing the time every hour.

It is interesting to note that the language of food in Italy is English. To order Chianti wine, a German or a Frenchman must use the Queen’s English. That saved us from having to learn anymore Italian than buon giorno and ciao.

At the top of the shell is a fountain packed with climbing children. At the bottom, in front of the 1310 Town Hall (Palazzo Pubblico), newly married couples piled into limousines strewn with flowers. (For love’s sake, they let those vehicles inside the walls.) Rising above the palazzo is the 388–step tower, which I later climbed with Alan and Jim Jeffers. We called an impromptu Rotary meeting so we’d get credit back in Columbia.

Around the corner from the municipal Piazza del Campo was the spiritual center, the Piazza del Duomo. The cathedral (Duomo) is a black and white Gothic structure festooned with pinnacles.

Linda and I roamed through this majestic religious museum amazed at the quality of frescos on the walls and ceilings, and mosaics on the floors. Back in the 12th century, it was through these works of art that the priests taught their congregations the stories of the Bible.

Back at the Campo, we sat in the shade, sipping fine wine and watching people. I imagined the horses racing around the square, the people hanging out of the windows, and the banners flying everywhere. The Palio of Siena, one of the fun wonders of the world, flashed in my glass with every sip of wine.

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