From Florence we drove the 35 miles through Chianti to Siena. Siena was an archrival of Florence in medieval times, but got hit hard by the plague and never really bounced back to power. The city kept its medieval character as a result and is a sight to see – gorgeous. It was the first European city to close its center to foot traffic, and the campo is a perfect place to drink coffee and let babies crawl on cobblestone (but those pesky cigarette butts…). The old castles and walls in Siena look right out of fairy tales, witih blocky geometric tops and tall towers with flags.
Our guest house was right by the square, with a family-run restaurant below. We wandered the alley ways, ate more gelato (surprise), kept the babies tanked up on pecorino fresca and sopressata, and enjoyed the local specialty breads. After having missed farm-fresh milk for so long, it was a treat when Thorpe showed up after a farmers’ market trip with raw milk poured from the back of a latte truck.
Both Thorpe and Kirsten had attachments to Siena before we even got there – one of Kirsten’s favorite teachers, Edward Goldsmith, chose to spend the last years of his life there, and our friends Will and Tania lived there for a long time. We went to the restaurant where Tanya had worked, and were treated like royalty because we knew them. The twins displayed their best manners and crawled under all the tables to the delight of all the local men hanging out drinking Il Vino di Trombicche out of an oak cask. After feasting on ribbolita, eggplant parmesan, ceci with noodles, and more local cheeses, we were gifted a bottle of their special wine. It’s true, it never hurts to know the right people!
The Duomo and its affiliated sights were an astounding site (had we read the guidebooks ahead of time we wouldn’t have been surprised) – the church was the prettiest we’d seen so far. It was originally a shrine to the Virgin Mary built on Siena’s highest point – the building standing now was constructed in 1215. The art inside and out, mostly from the next 100 years, is a perfect Renaissance mix of Ducchio’s stained glass and his Maesta painting, Bernini and Michelangelo sculpture, marble flooring (which took artists forty years to complete), and ancient church music scores in a frescoed library. The blue, green and gold tones inside the church felt very regal. We also visited the baptisery, duomo musesum and crypt, and climbed to the top of the museum belltower for panoramic views.
Finally we learned about Saint Catherine, Siena’s patron saint, with visits to the sanctuary where she and her 24 siblings were born, and to the church of San Dominica, where Catherine’s thumb and head are on display. Sophie was impressed that those body parts have been preserved since the 1300s.
It’s a goal to return one day to see the Palio, Siena’s famous horse race held inside the town square.
This online album has 12 photos on SkyDrive.