(Yesterday, we were in Volterra)
May 28th, 2009
Siena, oh Siena.
The thunderstorm last night after an awesome sunset had freshened the landscape around us. (The crowd around the dinner table last night accused us Seattleites of getting the rumbling clouds along with us from Seattle). The 159 continued to struggle with torque at low rpm navigating the steep elbow turns. But our eyes hungrily took the landscape in as we hurled east passing the inviting silhouettes of San Gimignano (that we would visit later) and Monteriggioni (that we would not).
Siena, Gorgeous, Siena!
Had we listened to Rick Steve, Siena would have been our base camp in Tuscany. But then we guessed a lot many people would follow him and decided to use reverse-herd-mentality and chose Volterra. And Lucca. I think our choices were more rustic and hence much more sophisticated.
Sienna has enjoyed an extremely colorful history and has managed maintain the color. In the 1200s, with a population of sixty thousand, it was larger than Paris. Had it not been for the bubonic plague in 1348, it would have been as metropolitan as Rome or Florence. As crowded. Less fascinating.
Our first stop was Piazza Il Campo. This is the heart of Siena and the venue for the famous horse race Palio. To get a glimpse the Palio, see the scene in the latest Bond caper Quantum of Solace just after the car chase (horribly rescored in the link - sorry).
The semicircular medieval “square” is dominated by the city hall and the Torre del Mangia along the diameter line and shops, trattorias and houses dotting the circumference. The fishbone tiling, the city hall, the buildings all built using the soil on which they stand create a red haze. This is where Crayola, the crayon company, got inspiration for the color they surprisingly called called Burnt Siena.
The Piazza is divided into 17 segment, the demarcation apparent from the top of the tower which we were to climb later in the day (waiting for the sun to get into the right position). Each segment represents a contrade, a neighborhood or a tribe. Palio has 10 horses racing around the periphery – specially and temporarily covered with dirt - to the din of thousands of people who take every available spot in the square. I can imagine what a sight it must be.
After a quick bite, we started to climb the hill towards the Duomo.
(Read on: We are headed to the Duomo)