Siena - Pearl of Tuscany - Places worth to see in Tuscany
Siena is almost entirely made of pink brickstones, making it more cheerful and serene than most other medieval Italian towns.
In the center, splendid palaces surround the large shell-shaped piazza, the "Campo". It feels like a big airy living room, surrounded by cafes, always busy, even in winter. Only at the time of the "Palio", the medieval horse race in July and August, it turns into a cauldron full of wild riders and spectators.
On a drizzly day in February, however, it is advisable to focus on "landscape from the inside", and so we go on a church and museum tour.
Photos above: Helen M.
Directly at the "Campo" there is the gothic town hall of Siena, the "Palazzo Pubblico" with its magnificent reception rooms, all decorated with frescoes.
In these frescoes, the painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti demonstrated to the councilmen of earlier centuries what are the consequences of a good and a bad government:
With a good regency, there are "blooming landscapes" and happy, harmonious people.
With a bad tyranny cruelty and destruction will reign.
Did this help the councilmen to make the right decisions? If so, that would perhaps be an idea for the artistic transformation of the boardroom of the United Nations ...
Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The effects of a good government in town and country (1338-1340)
Ambrogio Lorenzetti: The effects of a bad government (1338-1340)
The gothic Cathedral towers on the highest point of the town. The facade is decorated all over with marble sculptures and mosaics from different centuries and styles. At least from some distance it looks like a wedding cake decoration. The zebra stripes also have something funny about them.
This Gothic building is by no means as serious and sublime as the German or French cathedrals, with their gray facades striving towards the sky reminding us to strive for a better life in the Hereafter.
To me it seems that here in Siena the emphasis was not so much to instill awe and fear of God but rather to show off secular wealth and power, with a touch of sensual pleasure and fun.
Also the interior is decorated all over and even the floor tells vivid stories and offers the one or other quite sensual eye catcher...
The Museum of the Cathedral
The best view of the cathedral and the "pink ship" is from the gallery of the Cathedral Museum.
But beware, you must not be afraid of heights if you want to go up there!
The main attraction of the Cathedral Museum is the "Gallery of the Madonnas".
In antiquity humans were portrayed lifelike: in games, dance, combat and even in love. Considering that it is so surprising that the knowledge about anatomy of the human body has been so completely lost in the Middle Ages. And this is even more surprising because the remains of Roman, Etruscan and Greek art must have been "lying around" everywhere in Italy...
For centuries the Byzantine art dominated the art of the Occident as witnessed by the iconic monumental depictions of Our Lady, the Savior and the Saints in the mosaics of the churces of Venice and Ravenna.
Only in the 13th and 14th century artists started to experiment with new ways to express themselves. One of the first to do so was Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1318) at Siena.
When we look at one of his early pictures of the Madonna with child (Madonna di Crevole of 1283) we see a spiritualized face, which is two-dimensional and "floats" on a golden ground. Baby Jesus looks more like a little old man than an infant.
But a few years later, Duccio tried to paint more lifelike and human, as in his Maestà (1308-1311), who suddenly has a "real" baby boy in her lap.
The angels and saints, however, are still lined up in static poses and look more like an ornament than a group picture of living beings.
At about the same time Giotto paints in the basilica of San Francesco in Assisi a whole panorama of living people, who no longer hang immovably in a vacuum, but move within landscapes and architectures with perspective.
In the following two centuries, a true "renaissance" of the life-like representation of man and his world develops, with faces with individual features as in Piero della Francesca's works in Arezzo and in the masterpieces of Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and many others in Florence and Rome.
And yet, the Madonnas by Duccio in Siena always touch me in a special way. Perhaps it is exactly the non-earthly and non-individual attitude that make them so magic.
But also friends of sculptures (Wolfgang) get their money's worth in the Sienese cathedral museum:
Here you can admire from close some of the original sculptures of the cathedral facade by Nicola Pisano (1220-1284). Pisano was one of the first sculptors of his time, who studied the Roman sarcophagus, which he had discovered in the cemetery of his hometown of Pisa. Therefore he strove for a lifelike and expressive representation of his characters.
And for young ladies (Amira and Aurora) who are interested in textiles, there is a wealth of sumptuous robes made of precious fabrics to look at.
Restaurant "Tre Cristi"
Of course, our restaurant tip should not be missing:
The „Tre Cristi“ is the oldest restaurant in Siena, a legend of the city. Already for many centuries the organizers and city notables meet regularly In the restaurant's „secret room“ to set the course of the cities most important event, the Palio di Siena.
Hence, the kitchen is exquisite, as is the wine cellar.
A practical tip
The entire hill town of Siena is closed to non-local cars and the parking is on the outskirts. Therefore, you have to take a longer walk uphill to get into the historic center.
For "lazy" tourists we recommend the parking area Santa Caterina-Fontebranda (exit Siena-Ovest), because from there an escalator takes you almost up to the cathedral.
Tuscany and Siena in spring
The spring is the most beautiful travel time.
Book one of our holiday apartments during the Easter holidays or in April!
Enjoy Umbria and Tuscany in full bloom!
A trip to Siena is also part of our Culinary Weeks in La Rogaia. In addition to a guided city tour is of course a gourmet meal!
Here are the dates of our culinary weeks 2018:
April 21 to 28, 2018
November 3 to 10, 2018 (only 4 places left)
The Photography Class with René van Bakel will also take you to Siena: at the restaurant "Tre Cristi" you can watch the chefs and take photos of how they prepare their dishes, which will be turned into your meal, accompanied by a good wine, selected from Tre Cristi's richly stocked enoteca.
In the early afternoon you can visit local delis and portray the owners with their respective culinary treasures. Later on you will photograph Siena's scenery; its famous squares, the typical buildings and it's terraces in the best afternoon light.
Here is the date of the photography workshop 2018:
August 25 to September 1, 2018