Friday, August 20, 2010

Siena



On our way to Siena, Italy, I happened to pull our the trusty 'lonely planet survival kit', only to read the following excerpt...

"Il Palio~ This spectacular event held twice yearly on July 2 and August 16th in honor of the Virgin Mary, dates to the Middle Ages and features a series of colorful pageants, a wild horse race around the Campo, and much eating, drinking and celebration in the streets.... The race is run at 7pm in August. For not much more than one exhilarating minute, the 10 bareback horses and their riders tear three times around the Campo with a speed and violence that makes your hair stand on end."
We were travelling to Siena on the 15th, but had no idea until this enlightening moment, that there would be scores of people gathering for the weekend festivities.
Upon arrival, we grabbed lunch at a cafe where most people stood to drink their coffee (which is quite common in Italy). Then finished the meal with some cookies. Pictured below is the Panforte, originating in the region as a rich cake of almonds, honey, candied melon, or citrus fruit. Panforte, loosely translated means heavy bread and it was initially created as sustenance for the crusaders to the Holy Land.
With full stomachs, we braved the well preserved medieval city of Siena.
First stop - the Duomo. The cathedral as it stands, was finished in the 14th century, but intentions were to enlarge the building by using the existing church as a transept for a new church. The plague fell upon Siena however. The population plummeted and funds for the plan vanished.
This duomo is famous for its interior inlaid marble floors, which are so precious, they were mostly covered during our visit. The floors are displayed only one month a year for the sake of preservation.
Then on to the Museo dell’ Opera Metropolitana, which was conveniently next to the duomo, because by that time, there was a severe thunderstorm ranging outside. We waited in the duomo until the rain lightened and then rushed the kids into the Mueso, where the 12 statues of prophets and philosophers by Giovanni Pisano were standing by to greet us.


The baptistery, which seemed to speak for itself. The marble font was decorated with bronze panels in relief describing the life story of St John the Baptist.


Next, Il Campo. This is where the previously mentioned horse races, Il Palio, would take place a day later.
The streets were mud soaked and slushy, partially due to the lack of dry weather. Spectators were made to walk along planks to reach the Campo so as to not fall into the muddy race track.
Among the muck and mud, it seems timely to mention here, that we were given multiple recommendations from a variety of sources, not to drink the water from the fountains in Italy. However, at least daily, if not more often, there was always a fountain with someone washing or rinsing, or filling a water bottle.
This gentleman was using the water from Fonte Gaia, a landmark at the top of Piazza del Campo.
On another note- equally as mentionable, the kids seemed to be as amused with animals, as they were with Etruscan history and art. At every turn, it seemed there was a cat waiting to welcome them.
It seemed obvious that the upcoming Il Palio celebration was gearing up, just from crowds lingering in the main piazza. We did our best to stay out of the way. As we meandered along the steep streets, it was clear that Il Palio, the horse race of neighborhood competition, was going to be in full swing before long. At one moment, a large crowd came screaming, literally, through the streets behind us. For an instant I feared the kids would be trampled, though several polizia were standing by.

As Matt described it- Il Palio seemed to “be the NASCAR of Siena“.
This neighborhood was busy setting up a long table that wound up the street.
Surely the festivities would be roaring a day later.


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To see the city from afar offers a considerably different perspective from the close up, intricate details that a traveler may stumble upon around each corner.
So with activities ramping up, and feeling like we could sleep well having visited Siena, we drove back to the cabin, passing by beautiful scenes of Tuscan agriculture and meadows along the way. All in a good day’s adventure, we landed for dinner ¾ of the way home at a Pizzeria, where a Filipino woman climbed up on stage just after our food arrived, and proceeded to sing karaoke.
 The kids later referred to her as “the woman who sang teriyaki.”
They truly are cultured, and um, confused.

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