Saturday, October 29th
On Saturday morning, we got up early to drive to Siena. We took the scenic route and stopped along the way to admire the, well, scenery. This includes checking out a hillside full of sheep. The small road was empty, so I was taking pictures from inside the van. Everything seemed okay and bucolic for awhile, but . . .
I guess we lingered too long because all of a sudden the sheepdogs attacked us. They jumped right over their fence and challenged our big van. I started to drive away (slowly, so I wouldn’t run over them) and they kept chasing us for a while. Eventually they gave up, but check it out – I kept taking pictures.
Siena is amazing. We parked on a tiny street in a place that may or may not have been a parking spot. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were at the extreme southeast end of the city. Our first stop was at the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi.
Next we made our way to the big Piazza del Campo and purchased tickets to walk up the enormous tower, the Torre del Mangia (which literally means Tower of the Eater).
We had some time before our ascent, so we ate lunch at a place on the square recommended by a friend back home. His only directions to this particular ristorante was a picture he had taken from the restaurant. So we walked around for a bit until we had a view that roughly approximated what he showed us. Also, me he mentioned a good-looking server. Our server was reasonably attractive so we convinced her (in Italian) to let us take her picture and post it to my friend’s FaceBook. This really happened, but apparently she was the wrong person.
After lunch, Gabbie and I climbed the 487 steps to the top of the Torre del Mangia (literally “Tower of the Eater”, which I know I’ve said twice now, but it bears repeating). It was brutal. The stairs were narrow and made of stone. Frequently we’d have to stop and figure out a way to get the down-coming traffic past us. Just when you think you’re at the top, you’re not; there’s more steps. We finally made it to the actual top and, as you’d expect, the view was spectacular.
When we got back down to the bottom I let fly the joke I’d been saving about leaving my passport at the top. No one laughed, not even Gabbie. I was hot and tired, sweaty and thirsty. So we got some gelato.
Our main destination in Siena was the Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena). It’s actually a massive complex with the cathedral itself, the piazza, and several other structures and parts of the main building. You can see the back of the facade in the view from the tower above.
We purchased some tickets (to get into a church!), but I’m not really sure what they bought us. We checked out the interior of the cathedral and the Libreria Piccolomini therein.
If you ever go, make sure to not miss the library. It’s not stacks of books. One of the centerpieces of the cathedral is the pulpit, but this was being restored when we were there and completely hidden behind a screen.
Under the cathedral is the crypt. This is also not to be missed. It’s still being excavated as they find more tombs and artwork. Once you’re under the church, you can look up through some windows they built in to see the church above. It’s pretty cool. Then you notice that even this level has an open level below it. So this massive church is built over an open crypt, which itself is build over some other open space.
Behind the cathedral is the baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni). Although a much smaller space than the cathedral, it still sports vaulted ceilings covered in frescoes. The baptismal font is really something special to see, and, as with many of the major religious sites we visited, you will eventually discover that you are walking on the final resting place of several historical figures.
There are several tombs marked below the marble floor.
The House of St. Catherine of Siena is a quieter affair. Her birthplace is now a sanctuary with a church, and no photography is allowed inside. Failing to notice the sign at the entrance, Valerie got a talking to from one of the employees. “Signora, no fotos!”
The Basilica of San Domenico is a severe Gothic cathedral in Siena where St. Catherine’s incorruptible head (yes, her head) is kept enshrined and on display. Photography is not allowed inside this space either, so I have no images to share of this.