Italy, October 29

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 . . .

A hillside full of sheep

A hillside full of sheep

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.

One of the dogs that attacked us for looking at his sheep

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.

Parking The Beast in Siena

Parking The Beast in Siena

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).

Our entry point into Siena

Our entry point into Siena

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.

An apartment building in Siena

An apartment building in Siena

After lunch, Gabbie and I climbed the 487 steps to the top of the Torre del Mangia (literally “Tower of the Eater”).  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.

View from the top of the Torre. The main feature is the Siena Cathedral, our next destination.

View from the top of the Torre. The main feature is the Siena Cathedral, our next destination.

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.

Duomo di Siena - the facade

Duomo di Siena – the facade

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 Piccolomini Library therein.

Interior of the Siena Cathedral

Interior of the Siena Cathedral

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.

The fescoed walls and cieling of the Libreria Piccolomini

The fescoed walls and cieling of the Libreria Piccolomini

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.

View from the crypt. It's probably best not to think about just how much church is positioned over your head.

View from the crypt. It’s probably best not to think about just how much church is positioned over your head.

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.

The Font in the Baptistery of the Siena Cathedral

The Font in the Baptistery of the Siena Cathedral

There are several tombs marked below the marble floor.

The tombs below the floor

The tombs below the 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!”

Playing soccer (or something like it) in front of the Basilica of San Domenico

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.

The Basilica of San Domenico in Siena

The Basilica of San Domenico in Siena

Next:  October 30th (Asciano and Assisi)

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