Thursday, December 15, 2016

12/14 -- Explore Siena, Drive to Pienza

On our way to our next location in Pienza, we spent most of the day in Siena. We got a tour of the city from Fernanda, who now lives nearby. We started with the Basilica of St. Catherine who was only four feet tall and 16 when she entered her religious life, but she had a huge charismatic personality. At the time that she served, the Pope was located in Avignon, France, a controversial situation. She is credited with going to France and convincing him to come back to Rome. She is one of only three women declared a 'Doctor of the Church'. She died at 33, probably as a result of extreme fasting and her practice of flagellation. Of course there are relics. Her writing thumb (although she was illiterate, she dictated many letters to scribes) is upright in a tiny pedestal, and her skull, covered with clay to replicate her face, is in a separate enclosure in a huge altar.
St. Catarina outside. Photos were not
allowed inside.
St Catherine's from across the valley

Then we walked into the main town area and the major shopping street where we stopped to sample a local delicacy, a sugared almond cookie called a ricciarelli (be sure to roll the initial R when you say this). This was a very popular pastry and chocolate shop and we indulged in some additional purchases as well.
What Siena looks like from inside the walls.

The major bank of Siena, in operation since the early 1400s,
which currently in trouble due to some bad decisions. Locals
hope they will pull through.

The plate is ricciarelli.

The city is divided into 17 different wards called contrada, which are sometimes cooperative and other times competitive. They each have their own church and museum and leader. Where you are born determines your contrada. You are free to marry and live outside your contrada, but you are always a member. They each have a prepresentative image and colors. Goose, Dragon, Caterpillar, and Forest are some of the names. Our guide was from Forest, and she was able to take us to the church and museum of her group. Contradas are normally closed to the public, so this was quite special.
Walking into the Forest Contrada, we found
covered areas, which are quite nice in a city
where walking is critical.

The symbol of the Forest cantrada is a tree
and a rhinocerous (because of  its strength,
not its proximity to Siena).
Nativity inside the church

The main altar
The contradas are most famous for the Palio, a unique horse race typically held only in July and August when the stone streets of the central square are turned into a dirt racetrack. There is only  room for 10 horses each time, so 10 contrada names are drawn and the 7 not drawn are guaranteed a spot the next year. Horse breeders bring several dozen horses to the city and the 10 contrada leaders together select 10 horses. Four days before the race, the contradas and horses are randomly matched and the horses are taken to separate quarters to be closely guarded until the race. Before the race, the horses are each led into their respective churches and blessed to help them win.

A professional jockey is selected and dressed in contrada  colors and rides the race bareback. If the jockey falls off, the horse can still win without him, but the jockey will earn nothing for his aborted effort. The winning jockey can garner over 300,000 Euros and the contrada wins a large distinctive pennant, whose design is different every time, as well as civic pride. This year, the She-Wolf contrada won both the July and August races and Fernanda says they are still celebrating.
These two pictures are photos of photos showing the race
setting (above) (The center is jammed with spectators.
It can cost 3,000 Euro to watch from a window outside
the ring instead) and the challenges the jockeys face (below).

The Forest Museum was primarily a display of the pennants they have won since the race began in 1633 as well as the costumes worn and prizes for participation in the Palio parade.
Two of the winning pennants

Forest was named for its proximity to the city walls and
woods. It is still a very green part of the city.

In the lower courtyard, Forest has a statue of a rhino.

As we walked toward the Cathedral, we passed a hospital that was the longest operating hospital in Europe until it closed around 1990. It started out more in hospitality because of the pilgrims, but developed other areas like medicine and an orphanage. Women could anonomously leave unwanted infants in a turning basket -- the baby was placed in the rotating basket outside, then the basket was rotated so the baby was inside and rescued. They were well cared-for, educated, and given jobs.
The bed at the bottom of this crest symbolizes
the facility is available for infant rescue.

The Cathedral has many designs on the floor, which can be covered with carpets to protect them during most of the year, though they go on display each year. Fernanda also showed us a wall of an unfinished even  larger cathedral that went undone with the arrival of the plaguem which reduced Sienese population from 50,000 to10,000. The intent was to run the new cathdral into the old one and create something much bigger. Jim and I went back there after lunch during our free time to explore it on the inside.
Entrance to the cathedral

Bell tower and duomo

Front facade of the new cathedral from what
would have been the inside. Note the wall on
the left has columns bending outward and are
now braced to prevent collapse.

Our last stop on the tour was the Piazza del Campo where the Palio is held. The central area is not square or flat. -- two corners are rounded, one going uphill is a bit less than 90 degrees, and the most dangerous one is going downhill with a 90 degree turn.

Lodo took us to a restaurant for a light lunch and then we set off to see more. One option was to climb the tower (316 steps) of the city hall, but it was expensive (10 Euros each) and closed due to the misty rain we were experiencing, so we went back to the Cathedral, where entrance was free, but there was a small charge to see a library with amazing works, so we went all out and also sprung for an audio guide in the library that helped us understand what we were looking at.
Black and white are the colors of Siena, so the cathedral uses
alternating black and white marble.

One of the many pieces of floor art that was still visible.

A side altar. Notice how dingy the striped
marble is on each side of the painting,
compared to the more recently cleaned pillars.

The main altar

Frescoes in the library

15th century books line the lower walls

Alter just outside the library. The bottom 4
statues you can see here were done by
Michelangelo, who was supposed to do
15 in all, but was too slow.

Michelangelo's representation of St. Paul is
actually a self-portrait.

On our way back to the Campo, we stopped in a candy shop that caught Jim's attention with its cascading flowing chocolate and were given a sample of a lemon candy that looked like a lemon drop but had lemoncello inside. Neither of us were inclined to buy any.

Different kinds of Christmas decorations than we are used to!

Those tubes below Santa are molten chocolate.
Back with the group, we walked to the bus and drove to Pienza, which will be our base for the next three days. We walked through town on the way to dinner and discovered it is MUCH quieter than Lucca. The population is only 2,000 and it has a more limited attraction for tourists. It was rebuilt and renamed by a native son who became pope to create an  ideal renaisance town.

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