Not-so-"burnt" Siena

Trip Start Apr 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Monday, May 14, 2007

(Sorry for lack of update the last few days, WiFi is few and far between in Italy)

Today I day-tripped to the very historic town of Siena in central Tuscany.  Every school kid who had the 64-color set of Crayola crayons remembers "Burnt Sienna".  This is its namesake, however, there are so many different shades in the buildings of Siena, that how they picked that particular shade is a mystery to me ("Raw Umber" was another one that I always wondered about as well).
Breakfast this morning was a neat experience; the Italian lady who runs the B&B fixed it, but she speaks no English.  It consisted of Italian bread with tomatoes on top, salami, two types of cheeses, and two types of desserts (one was like a chocolate cookie, and the other like a coconut twinkie).
It was no problem buying the bus ticket to Siena, and the bus left shortly before 9:00 AM.  It wasn't full when we left San Gimignano, but more and more people got on as we went along and eventually it filled up.  We got to Siena around 10:15 AM.  I knew we were there when I saw the Duomo up on the hill.
Siena is a very picturesque town, with it's red tile roofs and various shades of buildings.  I walked into the center of town to Il Campo, the main town square.  It's really huge, and is dominated by the adjacent tower.  I climbed up the tower, which had a series of increasingly narrow spiral staircases.  At the top were some great views in every direction of the town and the surrounding countryside.  From there, however, you can't see the tower itself (just it's shadow), and the Duomo is some distance away.  Later on, I climbed another tower at the Duomo Museum that had even better views.  Plus, the big tower had a 15 minute time limit, while the one at the Duomo Museum you could linger at all day (I would have, too).
Included with the tower was the Civic Museum, which had some interesting frescoes.  One fresco depicted the virtues on one wall, and the vices on the opposite wall, then showed the consequences of each.
After stopping in at an Internet Café to book my hostel in Rome, I headed towards the Duomo.  It dates way back to 1215 (building) and 1350 (decorations), and is done in the Gothic style.  The front is quite ornate.  As with all the large cathedrals, restoration work was in progress on a portion of the outside, so there was a crane and scaffoldings.
Before checking out the Duomo, I first went inside the building across the street, Santa Maria della Scala.  This immense place used to be a hospital for centuries (all the way up until the 1980's).  Now it has various exhibits including some interesting paintings, frescoes, and chapels (St. Catherine was supposed to have received visions in one of them).  The most interesting to me was the long labyrinth of underground passageways that have been excavated that connect to the Archaeology museum.  It's really a very strange and eclectic place, not your typical museum for sure.  You never knew what you'd find in the next room or down the next stairway.  The Archaeology museum had a lot of Etruscan pottery, and some exhibit on animals.  They had a video playing that was various clips from different movies involving animals interacting with humans: Spiderman, Batman, Catwoman, and The Neverending Story (in Italian), among others.  After walking through a dimly lit medieval labyrinth, it feels like you're isolated deep underground there, so it was quite strange to see a TV playing clips from those movies.  One other interesting exhibit in Santa Maria della Scala was the Fountain of Joy exhibit.  The Fountain of Joy is the one in the center of Il Campo.  It shows the restoration that was made in the 19th century of the 15th century fountain.  Four hundred years of wear left the fountain badly deteriorated, so they reconstructed it based on the original.  Each statue or panel is shown with the original (badly deteriorated) version side-by-side with the remake.  It's quite dramatic to see how much deterioration occurred over time.
Finally finishing with Santa Maria della Scala (there's a lot to see there), I headed across the street and into the Duomo.  There's a lot of famous sculptures there, such as Donatello's "John the Baptist" and Bernini's sculptures in the Capella della Madonna del Voto.  The Piccolomini Library is ornately decorated with colorful frescoes.
Walking back outside (and squinting because of the bright sun), I headed for the Duomo Museum.  Pretty much all of the artwork there was religious themed.  The best part was the "Panorama del Facciatone", which is another tower (not as tall as the big one next to Il Campo) with the best views of the city.  Yes, it meant climbing yet another spiral staircase (this one so narrow it was literally one-way, if someone else was trying to come down while you were going up, one of you had to go backwards), but it was well worth it.  From there are great views of both the big tower and the Duomo, plus it's open air so there's nothing to obstruct the view.  I stayed up there a good long time, just soaking up the views in every direction and watching the never-ending stream of birds flying off in all directions.  Pigeons look kind of dumb and awkward when they're on the ground, but when they're in flight they look much more graceful.  If you're ever in Tuscany, go to Siena, and climb up the Panorama del Facciatone - you'll be happy you did.
Having seen the major sites of Siena, I stopped in for a gelato on my way back to the bus station (tiramisu flavored, very good), and headed back to San G for the evening.  Tomorrow will be my day in Florence.  There's a lot more to see there than in Siena, so it should be a full day.  Ciao!
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