Siena is a city in Italy, which I miss tremendously. It wasn’t perfect. No place is, just as no person or idea is. But, Siena holds my heart.
I really can’t explain what about Siena (or Italy, for that matter) made me fall in love. But I can describe some things I remember. I even have pictures!
First, there is the Cathedral. Il Duomo di Siena is my favorite of the churches I visited while in Italy. Lest you be mistaken, I visited many. I lost count of just how many. The cathedral in Siena has pillars that are striped black and white, the stripes narrowing as they get higher. The ceiling is decorated as a starry night. It is beautiful. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any good pictures of it. Outside, is too gigantic to get more than just snippets. Inside, my camera can’t handle the lighting.
My first evening in Siena, I met my group of fellow students in Il Campo, the main piazza (square) in the city. My apartment was about one mile from the city center, and to get into the city wall I had to walk up a very long and very steep street called Via della Fontebranda. When I reached a really steep section of the road, I was mostly looking at my feet to avoid tripping. When I looked up, I saw la chiesa San Domenico.
The first time I saw this church was the perfect moment to do so. In Siena, when the sun is at the perfect angle, sometime in the evening and early morning, the rich color typical for Sienese buildings simply shines. It is incredible. This color, complemented by the Tuscan green of late spring and early summer is one of the most beautiful sights to see in Siena.
Il Campo was a place I frequented. One could buy delightful pizza by the slice as well as the best (in my opinion) gelato in the city, in close proximity. The people of Siena go to the Campo to socialize, to take a break, to watch the Palio, to eat, to drink. The list goes on. The Campo, unlike many piazzas, is not square. It is shaped more like a shell, or half circle. The bricks are lovely.
Everyday, as I walked to school through the various contrade (groups/areas dividing Siena. People belong to their respective contrada. It’s a big deal), I would come across the fountain for the tartuca contrada, the contrada in which my school was located. Everyday, I would up my water bottle with the water of tartuca. Such fun, such fun. It doesn’t usually have flowers on it.
One particularly exciting day was the day of the estrazione, the day the final three contrade are chosen to race in the July Palio. The Campo was packed. I managed to get to the bottom of the shell, where all the action was occurring. It was a fantastic choice to make my way up there, but also a dangerous one. The contrade are announced by having the respective flags hung on the Palazzo Pubblico. When the flags were hung, the members of the contrade rushed forward in a stampede. I was facing the building and a little man in front of me had turned around to face me. He started making weird noises, then I was suddenly hit from behind. You see, I didn’t realize there would be a rush of people so had no idea what the man was going on about until I was struck. Luckily, I wasn’t knocked down. Seriously, I was lucky. Others were literally trampled and had to go to the hospital. The Palio is a huge deal in Siena. It is difficult to explain the importance of the contradas and the events that occur. To illustrate just a little, the people whose contradas had been chosen bawled in happiness. They sang songs, shouted, and let the tears fall. Men, women, children. No matter how young or old, people cried. The American stigma that tears are embarrassing was completely absent. It was amazing.
Siena is magnificent. I wish my pictures could do it justice. I wish I could return. Siena is unlike any other place, an anomaly among a sea of traditions. I love Siena.