May 1st, 2015 – Siena – Italy


Note on Florence post: We had technical difficulties with the Florence post and posted it before all of the explanation was in there.  It is not possible to resend a post once it has been published, so if anyone is interested in the explanation of the pictures, you will have to go to the actual post to read it.  You should be able to click on the link “donandlesliefore” (it is underlined) in this mail and it will take you to the blog.

We went to Siena today and we continued to be impressed with Tuscany.  Other than St. Catherine of Siena, we had never heard of the place.  Siena was first settled in the time of theEtuscans (c. 900–400 BC) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. The Etruscans were an advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land and their custom of building their settlements in well-defended hill.  We started our tour going to the basilica where St. Catherine’s relics are kept.  Pictures were not allowed, so that is why none are included in the blog.

Our tour guide grew up in the city which made the tour very interesting.  Siena is divided into 17 contrades (districts) each named after an animal and with a long history.  These districts were set up in the Middle Ages  in order to supply troops to the many military companies that were hired to defend Siena. Now the contrades have lost their administrative and military functions and have instead become simply areas of localised patriotism, held together by the emotions and sense of civic pride of the residents.   It was kind of neat to see a town that carries something that is from the middle ages to today.  Our guide is a rhino because that is the contrades where she was born and she is quite proud of it.  The fourth picture shows the coat of arms for the 17 contrades, and the third picture shows a lamp in the goose contrade.  It was quite clear which contrade you were in by looking at the decorations in the street.

She also spent a lot of time telling us about the Palio di Siena a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo (first two pictures), the shell-shaped town square, twice each year.  The race is run for honor and to win a painted banner bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  (The third picture shows the horse race – a picture of a picture).   Ten of the seventeen Contrade run in each Palio: seven run by right (having not run in the previous year’s corresponding Palio) together with three drawn by lot from the remaining ten. A horse is assigned to each by lot and is then guarded and cared for in the Contrade stable. The jockeys are paid huge sums and indeed there are often deals and bribes between jockeys or between “allied” Contrade committees to hinder other riders, especially those of ‘enemy’ Contrade.

Though often a brutal and dangerous competition for horse and bare-back rider alike, the city thrives on the pride this competition brings. The Palio is not simply a tourist event as a true Sienese regards this in an almost tribal way, with passions and rivalry similar to that found at a football ‘Derby’ match. In fact the Sienese are baptised twice, once in church and a second time in their own Contrade fountain. This loyalty is maintained through a Contrade ‘social club’ and regular events and charitable works. On the day of the Palio itself the horses are accompanied by a spectacular display of drummers and flag twirlers dressed in traditional medieval costumes who first lead the horse and jockey to the Contrade parish church (where the horse is blessed) and then join a procession around the Piazza del Campo square.

The Siena Cathedral, begun in the 12th century, is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Its main façade was completed in 1380.  The inside of this cathedral was incredible. The floor had 52 huge mosaics that illustrate stories from the new and old testament.  There are also many works of art here.  The rest of the pictures are from this church.  A little bit of explanation…  The 11th picture shows The Piccolomini altar – the four sculptures in the lower niches are by the young Michelangelo.  The next picture shows some of the sculptures of the popes – starting with Peter and going to the right.  The 14th picture is a statue of John the Baptist by Donatello.


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IMG_1346  IMG_1274

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One thought on “May 1st, 2015 – Siena – Italy

  1. Judy

    All of the churches have been so amazing to see. You two must be having the trip of a lifetime. AND ….. I hope you are remembering all this history :).

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