Sunday, September 20, 2009


Siena! I fled here from Florence five days ago - the noise of Piazza della Republicca drove me out. The thought of being entertained by the cafe in the Piazza until 1.30am for another day was just too much.

And how glad I am to have made the decision. Siena is quiet and - gracious. Like its art for the Sienese school has a more sensitive quality to it; the eyes of its madonnas draw you more with a smile that seems to tell of her joy.

I am staying in Hotel Villa Liberty, near the centre with vews over the vast church of San Domenica. Its a great improvement on BB Republicca. A short stroll brings me to Il Campo, scene of the famous Palio, and the Duomo. In their different ways, both are majestic. The former because it provides a perfect arena for the race; the latter because it has the most wonderful interior. From its marble pavements portraying great biblical and classical stories in sgraffito, to the design of the building itself with alternate layers of white and black marble rising high to the painted roof. This building - as all the churches here - seem to proclaim the pride Siena has in itself. Indeed, not content with quite a large cathedral, the Commune decided in 1339, when Siena ruled much of southern Tuscany, to expand the then unfinished building so that it would be larger than S. PPeters in Rome. Unfortunately the Black Death in 1348 halted their plans, and decimated the city, a plight from which it hardly recovered.

Siena is divied into contrada, ares under the legal authority of an elected local government. They have existed since at least the 14th centruy and its from these that the runners in the Palio are chosen by lot. Yesterday, on my way to spend time in the Botanical Gardens, I watched as a teenager schooled two children in the ancient art of flag-waving. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and evident delight, in the intricaries and beauty of their movements. I guess they were preparing for next years celebrations. The small amount of crime here is believed to be due to the role of the contrada. People seem genuinely proud of the community and this has an effect on the life of the city. So, no graffiti here - except on the cathedral floor!

On Friday I travelled to San Gimignano, the city of towers which, over the centuried, has changed even less than Siena. Its small population is overwhelmed by tourists but the fact this has, apparantly, happened since the time when Dante and Savanrola came hre for their holidays means that the people are quite used to us. It is a remarkable place and I enjoyed visiting its small, 12th cent. Collegiata with wonderfully fresh frescoes (I particularly liked the Last Supper with a small lamb (?) on a central dish and its very graffic battle-scene which makes any modern horror film look tame!

Tomorrow I move on to Perugia and then Assisi. The sun shines on us after a night of violent storms, and I look forward to seeing another city new to me. I have enjoyed Siena very much - its churches, art and people and I have loved the spaiousness of the palce which I found reflected in the churches it built all those centuries ago. Were they built to accomodate enormous congregations, or were they built for the sheer joy of being able to construct such vast buildings? And, in their simplicity they do not seem to proclaim power: here are foretastes of heaven, gates into eternity. Sacred spaces.

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