First looks at Siena

First looks at Siena

We headed out this morning (7/22/13) for Siena. We are loosely working off of Rick Steve’s guide book, and this is one of the areas he covers that we thought would be fun to check out. The drive out was good for me (though we passed two accidents) until we got into Siena. We had very loose directions from the guide book on how to get to parking, and it was challenging to reconcile the guide books, the map, and the GPS. Finally, we opted to scrap all three and just follow the signs and figure it out. This worked far better (though was much more stressful for mom.) But, we made it to the parking lot we were trying to find and started the long walk into the city, accompanied by the sounds of piano and opera from the University across the street.

We finally reached the Duomo, an incredibly beautiful structure dating back to 1215. We purchased the Opa Si Pass for 12 Euros which allowed us to view the Cathedral, Library, Baptistery, Crypt, Museum of Opera, Oratorio, and Panorama view. It was a bit more than normal due to the exhibition of John the Baptist (Youth with a Ram) painted by Caravaggio in 1602.

Siena from above

Siena from above

We started our tour with the Museum, as advised by the ticket agent, since there wasn’t much of a line. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Museum–only on the top. The Museum is filled with amazing statues and other items preserved from the Original Duomo–You can even see the original Stained glass window. It was interesting to see the way the sculptors carved each apostle differently. Also, I got to see my first reliquaries–I’ve never seen the bones of a martyr before–definitely a unique experience. After climbing the many steps through the Museum, we ended up in the line to the “Panoramic view.” Silly us–we assumed from how high we were that we merely needed to go out on a deck of sorts to see the view from the top. Not the case. After climbing up a narrow spiral staircase (probably two feet wide with steps starting close to the center pole at about 3 inches and working out to about 10 inches) Pretty crazy! And that was just to get to the first deck. You could climb another 70 stairs to another tower point. We decided we’d had enough stairs for one day.

Duomo Siena

Duomo Siena

From there, we went to the Duomo, where you are allowed to take pictures. The Duomo is a gorgeous building both outside and in, and offers many treasures to see. Be aware, though, the Duomo is a strict “No Hoochie” zone. In other words, if you’re a female, you’d better have both your shoulders and knees covered. Go in shorts and a tank top, and you will receive something resembling a cotton poncho to cover up with. If you’re a man, you merely need to remove your hat. Thankfully, we knew this ahead of time and dressed appropriately. While some may find it offensive, I think it’s neat that some cathedrals still have standards of dress. It is also expected to be a place of reverence and quiet. I think the view itself will accomplish that–it is literally breath-taking.

St. Paul by Michelangelo

St. Paul by Michelangelo

Some of my favorite treasures in the Duomo were the inlaid floor tiles (be careful–these are roped off, and the iron poles are easy to trip over when the visitor is looking at the ceiling–i.e. me…), the intricately carved figures on a pulpit dating back to 1268, and small carvings made by Michelangelo himself. The one referenced in the guidebook is St. Paul who is said to look like a self-portrait of the sculptor himself–you can be the judge on that.

From there, we went to the crypt where we got to see the painting of John the Baptist–an amazing piece. The crypt also contained places where the old frescos were still visible. Beautiful. Alas, no pictures in there, either. We also walked through the Baptistery, which was a tiny area, but beautifully painted as well.

Finishing that, it was time to try to find our way to our car via the Il Campo–the heart of Siena. It was a neat square edged by the city hall–the largest secular tower in Italy. The chapel at the base of the tower was built in 1348 to thank God for ending the Black Death, which had killed 1/3 of the population. An amazing site to see!

Il Campo

Il Campo

We returned to our car, paid our parking ticket, ate lunch in the car, paid our parking ticket again (apparently, we had exceeded the amount of time you’re allowed to linger in the parking garage after paying), and headed to San Gimignano. We’d read in the guidebook that the medieval towers were incredible, but it wasn’t worth going inside the city, so we decided to take a drive by. It ended up being a lot longer drive than we planned–twisting and turning–but with gorgeous scenery. We had debated going to Volterra, which was also reported to be an incredible drive, but we wanted to get home to get our Florence tickets.
Views along the drive

Views along the drive

Apparently, Volterra has gotten a new boost of tourism due to the Twilight movies (Volterra was supposed to be the home of the the Volturi in New Moon), though most of filming was done in Montepulciano. But, alas, this was one side trip we had to skip. Since Rick Steve’s called this a windy road (and San Gimignano was windy enough), I was okay to skip it.

Sunset in Florence

Sunset in Florence

We returned to Florence in time to walk around the city and affirm that nothing is a short walk and the maps are deceiving (leaving mom a bit less of a Rick Steve’s fan…) But, we ended our day back at our amazing cafe by Piazzale Michelangelo watching the sunset.

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