Summer Hiking

Summer Hiking
Mt. Constitution

Monday, March 24, 2014

Italy - Day 5, Siena

Monday, our 5th Day in Italy, we rode the bus to Siena.  It was a sad day in a way because Mona and Carole did not join us.  Mona discovered this morning that her wallet was missing and she needed to stay back and cancel her credit cards, etc.  Shirley and others were exhausted from the strenuous walking yesterday so they also took a break and rested at the hotel.


We first traveled to the Church that houses the head and a thumb of St. Catherine of Siena, situated in the Plaza of Mother Teresa.  
We were unable to take any pictures inside the church.  The guide told us 
this is the church where St. Catherine of Siena prayed and attended Mass.  Only her head and one thumb are preserved here, other parts of her body are in Rome.  She apparently walked from Siena to France and told the Pope to get back to Rome.... and he did.  I lit candles for all my friends suffering from cancer and other health issues, especially remembering my former husband who faced surgery in Seattle today.  

Anna Lisa gave us a great tour of this medieval city.  We climbed lots of hills in this city. She explained along the way how people were born in sections of the city and remained loyal to their family and districts.    Wikipedia:  contrada is a district, or a ward, within an Italian city. The most well-known contrade are probably the 17 contrade of Siena that race in the Palio di Siena. Each is named after an animal or symbol and each with its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations.ese districts were set up in the Middle Ages in order to supply troops to the many military companies that were hired to defend Siena as it fought to defend its independence fromFlorence and other nearby city states. As time has gone by, however, the contrade 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. Their roles have broadened so that every important event – baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, victories at the Palio, even wine or food festivals – is celebrated only within one's own contrada.  Every contrada has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, motto, allied contrada(only Oca has no allies) and adversary contrada, typically a neighbor (only four, Bruco,Drago, Giraffa and Selva, have no declared adversaries). Often the adversary contrade share borders.

Anna Lisa talked at length about the Palio race, when the 17 groups of families cram the CAMPO square  for a horse race that lasts less than one minute on July 2nd and August 16.  She said the race is a way to honor the Virgin Mary, but there are no prizes, no trophies, no real notoriety.  Anna Lisa said she would never consider missing the race or being crammed in with 10,000 other people in the square.

We stopped at a bakery and sampled panforte, a type of fruitcake spiced with secret ingredients.  I loved it and Paula and I went back searching for the generous baker, but bought it from another little shop.  She had been searching for scarves in every little city and hit the jackpot in Siena.

From Rick Steves:
Stretched across a Tuscan hill, Siena offers Italy's best medieval city experience. With red-brick lanes tumbling every which way, the town is an architectural time warp, where pedestrians rule and the present feels like the past. Five hundred years ago, Italy was the center of humanism. Today, the self-assured Sienese remember their centuries-old accomplishments with pride. In the 1300s, Siena was one of Europe's largest cities and a major military force, in a class with Florence, Venice, and Genoa. But weakened by a disastrous plague and conquered by her Florentine rivals, Siena became a backwater for six centuries.
Siena's loss became our sightseeing gain, because its political and economic irrelevance preserved its Gothic-era identity, most notably its great, gorgeous central piazza — the Campo. People hang out as if at the beach at this tilted shell-shaped "square" of red brick. It gets my vote for the finest piazza in all of Europe.
Most Italian cities have a church on their main square, but the Campo gathers around Siena's city hall, symbol of rational government, and a 330-foot municipal tower (open for climbers). If it's true that a society builds its tallest towers to its greatest gods, then Siena worships secular effectiveness more than it trusts in God.
Nowadays, the city hall tends a museum collection of beautiful paintings (including a knockout work by hometown master Simone Martini). The 14th-century town council met here in the Sala della Pace ("Room of Peace") under instructive frescoes reminding them of the effects of bad and good government: One fresco shows a city in ruins, overrun by greed and tyranny; the other fresco depicts a utopian republic, blissfully at peace.

If the Campo is the heart of Siena, the Duomo (or cathedral) is its soul. Sitting atop Siena's highest point and visible for miles around, the white and dark-green striped church, Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption, is as over-the-top as Gothic gets. Inside and out, it's lavished with statues and mosaics. The heads of 172 popes peer down on all those who enter.  The foundation for this church is actually another church, built first to support this massive structure.  

The provinces of Florence and Siena continue their competition, dating back to medieval times.  When Siena realized the church in Florence was bigger, they began building on an extension or new outer wall, but it was never finished.  
Great art, including Michelangelo statues and Bernini sculptures, fills the church interior. Nicola Pisano carved the wonderful marble pulpit in 1268. It's crowded with delicate Gothic storytelling — get up close to study the scenes from the life of Christ and the Last Judgment.
Hiding between the Duomo and the Campo are intriguing back streets, lined with colorful flags and studded with iron rings for tethering horses. Those flags represent the city's neighborhood associations (or contrade), whose fierce loyalties are on vivid display twice each summer during the Palio, a wild bareback horse race around the Campo (held July 2 and Aug. 16 every year; don't show up without a hotel reservation if you hope to stay overnight).
Because Siena's steep lanes go in anything but a straight line, it's easy to get lost — but there's no rush to get found. As you wander, you'll be tempted by Sienese specialties in the shops along the way: gourmet pasta, vintage Chianti, boar prosciutto, extra virgin olive oil, and panforte.
If you don't think of panforte as fruitcake, you might like it. Some bakeries claim their recipes for this chewy concoction of nuts, honey, and candied fruits date back to the 13th century. Some even force employees to sign nondisclosure agreements to ensure they won't reveal the special spice blend that flavors the dense cake.
 In six hundred years, not much has changed. Life in Siena is good.
 Life was good for us as we enjoyed another great meal at 11 Bandierino.

On the way back to Montecatini Claudia told us about the importance of family in Italy.  She said she could never consider moving far away from her family.  And, Italy has only been a united nation for about 100 years.  People consider themselves Tuscans or Florentines more so than Italians.  There still exists a lot of competition between the provinces and people only get united when following a sports team.

Toni, Cindy, Paul, and I went shopping in the evening at a local grocery store, Conad.  We found wine, beer, cheese, salami, pesto, olives, bread, and tiramisu.  We watched the locals order salami and cheese and tried to figure out what might be best for our evening meal.  Several Asian people approached Toni and asked her opinion about the beer and wine!   Paul even spoke "Italian" to some confused young men waiting at the deli counter.  It all added to the enjoyment of a great meal in the alcove on the 4th floor!




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