Imagine a day spent in a medieval city situated between three river valleys, perched atop gentle rolling hills. The ramparts greet you with the inscription “Siena opens its heart to you.” What a beautiful heart it is, and I am fortunate to be returning to it for the third time this year.
According to legend, Siena was founded by Senius, son of Remus (brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named). Romulus and Remus were said to be twin sons of Mars and a mortal woman who was a vestal virgin. She abandoned the boys in a river, where they were found and suckled by a she-wolf. There is artwork depicting the she-wolf suckling the twins all around the city of Siena.
The Piazza del Campo was featured in “Quantum of Solace,” a recent James Bond movie. It was a marketplace prior to the 13th century. It was paved in 1349 and continues to be the principal public space in Siena.
Handmade red brick paves the Piazza in a fishbone pattern, with nine lines of travertine (symbolic of the rule of The Nine who governed Siena at the height of its splendor from 1292 to 1355) radiating from the central water drain. The Piazza is one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares, and nearly all of the major historical events in Siena have taken place in or around this square.
A main focal point in the Piazza del Campo is the Mangia Tower, which can be seen for miles outside the city. This tall, delicate tower was completed in 1348 and stands as a symbol of the power residing in the Palazzo Pubblico palace below it. It is composed of red brick, topped with white travertine and a bell tower. The design is supposed to remind us of a slender lily.
The Nine were required to live inside the magnificent Palazzo Pubblico and were not allowed out except on feast days. You have to wonder how our government officials would react to such required dedication.
Under the rule of The Nine, miles and miles of tunnels (the Bottini) were built over a period of eight years. These tunnels supplied fresh water to the city, with a final destination at The Fountain of Joy located at one end of the Piazza del Campo. The fountain is adorned with bas-reliefs depicting Good Government under the patronage of the Madonna.
The Monte dei Paschi, a bank, was founded in Siena in 1472 and is today the oldest active bank in the world. Siena’s university was founded in 1203 and is still famous for medicine and law.
Siena rivaled Florence during the Renaissance, and the Cathedral of Siena is one of the most magnificent in Europe. Known as the Piazza del Duomo, it is one of the most splendid and famous examples of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture in the world.
It was consecrated on Nov. 18, 1179, and was enlarged slowly and with painstaking precision through the years. The cathedral should have been even larger than it is at present, but the decimation of the population due to the Black Death put an end to all future plans for enlargement.
The Duomo is constructed entirely of black and white marble, striped horizontally. The floor inside is covered entirely with 52 panels of inlaid, etched and colored marble presenting scenes in mosaic fashion. It is one of my favorite cathedrals in the world and I encourage you to investigate it leisurely on your next trip to Italy.
Siena is a city that can be enjoyed for a day, a week, or a month, but whatever you do, be certain Siena is on your list of “must see” destinations in Italy.
Joy Gawf-Crutchfield is the owner of The Joy of Travel travel agency. For more information visit www.thejoyoftravel.us or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 918-339-4805. See her pictures at www.thejoyoftravel.us.