Italy – Siena

Sunday 2 September

We park in the il Campo building,  just inside the ZTL area because it’s supposed to be only a short walk to the Campo. It seems ok to walk and not take the wheelchair. The distances between attractions in Siena are small, and it turns out that the parking building is truly only a few hundred metres from the Campo. (Italian metres seem to be triple kiwi metres). 

Peter hears the drumming first.

We arrive to a parade of flag twirlers. Apparently there are seventeen districts in Siena and each one has a patron saint whose feast day is celebrated by this ceremony. The flag twirlers and drummers walk around Siena visiting the churches – all day!!!! Today there are two districts because their patron saints feast day falls on the same day … So it is especially loud and colourful! It seems that this ceremony is related to the Palio  – the same districts, the same participants, the same enthusiasm!

Peter climbs the Campo tower while I visit the baptistery. I no longer feel the need to climb every mountain, I am more selective in choosing my challenges!

The walls are covered in frescoes but the main feature of the baptistery is the bronze font. It has a statue of St John the Baptist on top, and has six sides, each of which is a relief sculpture depicting scenes from the bible. Two scenes by Donatello are outstanding.

Peter and I meet outside the cathedral. Before we meet, however, I see some lovely scarves and buy two … Markets and churches, churches and markets, side by side …

The exterior is extravagent, built in marble, striped black and white on the sides, and the front facade is pink and white and pale green marble. There are three arched doorways, the centre one has a rose window above it and all have triangular friezes above them The friezes are gold mosaics with vibrant colours. They shimmer in the sun.

But the inside is spectacular. The floors are uncovered! This is very significant because usually the floors are covered by cardboard to protect the mosaics underneath. The entire floor is covered in amazing pictorial mosaics! Each scene tells a story or has some meaning, either religious, philosophical, mythical or about Siena. They are astonishing.

The library is even more spectacular! Down one side is a bench with  pages of calligraphy and illustration. The walls and ceilings are covered in frescoes, some representing times of the life of the appeal for whom the library was built. They are six hundred years old and fabulous. We spend at least an hour in this room, and return before we leave….

Outside the library is a chapel sculpted by Michaelangelo. In a side chapel is a bronze statue by Donatello of John the Baptist. He also did bronze relief sculptures on the four sides of each the pulpits, and sculpted the marble body on top of a coffin shaped tomb.

I notice that the organ has trumpets extending out horizontally! Everywhere you look is something to see!

Below the Duomo is the crypt. It was built at the same time as the duomo but was never used and filled up with debris and junk. It was rediscovered around 2000. It has the most amazing series of frescoes depicting scenes from the new testament. Among the scenes are the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Kiss of Judas, Crucifixion, the bringing down from the cross, and Entombment of Christ. The colours in the frescoes are in vivid  red, blue and gold.

Also in the crypt is an exhibition about St John the Baptist which includes a painting of John the Baptist by Titian, and large relic box of solid silver and gems from the 1400s. 

We go to the duomo museum expecting it to contain the usual treasury such as chalices, monstrices and relic boxes. First, I am asked by a security guard if I would like to go to the viewing platform! Usually they do their best to dissuade me from climbing steps. The panoramic view over Siena is great, almost as good as from the Campo Tower, Peter says.

We look in all the museum rooms on three floors. I am astonished at the art. There are paintings on wood from the 13th and 14th centuries, and a spectacular wooden painted figure of Christ on a cross made from a y shaped piece of yew.

The next room has chalices, monstrices, relic holders … With skulls, jaws, yuk …

Then we enter a super-air conditioned, dark room, with a 13th and 14th century painted wooden sequence (each painted picture is on a square, and the squares are in two lines, except for the central painting which is of the crucifixion and is four times the size of the others. It is the  height of two and width of two. I finally realise that it is to be read from bottom left to right, then top left to right, and is the story of the passion of Christ. There is amazing detail, showing folds in clothes, and bright colours with vibrant gold trims on Christ and Mary. The next sequence is of  of christs life but with some squares missing.

The next room includes four remarkable paintings by Bazzi, known as Sodomi (guess why). The paintings are similar to those of Titian in terms of muscle definition and composition, maybe better. The dead, slumped body of Christ is particularly compelling.

The rooms go on and on! Next are superb painted wooden sculptures by Pisaro. They have tremendously detailed facial features, and hair and clothing is lifelike. One subject has strong defined musculature. 

In the last area before the exit are original pieces from the facade and interior that have been replaced. These, like all the facade statues, have been sculpted by Pisaro. Close up I can see detailed lifelike features, even though high up on the facade these details would never  be seen. And even though they have damage suffered from weathering, their beauty is readily seen.

It’s been a long day. I am exhausted from walking but i make it back to the car. And, as in all of Italy, because the car displays a disability permit we pay no parking fees, despite having been in Siena for eight or nine hours. A nice way to finish the day …


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