Monday 3 September
We leave Siena for Florence but on the way we will drive to the ruins of San Galgano and to San Gimignano.
I expect the ruins to consist of little more than foundations and some walls in a pretty rural setting. It certainly is in pretty countryside. As I stand within the walls I can hear the sounds of pigeons and birds. I am overcome by a sense of peace and tranquility.
And there is much of the abbey still standing. Much, much more than I expected. The church is roofless but the external walls and internal structures, like columns and archways, remain. The side chapel and sacristy still have their roofs so their vaults can be seen. The romanesque church, built in the 1100s, is made mostly of narrow red bricks, but the lower part of the front facade is a light coloured marble. Intriguingly and somewhat poetically, the main altar remains. It is a flat stone resting on stone legs, and is worn by the rain and elements to which it is exposed.
We drive a few hundred metres up a short hill next to the abbey to the Chapel of san Galgano a Montiaseppi. Here is where a hermit lived til 1181. It was consecrated in 1185. The hermit had been a knight, but renounced his lifestyle and symbolically thrust his sword into a stone. The sword and stone remain in the tiny chapel which is still consecrated and used to celebrate mass in.
From the hill we can see a huge empty car park, capable of holding hundred and hundreds of cars. We are curious and wonder what it could be for until we realise that thousands of tourists flock here to see the ruins. We are the only ones here now, but earlier in summer this is popular. I am so glad that we have been able to enjoy a real sense of peace here.
We continue our drive to Florence, but head for San Gimignano.
Monday 3 September
Even though it is not the weekend when, we are told, San Gimignano gets really busy, there are people everywhere and it is difficult to find a park. We ask a policeman monitoring traffic near the entrance if we can park nearby but he tells us that the disabled parks are taken and he directs us to the park and ride area kilometres downhill! We take a bus to the first piazza and sit in the sun on the steps of a well, and eat lunch.
The Duomo was built in 1148 but made into the gothic style in 1400s. Fortunately the front columns and floor is exposed so the original stone blocks can be seen. The brick walls have been plastered so that frescoes could be painted. These are extensive, from floor to ceiling. One side has frescoes showing the life of Christ, the other side old testament stories. On one side of the front arches is painted heaven, the other side is hell.
While Peter is climbing the highest tower I sit on the duomo steps, suddenly surrounded by young Australians calling everyone else “so bogan” and talking up how much they’ve drunk. It’s funny … And sad.
We walk to the Rocco and are welcomed to the courtyard by a harpist. The music is delightful. There are olive trees growing here and its very peaceful. I climb a few steps up a small tower. The views are over rooftops to small vineyards, pastures and away to forests and hills. They are beautiful Tuscan views. We hear thunder and see dark clouds and rain literally storming towards us. From hot sun to rain, and it’s become humid and dark – at 4.
It clears a little and as we make our way down from the Rocco we look for an enoteca where Peter can taste some local wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano. He buys some. Again, a good souvenir because it can’t be drunk for at least five years.
We catch a bus back to the car park. Neither bus nor car park costs us anything because of the disabled parking permit!
And it’s onwards to Florence!