I was really excited to have caught up on my life in my blog, but then a weekend of many travels happened and I have to play catch up again. Oh well, it’s a great break from homework. On Friday we went to Siena on a day trip. Almost everyone from my program went, along with most of the professors. It wasn’t just another day of fun-no, there were three guided tours of the city throughout the day by our professors. It was wonderful to get tours from people that we know and that know what we’ve been studying. The lectures all tied into classes here at La Pietra. Siena is on 3 hills so the entire day my legs got a GREAT workout.
First off, we went to the duomo. It was SPECTACULAR. The outside reminded me of Florence, with it’s use of black and white marble and many sculptures on the facade. The inside, was a completely different story. It was decorated with the same marble from the outside, mosaic floors, paintings and sculptures galore. It had an almost Byzantine feel. The pulpit was a delicately carved marble platform on top of columns with various animals underneath them. My personal favorite part of the cathedral was the Piccolomini Library, which is just off the main nave of the cathedral. The ceiling was gilded almost everywhere, used vibrant colors, i.e. reds and blues, and had very real-like paintings of different saints and other Christian figures. The walls were painted with frescos of the life of the Piccolomini that was pope in the 1400s (I am spacing on his name). They were all great examples of Renaissance art, with their use of perspective, movement and depiction of nature. Below the paintings were numerous illuminate manuscripts, my new favorite piece of art. They were huge and beautifully decorated with swirls of color and perfect calligraphy. We also visited the Meseo dell’Opera del Duomo. It, like the one in Florence, has most of the original pieces of art work. I wish I had more time to see everything there. The original alter piece was beautifully gilded and giant. I wish it were still completely in tact-many pieces were sold off in the years before conservation efforts began. Here are some photos of the duomo and the Library:
Then, off to the Palazzo Pubblico. The piazza outside is where the annual Palio takes place. Each neighborhood has a horse and they race each other twice a year, once in June and again in August. It’s a crazy time with thousands of people gathering to watch a quick race-you would recognize it from the opening scenes of Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond movie. The Palazzo Pubblico was the center of government during the Renaissance and is decorated with stories telling the history of Siena, as well as depictions of good and bad government. There were also chapels inside and many paintings of the Virgin Mary, Siena’s main patron saint. The most interesting part was a story about how Siena has changed a fresco multiple times but saying that it’s the original. It’s caused quite a scandal; the art historian that discovered that there were some issues with the “original,” i.e. scale, dress, and imagery, was banned from speaking in Siena, wasn’t served at restaurants and his book wasn’t sold in the city. Siena seems to be changing their story to kinda match his-but not entirely. I wish I remembered all of the details!
My friends and I ate lunch at this amazing little restaurant just outside the old city walls in a medieval garden/farm. All of the ingredients were from the farm and freshly made. Everything was delicious! I had pecci with ragu, basically a thick pasta with meat sauce. AMAZING! It’s incredible how you can taste all of the flavors when the meat and produce haven’t been processed and treated with hormones (sorry America). The atmosphere was wonderful and it was truly an Italian experience-the wait staff hardly spoke English and read us the menu. There was also a summer camp going on in the nearby field so adorable Italian children were playing sports and running around. It was nice to be out of the city for a bit.
After lunch, we went to the church of San Domenico to discuss Saint Catherine of Siena. The church was her home parish, and has many relics of hers, i.e. her finger, whip for flagellation and her head. It was really creepy but interesting all at the same time. I will spare you the details but she isn’t too decomposed yet…ick. Then we went to her house, but it’s basically the reincarnation of her home since she lived there 700 years ago and the Fascist government in the 1900s made a huge dedication to her, so it’s giant. At her home is her kitchen, a chapel and the room where she basically locked herself up until her parents conceded to her wish not to marry. The woman had a lot of chutzpah and influenced local priests to the pope and heads of state. It was really incredible to learn all about her. Finally, we saw the old fountain of Siena, with three openings-one for humans to drink from, one for animals, and one for the workers to dye fabrics in. The water never really mixed because it moves down the hill. There are now fish in the fountain so I don’t think it’s really used anymore. At the end of the day we sat on the steps of San Domenico and drank granitas-delicious ice slushies, I highly recommend them if you’re ever in Italy. Upon returning to Florence I didn’t do much, as the next day I was off to Venice!