Saturday, 2 June 2007

Siena Part 3: Around Town

Our plan had been to get up early, but again we woke up late (they've been long days, we needed it) and checked out of our hotel. We were originally going to try and get to Montepulciano and Abbazia di San Galgano (a ruined 13th century abbey south-west of Siena). Noting the time, however, we scaled back our ambitions to only the abbey, but even that would turn out to be out of our reach despite a desperate bit of driving that got us tantalisingly close but without enough time to actually stop. We had to get the car back by midday or cop a fine so we returned to Siena disappointed.

After again negotiating the streets of Siena we dropped off our car and warned its new users (a friendly group of Americans) of its dodgy clutch and went on our way.

Wandering back to il Campo, at top of our list of things-to-do in Siena was to climb the tower of the Palazzo Comunale, the Torre del Mangia (so named after its original, apparently very hungry, bell-ringer, mangiaguadagni).

The Torre del Mangia was completed in 1297, is 102m high and has 503 steps, of which we enjoyed every single one.

These days the bell is operated automatically, so you get a nice fright when it suddenly goes off while you are leaning over the edge of the tower to get a view of the surrounding countryside.

I did one of those things all owners of SLR cameras must dread - I left it set to ISO800 after taking some photos inside the darkness of the tower interior, and didn't realise my mistake until making my way back down. Of course it probably hasn't made any real difference to the photos, but every now and then you do wonder why you don't just leave the thing on full-auto.

We had purchased a combined ticket which also allowed us to visit the Museo Civico. Luckily for you, the long suffering reader, they don't allow photography inside the museum. It certainly was a nice spot to visit, with many interesting frescoes including the famous Allegories of Good and Bad Government, which gave an amusingly extreme representation of their differing outcomes.

Next we visited the Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta), which was originally started in 1196 but which had a number of aborted attempts at expanding it over the years. Most of these expansions were abandoned due to the lack of structural integrity of the Duomo, but the final nail in their coffin was the black plague in 1348, which wiped out a large portion of the Sienese population. Nevertheless the Duomo is a very impressive structure in black and white marble.

Inside there are a few famous works, but most famous is the floor, which I will ironically not show you any photos of. Most of the year the most valuable sections of floor are covered, so if you have a real interest in pavement art the time you want to visit the duomo is in August when they are uncovered.

Inside the duomo is the Libreria Piccolomini, which actually got our attention more than the duomo itself (because, you know, if you've seen one church you've seen them all). In the library, which was commissioned by Francesco Piccolmini (who was pope for all of 10 days), you can see frescos depicting the life of Francesco's uncle and his books, which were illustrated in amazing detail.

After all this it was pretty much time to go, so we checked our supplies of panforte and jumped on Rapido bus back to Florence, whereupon we immediately got stuck in a traffic jam on the Autostrada. We still had many things we wanted to see in Siena, which was fine since we will be back in July for il Palio!

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