Tuscany’s medieval city of Siena is safely tucked within vast archaic walls dating to the 1200s. Outside these walls, Siena (capital of the Province of Siena) is a contemporary, enterprising city offering modern conveniences. However, walking through the gates into ancient, walled Siena, Polly and I were greeted with narrow cobblestone streets shaded by massive architecture which has long weathered the tests of time, war, and storm. The rustic stone and brick design style prevalent in Siena is influenced with Gothic elements, yet seems unique to that of other medieval Italian cities. Dirt brown stone façades of these archaic buildings with darkened, narrow windows and orifices expel an ominous and looming aura. Yes, the imposing architecture which is relevant to medieval Siena is impressive and interesting, but I just couldn’t shake the hauntingly eerie sense that somehow pervaded my subconscious …
Siena’s strong history is evident throughout the city’s walls, but none more than Piazza del Campo, the town’s premier square. Home to Pallaza Publico (town hall) and Torre del Mangia, a 289 foot tall clock tower (third tallest in Italy), this enormous piazza (the largest in Italy) is emblematic of Siena’s heritage. Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) was end cap to a system of underground tunnels, aqueducts and conduit which tapped into the region’s water sources thus bringing the prized commodity to Campo. The floor of Piazza del Campo consists of nine pie-shaped red brick sections which meet at a point in the center of the piazza and branch out to its perimeter. This design symbolized “The Nine”, who created the Campo and governed Siena during its height of medieval grandeur between 1292 and 1355.
Just beyond the Campo is Duomo di Siena, a Gothic-Romanesque marvel on the edge of the city’s ancient walls. Inspired in part by Orvieto’s Duomo, the design similarities in the two cathedrals are striking. Inside the Duomo di Siena (Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption), mosaic floors and guilded art depicting Madonna and the Holy Child led my eyes up to the magnificent golden dome … a breathtaking marvel!
To close our tour of Duomo di Siena, Polly and I visited the Piccolomini Library, with walls enveloped in vibrant frescoes of Siena’s Enea Silvio Piccolomini who eventually became Pope Pius II. We then climbed the perilously steep and narrow stairs of the Cathedral Museum for an aerial view of this intriguing medieval city. Taking in Tuscany’s spectacular rolling countryside of lush green hills and cypress-lined property boundaries just outside the walled city, it was easy to imagine the powerful role Siena’s strategic location played in commerce, culture and governance some 800 years ago.
San Gimignano … Tuscany’s Town of Fine Towers
Day two of our initiation into Tuscany was cause for a visit to San Gimignano. And enchanting it was! This tiny village north of Siena is perched on a bluff overlooking the familiar Tuscan landscape. Dating back to 63 BC and recognized for its many towers built to warn of impending enemy attack (14 have survived the ravages of enemy attacks and war), the allure which San Gimignano now exudes is evident in the boutiques, sidewalk cafes, age-old homes and delightful walking paths lining the perimeter of this walled village. Strolling the narrow streets brimming with ancient Gothic-Romanesque architecture, Polly and I were thoroughly captivated by the irresistible charm of this medieval treasure! The town’s main gathering place is Piazza della Cisterna, a large triangular shaped plaza lined with boutiques and cafes. The piazza’s namesake is for the underground cistern located at the plaza center which, like Siena’s Fonte Gaia, was originally designed for delivering water to local residents.
In retrospect, Polly and I didn’t plan nearly enough time to enjoy and absorb the charismatic allure of San Gimignano. So this, without a doubt, is a region I plan to visit again … to stay, explore and immerse myself in the culture and quaint charm of this delightful medieval village!