(Don’t miss the accompanying YouTube video posted at the end of the blog entry.)
The golden brown clay soil of the Central Tuscan countryside was rain-soaked on the day we ventured to Siena. On the way, Our Gate1 tour director, Myriam, introduced us to the story of the colorful and famous Palio horse race, which, for 800 years, has been held in the city-center piazza on church feast days. Our interest in the city was piqued. As we arrived in the rain though, we wondered if our city guide, Lucia, would even conduct the tour. But the show must go on, so we grabbed umbrellas and ponchos and began walking. With narrow medieval-era streets, our bus had to park outside the city walls, and it was a bit of a soggy trek to the city center. The rain only got worse, and it was difficult to appreciate the rich culture and scenes before us. But after a rainy day in Bellagio a few days earlier, we knew that we could at least get some interesting pictures. The buildings of Siena have been famously preserved from destruction and present a uniform and rich brown color. We learned that when heated, as in brick-making for the buildings, the raw Terra di Siena, “Siena Earth”, becomes the rich “Burnt Sienna” and we were reminded that this color is still one of the most important elements of an artist’s palate, along with its lighter cousin Ochre and the darker Umber from the Umbria region.
Regardless of any good pictures, we had resigned ourselves to a day of misery. But just about the time that Lucia finished her city tour, the rain quit, the sun began peeking through the clouds and it warmed up nicely. The beautiful Piazza del Campo, regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares, became alive with people sunning themselves and socializing. Marcy and I stood in the middle of the square and admired the beautiful buildings and the craftsmanship of the brick pavement. We wondered aloud how, in such a relatively small space, this city might hold the Palio horse race we had just learned about. As the pavement continued to warm, I took the lead of the people around me and staked out a section to recline and enjoy the day while Marcy struck off to photograph scenes we had missed earlier in the rain.
After lunch, we retraced our steps to the Cathedral of Siena. This time the white marble walls were bathed in sunshine. With a beautiful blue sky and white clouds for a background, it was a completely different experience and we filled our camera memory cards with shots from every angle.
We didn’t know much at all about Siena before we visited, but now it figures as a very satisfying destination, one we intend to return to in a few months with many more layers of things to see and experience.
(As always, click on any image below to expand to full size and see a slideshow)