Siena, the largest city in Chianti Province.


Old Siena.

Siena is a city built during the Etruscan period, between 400-600 B.C.  It was not terribly important during the Roman Empire, as it was off the grid of Roman roads.  However, in 774 A.D., Charlemagne captured the area, many of his rulers intermarried with the noble Sienese families and some of the architecture, still standing, was built.  During the 1100s, Siena flourished and rivaled Firenze in its architecture and development of art.  It was during this period that the Duomo  (Cathedral of Siena), as well as the towering Torre del Mangia (City Hall) were constructed.  

The focal point of Siena has to be its huge Piazza del Campo, a plaza sited in front of the imposing Torre del Mangia and the site of the famed Palio horse race. 

Torre del Mangia, built in the 12th Century.

Piazza del Campo in the foreground. 

Piazza del Campo, site of the 

famed Palio horse race.

The Palio 

The Palio is to horse racing, as cage fighting is to wrestling.   Siena is divided into seventeen Contrade, or wards, which unlike our townships, are fiercely proud and competitive.  Twice each year, on July 2 and August 16, there is a horse race with each Contrade entering one horse.  Actually, only ten horses are finally selected after a lottery.  The race consists of three laps around the Piazza del Campo, pictured above.  The race follows more the tradition of a Roman spectacle than a fair test of speed.  The Piazza, both inside the running track and outside, is tightly packed with frenzied fans.  Seats at the outdoor cafes lining the track are booked two years in advance and often rent for $5000.  Huge amounts of money change hands among the spectators, but also between the competitors and interested parties.  Betting on the fastest horse is not a sure thing, as the rider may have been convincingly influenced not to win.  Jockeys sleep with their animals to prevent them from ingesting foreign substances.

Costumed parades occur before the race and rivalry between the Contrade is palpable.  Stereotypically, if a husband and wife come from differing Contrade, marital tensions reach the point where one party returns to his or her Contrade until passions can dissipate after a suitable wait. 

During our week in Tuscany, I had only to mention to someone that we had visited Siena, and without fail an animated description of the Palio would follow.  Superbowl Sunday is a day of apathy by comparison to the excitement of the Palio in Tuscany.  A casual Google search of Palio will yield bountiful results.

The Duomo was completed in the 12th Century and, both inside and out, is one of the impressive cathedrals in Italy.  Its marble exterior is under renovation and is striking.  Inside, the cathedral features ornately carved woodwork and spectacular paintings.  These large works on canvas are exceptionally well preserved, as the interior of the sanctuary is very dark.  Various of these paintings are illuminated briefly as tour guides provide a description of their background and provenance.

Adjoining the sanctuary is the Piccolomini Library, a bright colorful space featuring ten huge frescos on the walls and ceiling, portraying events in the life of Pope Pius II.  There are also original scrolls of music, written for worship in the 12th century.


Duomo, the Cathedral of Siena.  In the foreground is the

She-Wolf, suckling Romulus and Remus, symbol of the Roman Empire. 

Piccolomini Library.  Ten frescos feature the life of Pope Pius II.

The artist, Pinturrichio, shows an advanced mastery of depth and perspective in his painting.

Inviting window. 

Admiring the Torre del Mangia.

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