Sunday, 5:48 pm
What you are now looking at is the city of Siena. Stop two of the three-town tour on Saturday, and the main purpose of the trip, it is a large town on the top of a hill (as most of these medieval places tend to be). Back in its heyday it was one of Florence’s greatest rivals/most bitter enemies, and it was actually conquered by Florence at one point — an historical tidbit that neither city has really forgotten.
To start off, we went to this place:
The Basilica of Saint Catherine of Siena, who did not lead a happy life. But main thing to know is that this church is actually pretty creepy — aside from the general themes of death and suffering (both Catherine’s and Christ’s) in all the paintings and decorations, they also have relics of Catherine in there. Which, for anyone not raised Catholic, means that they’ve got a couple of her body parts on prominent display. The idea behind a relic is that a saint’s body, being incorruptible, provides a link between the material world and the spiritual afterlife — and the same holds true for a relic, aka any piece of a saint’s body. Especially in the medieval era, relics were a pretty big deal (at one time, the Catholic Church actually decreed that every church needed a relic under the high altar), which means that at the time Catherine lived these things were still much sought-after. So, while she died in Rome and was meant to be buried in Rome, one devout man made sure to sever her head and one finger from the corpse and spirit these precious remains back to her hometown. Where you can now see them.
I think it is meant to be heartwarming.
Anyway, after that we trekked up to the Siena Cathedral. And the walk was interesting, because apparently Siena takes its being-on-a-hill-ness very seriously.
It is difficult to demonstrate just how vertically-inclined these streets are, but just keep in mind that in neither picture am I tilting the camera up. And every single street was like this, and I didn’t actually take any pictures on the steepest streets because I had to suddenly start concentrating on not falling back down.
Fun fact: there are absolutely zero obese people in Siena.
So *wheeze wheeze*, but being on an incline actually makes approaching the cathedral a little like magic; green and white marble starts to loom at the end of an alleyway, and suddenly you get the urge to call it an ‘ascent’ instead of a climb.
Siena built its cathedral at the same time the Florentines were working on theirs, and there was intense competition to out-impressive each other. Florence tried to do it with size. Siena tried to do it by covering every single inch in something expensive.
Beautiful, of course, but standing in that room with a 360 view is like living in a kaleidoscope o.O
After the cathedral (more talk about pulpits and such), lunch break — and a trio of us managed to go out and find cheap slices of pizza very literally bigger than my head. Which is actually not as bad as it sounds, because Italian pizza is so thin that one could — and this has been tested by other members of the group, mind — have an entire pizza to oneself and not get full. Thin pizza ’tis BRILLIANT.
And after lunch, another big building:
This place is the civic center of Siena, and it is located in the middle of a *huge* piazza. I couldn’t get a picture to show the size of it, but it’s shaped like a giant bowl / upside-down circus tent — so the overall effect is like an enormous sloped stadium with this building down at the front. Also there is an extremely ancient tradition of running an annual horse race in there? The Palio di Siena, for anyone who wants to watch videos of it on YouTube, but keep in mind that the piazza’s bowl shape makes it a really dangerous race, so those squeamish about possible accidents should maybe not pursue that.
(Also, I swear this blog post is almost done : )
After cruising around that building’s frescoes and interior chapel, we got back on the bus and turned north again for the return to Florence. But, we still had a final stop to make in “Greve in Chianti.” So:
Greve in Chianti
Greve is a small town that is apparently more-or-less the headquarters of the Chianti wine-making region, which is to say that most of the rules about which wines get to call themselves Chianti are decided there. This is interesting in itself, but we made the hour-long detour because they’ve actually got the annual wine festival going on right now, and anyone who wanted to could pay 10 Euro and get 7 samples straight from the vendor. I didn’t do it myself, but judging from the 15-or-so students who did, I’m going to say they were potent samples, so you certainly get your money’s worth : )
And then Jodie gave us each an amazing almond cookie from a Siena pasticceria as we got on the bus. Because the program leaders just do things like that ❤
And that’s everything! A total of 12 hours, at least 8 of which we spent on our feet. One feels rather accomplished.
Sunday (today) was a day off, which I spent both out in the city center and on Skype. Tomorrow we have a class visit to Orsanmichele.
So on we go : )