The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Quick Look at Siena

On our previous trips to Italy Diane and I had never visited Siena, a little gem of a city in Tuscany. We had certainly wanted to spend some time there and kept telling ourselves, "Maybe next time," but events always conspired against us and Siena never seemed to find its way onto our itinerary. On our recent cruise, however, the ship made a stop in Livorno and among the advertised excursions was a bus ride through the Tuscan countryside, including a tour of little Siena. This, of course, is the major problem with cruises, at least from my perspective. The ship is never in any one port long enough to see anything more than the usual tourist attractions. One barely gets a taste for the places visited, and one certainly doesn't get to know the people. But we wanted to visit Siena, so we bought tickets for the bus trip and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, when we arose that morning it had already started to rain, and by the time we boarded the bus it was raining steadily. It's hard enough to see and appreciate the beautiful Tuscan countryside from a moving bus, but it's virtually impossible when a heavy rain is beating against the windows. The photo below gives you an idea of what we saw as we passed through one tiny village after another...not much. (Actually it's a pretty cool photo.)
Doorway in a Tuscan village, viewed through the rain
And so we suffered through two hours of rain-obscured views. To our surprise and delight, however, as soon as we arrived in Siena the rain stopped. And within a few minutes the heavy overcast dissipated and the sun began to peak through the remaining clouds. The weather got progressively better and we were blessed with beautiful blue skies for much of our visit.
Nun leaving the Basilica Cateriniana di San Domenico
Our first stop was the Basilica of  San Domenico, a beautiful Gothic church dating from the 13th century. Inside are several relics of St. Catherine of Siena, including her head. We discovered this fact on our first visit to Rome some years ago. When we entered Rome's only Gothic church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, we encountered the body of St. Catherine under the high altar. It was then we learned that her head was in her home town of Siena. Since Diane has a particular devotion to the saint, it was important to pay a visit to San Domenico when we arrived in town. Photos of any kind (with or without flash) are not permitted in the basilica, so I can post no photos of the church's interior (or of Catherine's head). Let me say only that the church boasts many beautiful works of art, any one of which would be worth a visit. The basilica also has its own website on which you can view both its interior and exterior. Here's a link to the English version: Basilica Cateriniana di San Domenico. (Check out the "history" page.)
Facade of Siena's Cathedral

We then made our way through a rabbitt warren of medieval alleys that pass for streets in Siena. It's really a city for pedestrians since many of the alleyways are simply too narrow for most vehicles. Eventually we arrived at the Cathedral. Begun in the 12th century, but worked on well into the 14th century, it's one of those Romanesque-Gothic churches that are so pleasing to the eye. It's colorful facade and the mix of white and black marble remind me of the duomo in Orivieto, a walled Umbrian city about an hour north of Rome. We spent quite a while in the cathedral and, naturrally, I took far too many photos.
Enjoying the sunshine in the Piazza del Campo

From the Cathedral we walked to what is Siena's most famous spot, the Piazza Del Campo, a large bowl-like piazza where the Palio horse race is held. It's really quite a beautiful piazza and we spent some time there enjoying a nice lunch along with some excellent Tuscan wine. Other than a few quick stops in some of the local shops, that was all we had time for. We were thankful for the fine weather and hoped to see a little of that Tuscan countryside on our return trip to Livorno. But wouldn't you know it! As soon as we climbed aboard the bus, it began to rain once more and continued until we arrived back at the ship. We shall return.

I've included a few more photos of Siena below...
An alleyway in Siena
Column in the Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Inside the dome of the Siena Cathedral
The Palazzo Pubblico on the Piazza del Campo
A true "Euro-Cool" couple -- coffee and cigarettes on the Campo

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