Sunday, April 8, 2007

Graduation Gift -- Italy (Part III)

After our visit to Padova and Bologna, we were on our way to Siena for the Palio. Now I don't want to repeat myself on the subject of Siena, about which I've spoken in this post, but I hope to add something different for you.

We three Canadians and the three Italians travelled from Bologna to Siena, because Carlo never misses a Palio, if he can help it.

Each contrada or district has its own church and its own museum where they keep all the Palio banners which the contrada has won over the years, as well as other assorted memorabilia related to the celebrated race. On the day of the race, July 2nd, we went first to visit the museum of Carlo's contrada, Istrice or Hedgehog and then waited by the church for the horse to arrive to receive the blessing. Fortunately Istrice was running on this occasion. As I've explained before, only 10 horses can run, so 7 contrade do not take part in any given race. I'm afraid my photo of the horse, covered with his Istrice banner is too blurred to use, but he was dutifully blessed, with the priest exhorting, "Vai e torna vincitore!" Go and come back a winner!

The parade took place in the afternoon and above is my photo of several of the Istrice flag bearers who later put on a wonderful display of flag waving and throwing. Each contrada had a similar group doing the same thing in each district and with the whole town decorated with flags for the occasion it was a very colourful spectacle. My daughter was draped in an Istrice scarf that Catarina had given her and I wore a scarf supporting Montone, the Ram, Catarina's official contrada.

Siena is a walled city and all the contrade are within the walls, however many people do live outside the walls, where Mario and Catarina themselves later moved in order to find a larger apartment. I suppose these people just adopt their favourite to support, for each Sienese is born in their contrada area.

The focal point of Siena is the Town Hall, or Palazzo Pubblico, dwarfed by the bell tower, Torre del Mangia, named after its first bell ringer. The Town Hall fronts the Piazza del Campo, a large semicircular space, formerly the site of a Roman forum. It is paved with brick, in a herringbone pattern, and divided into 9 pie shaped sections. All the main streets of Siena seem to lead into this area. The piazza slopes toward the centre and, for safety's sake, on the day of the race, layers of sand are laid down around the perimeter, where the course is.

After the parade, which took place in the afternoon, the race was run in the early evening. The piazza was filled with screaming fans, who mostly could not see a thing, and that's where we stood for the race, amongst the crowds. The winner on this occasion was Oca or Goose and we streamed after the madly celebrating fans who carried the banner to their church. Here's a not so great photo of the banner, being carried through the crowd.

Now Siena is certainly famous for the Palio, but the tourists do come year around, for the city is filled with many other wonderful things to see.

Within the Palazzo Pubblico, the Town Hall business is conducted, but the upper levels contain the Museo Civico, a wonderful museum which contains frescoes by the finest Sienese painters. Lorenzetti's well known Allegories of "Good Government" and "Bad Government" frescoes are found in this space along with many fine examples of the School of Siena painters.

The unique cathedral of Siena, the Duomo, is also a treasure and considered by many Italy's greatest Gothic cathedral. Its impressive facade of white marble with black and green stripes of stone is often described as zebra like with the bell tower especially giving this impression. The interior is splendid, with its zebra like columns and the pavement is a magnificent array of different techniques of inlaid marble to form various pictures and designs. Due to the hilly terrain the baptistery, with its Baptismal Font, wonderfully carved by Jacopo della Quercia, is built underneath the cathedral and the whole space is exquisitely decorated with frescoes.

There are many other museums and churches to explore in Siena, and like Bolgona, it is often overlooked by tourists who are rushing between Florence and Rome.

One of Siena's most famous citizens was St Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of Italy, and the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina, a group of buildings, which also contains her house, may interest the visitor.

I have probably been to Siena four or five times and I don't feel as if I have exhausted its treasures.

In Part IV of this odyssey we will visit Florence and if there's space, one of my favourite places in Italy, Assisi.

Apologies for my photos, I have to scan them from 23 year old prints and then upload them. Of course the Siena Cathedral and Town Hall photos are from the web.


james higham said...

Ah, I'll look forward to Florence because I spent some time there with one Spanish girl and her Florentine friends and I have fond memories.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I've visited many parts of Italy, and found this post fascinating.

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

I love visiting Italy... wonderful article and pictures. May I wish you every happiness over Easter. Michelle

jmb said...

Hi James,
Florence is very special although rather crowded. I can't believe that the first time I went to Italy I didn't even go there.

jmb said...

Hi Jean-Luc,
You are fortunate to have visited Italy many times. As you can see many of my posts are about Italy, which has had such a big influence on my life.

jmb said...

Hi Michelle,
You are so close to Italy, which makes you very lucky, in my opinion. For me to go, it's much more of a hassle. But I've done it anyway.

the night owl said...

Wishing you and your family, a Happy Easter ....Thanks for the great pictures and story.I hope to visit Italy one day.My daughter and her husband have been there twice.
Enjoy your day. Baba

jmb said...

Hi Baba,
I hope you get there some day too.
Happy easter to you and yours

Lee said...

Thank you for taking me along with you on your trip through Italy, jmb. :)

I'm thoroughly enjoying your posts and feel as if I'm there. I look forward to Part lV.

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
I'm glad you're enjoying the posts. I'm working on Part IV.

ipanema said...

Hope you had a Happy Easter. Such vivid memories. Truly worth writing.

jmb said...

Hi ipanema,
Thank you, we did enjoy Easter but the weather was mixed.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

A lovely post, jmb. And I can't see anything wrong with your pictures! I've been to Siena but never at the time of the Palio. It is a beautiful city and reading your post, I imagine myself there again.

jmb said...

Siena is a very striking city and full of treasures. Glad you enjoyed the post.