Siena! A city so beautiful that the historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation’s most visited tourist attractions, with over 169,000 international arrivals in 2008 but with very little effort you blindly take a side street and in the next instant your world away from the tour groups and microphones. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio.
Siena retains a ward-centric culture from medieval times that is completely fascinating to outsiders such as myself. The contradas (like what i’d call a suburbs) are city neighbourhoods originally formed as battalions for the city’s defence. Each is represented by an animal or mascot, and has its own boundary and distinct identity. Ward rivalries are most rampant during the annual horse race (Palio) in the Piazza del Campo. Though often a brutal and dangerous competition for horse and bare-back rider alike, the city thrives on the pride this competition brings. The Palio is in no way put on as a tourist event as a true Sienese regards this in an almost tribal way, with passions and rivalry that are similar to, but far surpass that found at a football ‘Derby’ match.
Siena, like other Tuscan hill towns, was first settled in the time of the Etruscans (c. 900-400 BC) when it was inhabited by a tribe called the Saina. A Roman town called Saena Julia was founded at the site in the time of the Emperor Augustus.
The Roman origin accounts for the town’s emblem: a she-wolf suckling infants Romulus and Remus. According to legend, Siena was founded by Senius, son of Remus, who was in turn the brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named.
From the around the 8th century Siena prospered as a city-state, becoming a major centre of money lending and an important player in the wool trade. During the early 13th century the majority of the construction of the incredible black and white marbled Siena Cathedral (Duomo) was completed. It was also during this period that the Piazza del Campo, now regarded as one of the most beautiful civic spaces in Europe, grew in importance as the centre of secular life. The pride of the Senese people and richness of their history have ensured that many longstanding traditions have been passed down and thrive year after year. A wonderful thing to observe and share
On wednesday morning i felt both a pang of sadness for saying goodbye to Torino and anticipatory excitement to be “on the road again”. We said goodbye to our incredble welcoming and hospitable host Marco from the Al Porta Susa B&B and lugged our bags to the Turin train station where we boarded out train to Milan. After 1 1/2 hours of catching up on the economist we leapt off with our bags and rushed to another platform to catch our next train to Florence. In Florence we had even LESS time, about 5 minutes, and made a mad dash to our Siena bound train with was making noises as and blowing whistles as we jumped aboard, hurling up our luggage in a very comical fashion – But we made it!
Having left Turin at about 11am we arrived at the Siena station to get a taxi to our Agriturismo dwelling at about 5:30pm.
Our home for about 2 weeks is just outside Siena (a 4km walk) and is an old farmhouse turned into accommodation for a maximum of about 12 people.
I even spotted these incredible and highly elusive colorful birds – i have no idea what they are called and spent a LONG time tracking their distant ducking and diving to snap this somewhat blurry photo to share with you
and the wonderful location in which it is placed
Too tired from the days travel to go into town or grocery shop (we have a little kitchen in our room), for dinner we were treated to an amazing 5 course Sienese feast. It consisted of a selection of homemade antipasti, an asparagus pasta dish, a turkey dish, pecorino cheese with their own caramelized jam and then some almond based sweets. Each was coupled with one of their wines that they produce either here or on their other vineyard in San Gimignano. I’ll be sure to observe our host when she next cooks and take notes as it was all mouthwateringly good!