Siena appears to be monochromatic, and it may, in fact, literally be. But I swoon at the thought of Siena. Tourists are crammed within its medieval walls, yet, there is something alluring and goddamn beautiful about it. Siena was a strong military power in the 1300's but it was eventually conquered by its rival city of Firenze (Florence) 70 miles north. We only had a day in Siena but we thoroughly enjoyed it. Meandering through its narrow alleys, climbing cobblestoned hills every so often, I can't stop saying it - Siena is captivating.
It is one of those rare Italian towns where we did not need a map. We did not care what the streets were called. The grid was pretty easy to understand. Everything radiated from the cathedral and Il Campo (the main square). You'll know you've wandered too far when you've crossed the wall.
Siena was filled with small mom-and-pop shops, bars (in Italy, a bar is actually where one gets coffee), cozy restaurants. It was delightful just window shopping, observing local life mingling with tourism, and to be honest, in Siena, the lines between the two were blurry to me.
But what I loved most of all in Siena are the signs of life, the hum of everyday life, laundry hanging out to dry, shutters opening and closing, the noise of people working on sewer lines, the hustle of motorcyclists trying to get to work. Signs that people actually still live here and it has been consecutively inhabited since the 1 AD or perhaps even longer. It is not some diorama of an extinct society. It is here as much as it was thousands of years ago. That idea is so romantic to me and I felt a sharp pang of postal code envy.
On an empty street, I wandered into a calligrapher's shop. The sign at the door said feel free to nose around, and I took that liberty. They had piles of old books, stacks of old crispy paper, with the most beautiful of handwriting. Written lovingly. By hand. I picked up a book. I believe it was Don Quixote in Italian. I could not resist the urge. I closed my eyes and held it to my nose.
Perhaps this is why I have a soft spot for Siena. It is a world where traditions still live, where people still write by hand, where paper is not in its last gasping breath. Technology has changed our lives exponentially and it is not stopping anytime soon. It is comforting to know that in a world where our cars would be self-driving us in our lifetime, there is still a place like Siena, where life is still lived the way I know it.
Duomo di Siena
Duomo di Siena is the biggest, grandest building in central Siena, built in the 11th century. The exterior looks mighty impressive, but it is as beautiful, if not more, on the inside. Masterpieces of Michelangelo, Donatello, Bernini and Pisano can be found in the same place it has been for many centuries.
Il Campo competes with Il Duomo for the most prominent skyline views in Siena. Back in the medieval times, prominent families competed with each other by building high towers. They signify power and wealth. The old town radiates from this piazza and around it are cafes and bars with outdoor seating perfect for a break or people-watching. It is supposedly one of the most beautiful town squares in Tuscany. In the summertime, they hold horse races in the main piazza, which they call "Il Palio".