October 17: Siena

After a WONDERFUL breakfast here, we caught the bus into Siena for the day. We knew we wanted to see the Duomo, and weren’t sure what else. Siena is built on a hill, and I just can’t do hills like I used to be able to. A combination of being out of shape and three and a half years straight of chemo, and stairs and climbing now take a lot out of me.

Once we arrived, we tried to get money out of an ATM. One of the cards that we have with us does not have a chip, and the money is in a savings account back home. Between those two complications, it has been hard to get money out. (I only mention this in case anyone is reading this blog in preparation for a trip here. You need to know this.)

On our walk to the Duomo, we came across the church San Domenico. Admission is free, so we went in to look around. The church was built in 1226 in honor of Saint Catherine. It is not a particularly large church, and the exterior is very plain. However, inside is the morbidly fascinating preserved thumb and head of Catherine (authenticated, they say). I think it is pretty cool that someone who died over 800 years ago is giving a thumbs up for eternity.

We started to walk to the Duomo, but it is on the top of a high hill. We got information on which bus to take. When the bus stopped, he told us to take the “escalera electrica” (esclator), and refused to let us on the bus. I got a bit frustrated, had a moment of feeling sorry for myself, and then found the escalator and we took it up. It was actually a series of escalators, and was a great way to get up. Frustration over. When we got to the Duomo, of course there is the moment of first sight that takes your breath away. We rested, took pics of the exterior, had a snack, bought our tickets, and went in. The Duomo was built between 1215 and 1263, and is Gothic in archtecture. Grand plans were made in the 1300’s to add on and make it the “largest cathedral in Christendom”. Sadly, the Black Death of 1348 killed 2 out of every 3 people in Siena. The town never recovered and never became the city that planners had dreamed of.

The interior of the church is done in white and greenish-black marble, the official colors of Siena (long story, look it up). It is darker, not doing much with the use of natural light that was done so well at the Duomo in Como. However, the artwork is hard to beat. Works by Donatello, Bernini, and Michaelangelo are found alongside other well-known Italian artists. On the floor are 59 panels/works of art as well. In order to make the floor as visible as possible, most of the pews have been removed. Inside of the Doumo is a single room library, which houses manuscripts that were done by hand over 600 years ago. The walls and ceiling in that room are also spectacular!

After leaving the Duomo, we had a bite to eat at a bakery on the plaza, and headed back down to the Piazza (Plaza) del Campo. There is a lovely fountain there, and a four-columned square structure called the Capella della Piazza. It was built in thanks for the end of the Plague of 348, and also with the hopes that it might never return.

We sampled some amazing pestos and treats in a store, and finally arrived at our bus. No need for a bus or escalator after the Duomo; it was all (mostly) downhill.

We stopped by the supermarket and picked up a few items for dinner. We have begun planning the rest of our days here, with Florence next in our sights. We have been told and have found in our research that purchasing tickets ahead for the Ufizzi Gallery will save a lot of time, and there are no tickets left for tomorrow, so tomorrow will be a local day, with planning and ticket-buying to flesh out the rest of our time in Italy.

Saint Catherine’s head (full disclosure: these are not my photographs; they do not allow photography inside, so I bought postcards and took photos of the postcards). The top photo is of the altar. The bottom is a detail of the part of the altar that contains her mummified head.

The Duomo’s front exterior:

Scenes from inside:

This is a one of the ceilings inside. The middle is referred to as the “Occulus”, or eye.

One of the floor art panels.

One of many Popes interred here.  This was Alexander III.

The bottom four sculptures are by Michaelangelo

One of the manuscripts in the library. There are many pages, and each page is easily at least 12″ x 24″ large.

The ceiling in the library

A mosaic in the Chigi Chapel; this chapel was designed by Bernini.  Each piece of the mosaic (which is taller than I am) is about the size of a fingernail. 

Here you can see the black and white design on the inside

Motorcycles, motorcycles, motorcycles.  There is not much parking in the city, so many people drive in to work on a cycle, and this is one of the main parking areas.

A perfect ending to a great day!

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