May 30, 2012: Florence, Italy: Day Two
May 28, 2012: Florence, Italy: Day One
Return to the Index for Our Week in Florence and Rome

Page Index
May 29
Siena/San Gimignano, Italy

    To Siena
    A Walk Through Siena
    Siena Doors and Doorknobs
    To San Gimignano
    San Gimignano
    San Gimignano Doors and Doorknobs
    Back to Florence

May 29, 2012
Siena, Italy
San Gimignano, Italy


Today is our first full day in Florence, and we will spend it by taking a bus tour to two towns south of here- Siena and San Gimignano. Greg had looked online at available tours, so we knew where to go to buy our tickets and catch the bus; it was right back over by the train station. We had a bit of breakfast at Casa Rovai and then headed off to the embarkation point.


The Bus Ride to Siena

We were at the bus and waiting with tickets in hand by 8:45, and boarded the bus shortly after. Departure was a 9AM and we were off.

We left the city to the south, crossing the Arno one bridge further east than we'd crossed on foot yesterday. The bus had to stop in the middle of the bridge, allowing Fred to get a closeup view of Pont del Vecchio. We passed through the old city walls and went immediately around a traffic circle. In the island in the middle there was a statue of a woman with something on her head. We couldn't make out what it was, and my research hasn't turned it up.

It was hard for me to tell which way were going when we got out to the highway, although now I can see the relationship of Siena to Florence. I had the impression we were going east, but in fact we were headed south.

The trip down to Siena took about an hour. The day cleared up and there were some decent views of the Italian countryside between the two cities. Use the clickable thumnbnails below to see a few of the pictures that Fred took out the window of the bus as we rode down to Siena:

About ten-thirty, we came into a bus parking area on the west side of Siena, near some of the old city walls.

As I have done before with walks we have taken, I'd like to provide you with the opportunity to follow us along through Siena, so I have created a large aerial view of the town (or at least the portion we covered). If you will click on the button at left, that view will open in a separate window so you can both follow us along and read these album pages. I've marked both our route and some of the major sites we stopped at. (And I think this aerial view is particularly interesting, as it is one of Google Maps' "45° views," in which the buildings are viewed at a 45° angle making them stand out in three dimensions. Very cool. When we get back to the bus after our tour, you can close the window. I'll remind you when we get back.

You can return to today's index or continue with the next section below.


Our Walk Through Siena

We are going to spend a few hours here in Siena and we are going to see a lot. I'm not going to bother with an index into the Siena walk, but I will divide the walk up into sections to make it a bit easier to follow. If you are going to follow us on the aerial view, the bus park is in the upper left corner. After you've opened the aerial view, let's pause for a moment to lay a little historical groundwork.


A Capsule History of Siena

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. The Etruscans were an advanced people who changed the face of central Italy through their use of irrigation to reclaim previously unfarmable land, and their custom of building their settlements in well-defended hill forts. A Roman town called Saena Julia was founded at the site in the time of the Emperor Augustus. The first document mentioning it dates from AD 70. Some archaeologists assert that Siena was controlled for a period by a Gaulish tribe called the Senones.

Modern-Day Siena, Italy

Siena did not prosper under Roman rule. It was not sited near any major roads and lacked opportunities for trade. Its insular status meant that Christianity did not penetrate until the 4th century AD, and it was not until the Lombards invaded Siena and the surrounding territory that it knew prosperity. After the Lombard occupation, the old Roman roads of Via Aurelia and the Via Cassia passed through areas exposed to Byzantine raids, so the Lombards rerouted much of their trade between the Lombards' northern possessions and Rome along a more secure road through Siena. Siena prospered as a trading post, and the constant streams of pilgrims passing to and from Rome provided a valuable source of income in the centuries to come.

The oldest aristocratic families in Siena date their line to the Lombards' surrender in 774 to Charlemagne. At this point, the city was inundated with a swarm of Frankish overseers who married into the existing Sienese nobility and left a legacy that can be seen in the abbeys they founded throughout Sienese territory. Feudal power waned however, and by the death of Countess Matilda in 1115 the border territory of the Mark of Tuscia which had been under the control of her family, the Canossa, broke up into several autonomous regions. This ultimately resulted in the creation of the Republic of Siena.

The Republic existed for over four hundreds years, from the late 11th century until the year 1555. At the Italian War, the republic was defeated by the rival Duchy of Florence in alliance with the Spanish crown. After 18 months of resistance, the Republic of Siena surrendered to Spain on 17 April 1555, marking its end. The new Spanish King Philip, owing huge sums to the Medici, ceded the former republic (apart a series of coastal fortresses annexed to the State of Presidi) to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to which it belonged until the unification of Italy in the 19th century.

The picturesque city of Siena remains an important cultural center, especially for humanist disciplines.

With that history in mind, let's begin our tour of Siena.


To the Gates of Siena

Our tour bus parked in an area just below the walls of the old Fort Santa Barbara and our group then walked north into La Lizza- a public park north of the Siena Sports Complex (we actually had to walk around that complex to get to the point we would enter the city proper.

La Lizza is a fairly large public park and square, north of the historic center. It lies just north of the Fortezza (Forte) di Santa Barbara and the Stadio Comunale (sports stadium). It is named after the Lizza Fountain which contains goldfish, turtles and ducks. It was also the home of two swans, named Romeo and Juliet.

We only walked across the southern edge of the park to get over to the town, but we did see some interesting things on the way. One was an interesting sculpture of mare and foal (see picture at left). (Fred also got a closeup of the sculpture.

The park's most prominent statue is the equestrian statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. This work was installed in 1911 on the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Italy (1861). It was made by Raffaello Romanelli, an italian sculptor. On the relief in the base of this statue is the symbol of Siena, Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, being cared for by a she-wolf. This statue is situated just south of the War Memorial, which is dedicated to the Italians from the province who have lost their lives in the two world wars.

At the east side of the park we crossed the street and came south just a bit where our tour guide stopped to tell us a bit about Siena and set the timing for our walk through town. I knew that we would probably not stick close to her all through the tour, so we simply asked and found out that we would be meeting up again in the Piazza Il Campo (perhaps Siena's most iconic location) at 3PM.


Following Via Malavolti to Piazza Salimbeni

Once we'd gotten our orientation, we headed off to the south along Via Malavolti, passing a local newsstand on the way.

Sallustio Bandini

From Via Malavolti, we turned a corner and came into the Piazza Salimbeni. This rectangular Piazza is formed by three buildings and has in its center the statue of the archdeacon Sallustio Bandini, champion of economic freedom, who died in 1780. It is the work of the Sienese sculptor Tito Sarocchi who made it in 1882.

Behind the Bandini statue in the picture at left is the Palazzo Salimbeni, a notable building and also the medieval headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, one of the oldest banks in continuous existence and a major player in the Sienese economy. Palazza Salimbeni dates from the mid-14th century, and is the dominant feature of the piazza. In 1879 it was restored and enlarged in the neo-Gothic style by Giuseppe Partini. Monte dei Paschi is one of the Italy's principal banks, established in 1624 by incorporating the Monte Pio bank which had been founded in 1472.

The name "Monte dei Paschi" is derived from the Italian word "pascoli," meaning "pastures." The bank's financial operations were guaranteed by the income from the pastures of the Maremma district, which at the time belonged to the state. To the right of Palazzo Salimbeni is the Palazzo Spannocchi, built in the Renaissance style by the Florentine architect, Giuliano da Maiano in 1470, but completed with the façade in this piazza in 1880 by Giuseppe Partini. Opposite that building is Palazzo Cantucci, built in 1548 by Bartolomeo Neroni.

Fred took some interesting pictures of the building details here in the Piazza, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to look at some of them:

An interesting piece of Siena's history is exemplified here in Piazza Salimbeni. Centuries ago, Siena, like many Italian towns, had a relatively small number of extended "families" or "contrada." These families typically lived in contiguous areas that were served by a shared water source. These contrada may have been extended by the import of husbands or wives from other places, but each traditional contrada boundary maintained a "nuclear" relationship based on the sharing of a daily water source.

The necessity and meaning of this water-source-based identity is long gone, but the "contrada fountains" continue to provide a successful means of incorporating traditional Contrada membership into modern life. In the 20th century, and the 21st, the enduring connection of individual Senese to their historical water system is symbolized by their baptismal initiation on their contrada’s annual Saint’s Day and at their contrada's "fountain." This festival occasion brings families and neighbors together to celebrate their relationships to one another and to their community. So these "fountains" (which are not always water sources), established in the latter half of the 20th century, serve the purpose of bringing communities together.

One of the original contradas was named "Drago." Although the actual family is long gone, the members of that community inaugurated their "fountain" in 1977. Fountains usually incorporated a totemic dragon- one of the symbols of the Province of Siena- but the Drago fountain, created by sculptor Vico Consorti, does not feature one. Rather, it depicts a boy playing a game of “pallone,” racing a collection of balls. In the statue, the only ball actually bearing colors is the winning one, carrying Drago’s red and green.

We left Piazza Salimbeni by a street named Banchi di Sopra to continue into old Siena. At this point, we were headed in the direction of Piazza del Campo.


Following Via Banchi di Sopra to Piazza del Campo

From Piazza Salimbeni, we continued south along Via Banchi di Sopra, admiring the architecture and building adornment as we went. After a few "blocks," we came to the Piazza Tolomei. The first thing we saw was a tall pedestal in the center of the plaza, and atop it a dog-like creature and two children. This is the famous Sienese Wolf.

The Emblem of Siena

This particular sculpture of Siena's emblem was created in 1610- it is a she-wolf suckling the 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. Statues and other artwork depicting a she-wolf suckling the young twins Romulus and Remus can be seen all over the city of Siena; the one here is among the larger and more notable.

(Although many scholars relate the name of the town to the son of Remus, other etymologies derive the name from the Etruscan family name "Saina," the Roman family name of the "Saenii," or the Latin word "senex" ("old") or the derived form "seneo", "to be old".)

On the west, the piazza is dominated by the splendid Palazzo Tolomei. The palazzo was built around the middle of the 1200s to house the Clique of the Tolomei (the powerful Sienese family hostile to the Salimberi) and later rebuilt after a ruinous fire. It has a refined façade with bifora (two-arched) windows and a large living room on the ground floor that we can see today. On the opposite side of the square the neo-classical façade of the Church of Saint Christopher stands out. The church is among the oldest in Siena, and between the twelfth and thirteenth century was the seat of the great Council of the Republic, the Council of the Bell. The church was notably damaged by the earthquake of 1798; today the church has a new facade, including new sculptures, but has been made somewhat shorter. The cloister annex to the church, probably from the beginning of the 1200s, was also heavily altered during the restoration of 1921.

Further down from Piazza Tolomei, we came to an intersection with the the street that is one block away from Piazza del Campo; it formed an semi-circle around that plaza. Six or seven passageways lead through this block to the Piazza del Campo. We'll follow one in a minute, but first we want to go into the next block to see the elegant Loggia della Mercanzia.

Columns and Ceiling of the Loggia della Mercanzia

The loggia is typical of Senese architecture in its transition from Medieval to Renaissance– a development that was slower in this city than in the rest of Italy and that is marked by the persistence of gothic details. The Loggia della Mercanzia is directly behind Piazza del Campo, at a point known as the Croce del Travaglio- the intersection of the three main streets around which Siena is developed: Banchi di Sopra, Banchi di Sotto (a branch of the old Via Francigena that ran through the city) and Via di Città.

Designed by Sano di Matteo and Pietro del Minella between 1417 and 1428, the Gothic-Renaissance Loggia della Mercanzia is composed of a spacious loggia with three arches supported above richly adorned columns and capitols. The loggia also has an incredibly beautiful ceiling. The original construction was extended in the 17th century with the addition of tabernacles placed against the supporting columns, containing 15th century statues by Vecchietta, who sculpted a St. Paul in 1458 and a St. Peter in 1460. You can see both Saint Paul and Saint Peter here. Antonio Federighi is responsible for the St. Savino, the St. Ansano and the St. Vittore, all sculpted between 1456 and 1463. The marble slabs within the loggia are decorated with reliefs: illustrious Romansand cardinal virtues.

We returned to the passageway just north of the loggia, and headed into Piazza del Campo.


Morning in Piazza del Campo

The Piazza del Campo is the principal public space of the historic center of Siena, and is regarded as one of Europe's greatest medieval squares. It is renowned worldwide for its beauty and architectural integrity. The Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia, as well as various private palazzi surround the shell-shaped piazza. At the northwest edge is the Fonte Gaia. The twice-a-year horse race, Palio di Siena, is held around the edges of the piazza. We entered the Piazza through the passageway just north of the Loggia della Mercanzia.

Torre del Mangia/Palazzo Pubblico
Loading the player...
Looking Around Piazza del Campo

The open site was a marketplace established before the thirteenth century on a sloping site near the meeting point of the three hillside communities that coalesced to form Siena: the Castellare, the San Martino and the Camollia.

It was paved in 1349 in fishbone-patterned red brick with ten lines of travertine, which divide the piazza into nine sections, radiating from the mouth of the gavinone (the central water drain) in front of the Palazzo Pubblico. The number of divisions are held to be symbolic of the rule of The Nine (Noveschi) who laid out the campo and governed Siena at the height of its mediaeval splendor between 1292-1355.

The Piazza del Campo was and remains the focal point of public life in the City. From the piazza, eleven narrow shaded streets radiate into the city.

The palazzi signorili that line the square, housing prominent families of the Sansedoni, have unified rooflines, in contrast to earlier tower houses— emblems of communal strife. (We will see some of these tower houses later on today when we visit San Gimignano.) The statutes of Siena implemented an early set of architectural restrictions, such as many communities have today:

  " responds to the beauty of the city of Siena and to the satisfaction of almost all people of the same city that any edifices that are to be made anew anywhere along the public thoroughfares...proceed in line with the existent buildings and one building not stand out beyond another, but they shall be disposed and arranged equally so as to be of the greatest beauty for the city."  

The morning light was not conducive to good pictures of the Torre Mangia; the one at left was the best of those we took. Fortunately, we'll be meeting back here to meet up with out tour guide again later today, and I hope we will get better pictures then. Fred did get up close to the base of the tower to photograph the sculptures on its columns. He also took some good pictures around the plaza this morning- notably of some of the decorative features of the Torre Mangia. You can use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at some of them:

The third major element in the Piazza (aside from the Torre and the Palazzi) is the Fonte Gaia ("Fountain of Joy"), built in 1419 as an endpoint of the system of conduits bringing water to the city's centre.

There are clickable thumbnails at left for some of Fred's pictures of the Fonte Gaia; it replaced an earlier fountain completed about 1342 when the water conduits were completed. Under the direction of the Committee of Nine, many miles of tunnels were constructed to bring water in aqueducts to fountains and thence to drain to the surrounding fields. The present fountain is a rectangular basin that is adorned on three sides with many bas-reliefs; the Madonna is surrounded by Classical and Christian Virtues. The white marble Fonte Gaia was originally designed and built by Jacopo della Quercia, whose bas-reliefs from the basin's sides are conserved in the Ospedale di St. Maria della Scala in Piazza Duomo. The former sculptures were replaced in 1866 by free copies by Tito Sarrocchi, who omitted Jacopo della Quercia's two nude statues of Rhea Silvia and Acca Larentia, which the nineteenth-century city fathers found too pagan or too nude. When they were set up in 1419, Jacopo della Quercia's nude figures were the first two female nudes, who were neither Eve nor a repentant saint, to stand in a public place since Antiquity.

For my part, I did one of my panoramic views of the fountain- stitched together from four separate pictures. That view is below:


Piazza del Campo to the Duomo

The next portion of our Siena tour will take us from Piazza del Campo to the Siena Cathedral (the Duomo). We left the Piazza del Campo via a sloping street at the northwest corner of the piazza. Halfway up that street, I could look back and get a good view of Torre di Mangia as the sunlight begins to creep closer and make it more visible.

A Shop along Via di Citta

Once outside the piazza, we turned left to head south along the Via di Citta (one of the three original main streets of the town). Via di Citta was a typical Siena street- entirely pedestrian and quite narrow. It curved around the Piazza del Campo and then curved again to the right. Of the many pictures we took along Via di Citta, I'd like to just include a small selection here. Use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at some of the street scenes along Via di Citta:

About fifteen minutes down Via di Citti we came to a side street to the right named Via del Castoro. This led us directly towards the Duomo. Just before coming out into the plaza that surrounds the large Cathedral, we passed through what looked like an incomplete church facade. As it turned out, that was pretty much what it was. But at some point, a parapet was put up on top, and from that vantage point there are incredible views out across Siena. A bit later on, we'll find out about this, and of course will have to make our way up there to check it out.


Piazza del Duomo and the Duomo di Siena

The Cathedral of Siena was from its earliest days a Roman Catholic Marian church and is now dedicated to the Most Holy Mary of Assumption. The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projecting transept, a dome and a bell tower. The dome rises from a hexagonal base with supporting columns. The lantern atop the dome was added by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The nave is separated from the two aisles by semicircular arches. The exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the façade. Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, etiologically linked to black and white horses of the legendary city's founders, Senius and Aschius.


The origins of the first structure are obscure and shrouded in legend. There was a 9th century church with bishop's palace at the present location. In December 1058 a synod was held in that church resulting in the election of pope Nicholas II and the deposition of the antipope Benedict X. In 1196, the construction of a new cathedral was begun with the north-south transcept. By 1215 there were already daily masses said in the new church. There are records from 1226 onwards of the transport of black and white marble, probably for the construction of the façade and the bell tower. The vaults and the transept were constructed in 1259-1260. In 1264, a copper sphere was put on top of the dome.

A second massive addition of the main body of the cathedral was planned in 1339. It would have more than doubled the size of the structure by means of an entirely new nave and two aisles ranged perpendicular to the existing nave and centered on the high altar. The construction was begun but halted just a few years later because of the Black Death in 1348. Basic errors in the construction were already evident by then, however, and the work was never resumed. The outer walls of the extension remain, and it was this outer wall that we came through on Via del Castoro. The floor of the uncompleted nave is now covered by a parking lot and a museum. As we came through the wall, we could easily see where stained glass windows would have been.

As we came through the archway of this incomplete wall, we could see the cathedral ahead of us, along with its four major architectural elements- the facade, nave, bell tower and dome. You can see the view that presented itself to us here.

  The Facade

The facade of the Duomo is one of the most fascinating in all of Italy and certainly one of the most impressive sights in Siena. Each of the cardinal points (west, east, north, and south) has its own distinct work; by far the most impressive of these is the West Facade. Acting as the main entryway to the Duomo proper, it boasts three portals- the central one is capped by a bronzework sun.

The Facade of the Duomo of Siena

Built in two stages and combining elements of French Gothic, Tuscan Romanesque, and Classical architecture, the West Facade is a beautiful example of Sienanese workmanship. Work began on the lower part around 1284. Built using polychrome marble, the work was overseen by Giovanni Pisano. The lower portion of the facade is designed from Giovanni’s original plans. Built in Tuscan Romanesque style it emphasizes a horizontal unity of the area around the portals at the expense of the vertical bay divisions. The three portals, surmounted by lunettes, are based on Giovanni Pisano’s original designs, as are much of the sculpture and orientation surrounding the entrances. The areas around and above the doors, as well as the columns between the portals, are richly decorated with acanthus scrolls, allegorical figures and biblical scenes.

As we learn about the facade, you might want to see some of Fred's excellent views of it; use the clickable thumbnails below to do so:

Pisano was able to oversee his work until about 1296 when he abruptly left Siena, reportedly over creative differences with the Opera del Duomo, the group that oversaw the construction and maintenance of the Siena cathedrals. His work on the lower facade continued under Camino di Crescentino, but a number of changes were made to the original plan. These included raising the facade due to the raising of the nave of the church and the instillation of a larger rose window commissioned by the city of Siena. Work on the West Facade came to an abrupt end in 1317 when the Opera del Duomo redirected all efforts to the East Facade.

Most scholars agree that the upper facade was finished sometime between 1360 and 1370; Pisano’s plans were again used, but with some adaptations made by Giovanni di Cecco. Di Cecco preferred more elaborate designs; also, the facade needed to be much higher than foreseen as the nave had, once again, been raised. It is commonly assumed that the changes needed to accommodate the raised nave and di Cecco's more elaborate design scheme, caused the apparent division of the upper portion of the cathedral. Most noticeably the pinnacles of the upper portion do not continue from the columns flanking the central portal as they normally would in such cathedrals. Instead they are substantially offset, resulting in an uncommon vertical discontinuity; this can lead to structural weakness. To compensate, the towers on each side of the cathedral were opened and lightened by adding windows.

While most of the sculpture decorating the lower level of the lavish facade was sculpted by Pisano and depicted prophets, philosophers and apostles, the more Gothic statuary adorning the upper portion, including the half-length statues of the patriarchs in the niches around the rose window, are works of later, unattributed, sculptors. Almost all the statuary adorning the cathedral today are copies. The originals are kept in the Duomo Museum behind and to the right of the Cathedral.

Three large mosaics on the gables of the façade were made in Venice in 1878. The large central mosaic is the "Coronation of the Virgin;" the smaller mosaics on each side are the "Nativity of Jesus" and the "Presentation of Mary in the Temple." The bronze central door is a recent addition to the cathedral, replacing the original wooden one. The large door was commissioned in 1946 near the end of the German occupation of Siena. The scenes on the door represent the Glorification of the Virgin, Siena’s patron saint. On the left corner pier of the facade is a 14th century inscription marking Pisano's grave. Next to the façade stands a column with a statue of a wolf breast-feeding Romulus and Remus. According to local legend, Senius and Aschius, sons of Remus and founders of Siena, stole the statue from the Temple of Apollo in Rome.

  The Nave

The interior of the Sienna Duomo was, perhaps, the most ornate, most richly-decorated, and most interesting of any cathedral we have been in on any of our cruises and trips- and even surpasses those that I had visited in the years I was traveling on business. We'll spend a fair amount of time here because there was so much to see (so much that we weren't able to see all of it).

In the nave, the pictorial effect of the black and white marble stripes on the walls and columns strikes the eye. Black and white are the colours of the civic coat of arms of Siena. The capitals of the columns in the west bays of the nave are sculpted with allegorical busts and animals. The horizontal moulding around the nave and the presbytery contains 172 plaster busts of popes dating from the 15th and 16th centuries starting with St. Peter and ending with Lucius III. The spandrels of the round arches below this cornice exhibit the busts of 36 emperors. The vaulted roof is decorated in blue with golden stars, replacing frescoes on the ceiling, while the ribs are adorned with richly elaborated motifs. I made a movie here in the nave, and you can watch it with the player below:

Loading the player...
In the Nave of the Siena Duomo

The interior of the Cathedral is complex in its design, for all the apparent simplicy of the main nave and transcept. Having a copy of the plan here will help you distinguish the various parts of the cathedral that we visited.

Here is the key to the plan diagram at left:

  1. Antonio Federighi Holy Water Stoups
  2. Raffaello Vanni St. Francis de Sales
  3. Pier Dandini Saint Catherine
  4. Bell Tower
  5. Gian Luigi Bernini Madonna del Voto Chapel
  6. Luigi Mussini Saint Crescentius
  7. Alessandro Casolani Nativity
  8. Wooden Choir
  9. Duccio di Buoninsegna Stained Glass Window
  10. Baldassare Peruzzi Main Altar
  11. Donatello Bishop Pecci's Tomb
  12. Domenico Beccafumi Angel Candelabra Holders
  13. Nicola Pisano Pulpit
  14. Francesco Vanni Saint Ansanus
  15. Donatello St. John the Baptist
  16. Piccolomini Library
  17. Andrea Bregno Piccolomini Altar
  18. Pavement
  19. Sacristy

The stained-glass round window in the choir was made in 1288 to the designs of Duccio. It is one of the earliest remaining examples of Italian stained glass. The round stained-glass window in the façade dates from 1549 and represents the Last Supper. It is the work of Pastorino de' Pastorini.

Standing close to the entrance and looking up above the heads of the tourists, the view we had of the nave was, to put it mildly, impressive. The ornate ceilings coupled contrasted with the black-and-white stripe motif on the columns, but the overall effect was amazing. Use the clickable thumbnails below to see a few more of the pictures Fred took in the nave:

The hexagonal dome is topped with Bernini's gilded lantern, like a golden sun. The trompe l'oeil coffers were painted in blue with golden stars in the late 15th century. Fred was able to get pretty much right under the dome and use his zoom to see up into the interior of the cupola, where the blue star motif was repeated. You can see that view here. The colonnade in the drum is adorned with images and statues of 42 patriarchs and prophets, painted in 1481. The eight stucco statues in the spandrels beneath the dome were sculpted in 1490 by Ventura di Giuliano and Bastiano di Francesco. Originally they were polychromed, but later, in 1704, gilded. You can see a couple more pictures of some other of these statues here and here.

We walked towards the front of the church to the point where we could see the marble high altar of the presbytery; it was built in 1532 by Baldassarre Peruzzi. The enormous bronze ciborium to the left of the altar is the work of Vecchietta; it was originally commissioned for a church across the square, but it was brought to the cathedral in 1506. Against the pillars of the presbytery there are eight candelabras in the form of angels by Domenico Beccafumi (1548–1550); he also painted the frescoes, representing Saints and Paradise, on the walls in the apse. These frescoes along with other paintings, wooden choir stalls, statues and busts all created in the 14th and 15th centuries, decorate the apse.



The pulpit is made of Carrara marble and was sculpted between the end of 1265 and November 1268 by Nicola Pisano and several other artists. This pulpit expresses the northern Gothic style adopted by Pisano, while still showing his classical influences. The whole message of the pulpit is concerned with the doctrine of Salvation and the Last Judgment. In the top level seven scenes narrate the Life of Christ. The many figures in each scene with their chiaroscuro effect, show a richness of surface, motion and narrative. On the middle level statuettes of the Evangelists and Prophets announce the salvation of mankind. The pulpit itself is the earliest remaining work in the cathedral. The staircase dates from 1543 and was built by Bartolomeo Neroni. At the same time, the pulpit was moved from the choir to its present location.

There are eight outer columns made of granite, porphyry and green marble that are supported alternately on flat bases and lions.

  Mosaic Floor

The inlaid marble mosaic floor is one of the most ornate of its kind in Italy, covering the whole floor of the cathedral. This undertaking went on from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, and about forty artists made their contribution.

The floor consists of 56 panels in different sizes. Most have a rectangular shape, but the later ones in the transept are hexagons or rhombuses. They represent the sibyls, scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues. Most are still in their original state. The earliest scenes were made by a graffito technique: drilling tiny holes and scratching lines in the marble and filling these with bitumen or mineral pitch. In a later stage black, white, green, red and blue marble intarsia were used. This technique of marble inlay also evolved during the years, finally resulting in a vigorous contrast of light and dark, giving it an almost modern, impressionistic composition.

The uncovered floor can only be seen for a period of six to ten weeks each year; the rest of the year, they are covered and only a few are on display. The earliest panel was probably the Wheel of Fortune, laid in 1372 and restored in 1864. The She-Wolf of Siena with the emblems of the confederate cities probably dates from 1373, also restored in 1864. The Four Virtues (Temperanza, Prudenza, Giustizia and Fortezza) and Mercy (Misericordia) date from 1406, as established by a payment made to Marchese d'Adamo and his fellow workers. They were the craftsmen who executed the cartoons of Sienese painters.

Among the earliest panels where "The Story of King David" (c. 1415), "David the Psalmist" (c. 1419), and David and Goliath (c. 1422), all by del Cori. Paolo di Martino completed the "Victory of Joshua" and "Victory of Samson over the Philistines" between 1424 and 1426. Over the next 50 years, three or four more panels were completed, but when Alberto Aringhieri was appointed superintendent of the works in 1480, the mosaic floor scheme began to make serious progress. Between 1481 and 1483 the ten panels of the Sibyls were worked out. A few are ascribed to eminent artists, such as Matteo di Giovanni (The Samian Sibyl), Neroccio di Bartolomeo de' Landi ( Hellespontine Sibyl) and Benvenuto di Giovanni (Albunenan Sibyl). The Cumaean, Delphic, Persian and Phrygian Sibyls are from the hand of the obscure German artist Vito di Marco. Over the next 10 years about 10 more panels were added, but then work slowed somewhat. "The Story of Fortuna" by Pinturicchio was the last one commissioned by Aringhieri; it was completed in 1504.

Domenico Beccafumi, the most renowned Sienese artist of his time, worked on panels for the floor during the years 1518–1547. Half of the thirteen "Scenes from the Life of Elijah" were designed by him, and by 1547 he had completed six more. This completed the floor and, save for restoration, it looks today as it looked in the middle of the sixteenth century.

  Works of Art

The cathedral itself was, to me, a work of art. It would seem that no expense had been spared to make the interior as ornate as possible- from the marble floors to the dome. And there were a large number of artworks and sculptures around the walls. The cathedral's valuable pieces of art including The Feast of Herod by Donatello, and works by Bernini and the young Michelangelo make it an extraordinary museum of Italian sculpture. The Annunciation between St. Ansanus and St. Margaret, a masterwork of Gothic painting by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi, decorated a side altar of the church until 1799, when it was moved to the Uffizi of Florence.

There are clickable thumbnails at right for just some of the pictures we took here in nave of the Siena Cathedral. These show the nave itself and just some of the artwork mentioned above and below.

The funeral monument for cardinal Riccardo Petroni was erected between 1317 and 1318 by the Sienese sculptor Tino di Camaino. He had succeeded his father as the master builder of the Siena cathedral. The marble monument in the left transept is the earliest example of 14th century funeral architecture. It is composed of a richly decorated sarcophagus, held aloft on the shoulders of four statues. Above the sarcophagus, two angels draw apart a curtain, revealing the cardinal lying on his deathbed, accompanied by two guardian angels. The monument is crowned by a spired tabernacle with statues of the Madonna and Child, Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

The Piccolomini altar, left of the entrance to the library, is the work of the Lombard sculptor Andrea Bregno in 1483. This altarpiece is remarkable because of the four sculptures in the lower niches, made by the young Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504: Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Gregory (with the help of an assistant) and Saint Pius. On top of the altar is the Madonna and Child, a sculpture (probably) by Jacopo della Quercia.

  Chapel of Saint John the Baptist


The Chapel of Saint John the Baptist is situated in the left transept. At the back of this chapel, amidst a rich renaissance decorations, is the bronze statue of St. John the Baptist by Donatello. In the middle is a 15th century baptismal font. But most impressive in this chapel are the eight frescoes by Pinturicchio, commissioned by Alberto Aringhieri, and painted between 1504 and 1505. Two are repainted in the 17th century and a third was completely replaced in 1868. The original paintings in the chapel are: Nativity of John the Baptist, John the Baptist in the desert and John the Baptist preaching. He also painted two portraits: Aringhieri with the cloak of the Order of the Knights of Malta and Kneeling Knight in Armour. These two portraits show us a very detailed background.

The Chapel was roped off and we could not get into it, and our long-distance pictures of the bronze statue did not turn out. It was very beautiful, so I have found a picture of it to include here. That picture is at left.

  The Chigi Chapel


The small Chigi Chapel (or Cappella della Madonna del Voto) is situated in the right transept. It is the last, most luxurious sculptural addition to the Duomo, and was commissioned in 1659 by the Sienese Chigi pope Alexander VII. This circular chapel with a gilded dome was built by the German architect Johann Paul Schor to the baroque designs of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, replacing a 15th century chapel. At the back of the chapel is the Madonna del Voto (by a follower of Guido da Siena, 13th century), that even today is much venerated and receives each year the homages of the contrade. On the eve of the battle of Montaperti (4 September 1260) against Florence, the city of Siena had dedicated itself to the Madonna. The victory of the Sienese, against all odds, over the much more numerous Florentines was ascribed to her miraculous protection.

Two of the four marble sculptures in the niches, are by Bernini himself: Saint Jerome and Mary Magdalene. The other two are Saint Bernardine (Antonio Raggi) and Saint Catherine of Siena (Ercole Ferrata). The eight marble columns are originally from the Lateran Palace in Rome. The bronze gate at the entrance is by Giovanni Artusi. The chapel was very crowded with visitors, and it was tough to take the time to get good pictures of some of these sculptures.

  Piccolomini Library

Adjoining the cathedral is the Piccolomini library, housing precious illuminated choir books and frescoes painted by the Umbrian Bernardino di Betto, called Pinturicchio, probably based on designs by Raphael. The library was off to the side, entered through a carved marble portal. The portal itself was very ornate with statues and carvings on either side. You can see these sculptures here and here.

Ceiling of the Piccolomini Library

Pius II Coats of Arms

The visual impact of these very colourful frescoes is stunning. The frescoes tell the story of the life of Siena's favourite son, cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who eventually became Pope Pius II. He was the uncle of cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini (then archbishop of Siena and the future pope Pius III), who commissioned this library in 1492 as a repository of the books and the manuscript collection of his uncle. The ceiling is covered with painted panels of mythological subjects. They were executed between 1502 and 1503 by Pinturicchio and his assistants.

Use the clickable thumbnails at left to see some of the manuscripts that are kept in the library. It was tough to get good pictures, since everything was under glass. In the middle of the library is the famous statue Three Graces, a Roman copy of a Greek original. The entrance is a finely carved marble monument, and above it is a fresco of the Papal Coronation of Pius III by Pinturicchio in 1504.

Loading the player...

I made a movie in the library from a position just inside the entrance. It will pan around the room look at all of the frescoes, and then pan around again showing the manuscripts in their cases. You can watch it with the player at right.

Below are clickable thumbnails for some other views of the ceiling and frescoes:

Pinturicchio painted the cycle of frescoes around the library between 1502 and 1507, representing Raphael and himself in several of them. This masterpiece is full of striking detail and vivacious colours. Each scene is explained in Latin by the text below. They depict ten remarkable events from the secular and religious career of pope Pius II, first as a high prelate, then bishop, a cardinal and ultimately pope:

  • Enea Silvio Piccolomini (ESP) leaves for the Council of Basel. The storm scene in the
    background is a first in western art
  • ESP, ambassador at the Scottish Court
  • ESP crowned court poet by emperor Frederick III
  • ESP makes an act of submission to Pope Eugene IV
  • ESP makes an act of submission to Pope Eugene IV
  • ESP, bishop of Siena, presents emperor Frederick III with his bride-to-be
    Eleanora of Portugal at the Porta Camollia in Siena
  • ESP receives the cardinal's hat in 1456
  • ESP, enters the Lateran as pontiff in 1458
  • Pius II convokes a Diet of Princes at Mantua to proclaim a new crusade in 1459
  • Pius II canonizes Saint Catherine of Siena in 1461
  • Pius II arrives in Ancona to launch the crusade
Below are clickable thumbnails for some pictures of these frescoes:



While I had taken pictures of a few of the frescoes (the three thumbnails above), Fred had been cataloging the rest of them. I've tried to relate them to the list above, but without the inscriptions below them, I am just guessing. But the frescoes are all very pretty, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at them:

Beneath the frescoes, the psalters of the cathedral's sacristy are on display. These exquisite illuminations by Liberale da Verona and Girolamo da Cremona were executed between 1466 and 1478 and later carried on by other Sienese illuminators.


Unlike Florence or Pisa, Siena did not build a separate baptistry. The baptistry is located underneath the eastern bays of the choir of the Duomo. The construction of the interior was largely performed under Camaino di Crescentino and was completed about 1325. The main attraction is the hexagonal baptismal font, containing sculptures by Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia and others.


Atop the Wall of the Unfinished Nave

As you learned above, there was to be an even larger nave for the Cathedral of Siena, but construction was halted before much more that the southeastern outer wall of the nave, and one wall connecting it to the present cathedral, were completed. That connecting wall became the wall of the building that how houses the cathedral's museum. By this time, we'd quite misplaced our tour guide and Greg as well, but since we had entries for the museum, and since it was only through the museum that you could get up on the unfinished wall, that was where we headed next.

Torre del Mangia/Piazza del Campo

We had to find our way through the museum to the end of the building where the entrance to the unfinished wall was located. The unfinished wall actually had two levels. You could, at your leisure, walk up to the first level; that's where the picture at left was taken. From this level, you had pretty good views of Siena, but the only opening faced east. But this observation area was maybe ten feet wide and there were a fair number of people there.

To actually get out on top of the unfinished nave wall, though, you had to ascend a very narrow circular stone stairway- so narrow that it was effectively a one-way set of stairs.

The views from the top were well worth the wait to go up; there are clickable thumbnails below for some of these views:

As I said, the views from the top were tremendous; you can see from the aerial view you've been following that these views were unobstructed. So both of us took panoramic pictures. Fred stitched a couple of pictures together to show you the view to the east:

I did another panorama- this one a 360° view from this parapet. It is very wide, so I have put it in the scrollable window below:

It was really amazing up here, although a bit disconcerting when I thought that I was standing on a stone wall, a hundred feet up in the air, about eight feet wide built four centuries ago. No structural steel inside. Just a little freaky.

Loading the player...

Of course I had to take advantage of our precarious perch to make a movie of Siena; it's a simple one- another 360° pan around from the top of the wall. You can watch it with the player at left.

I took a couple of good still pictures from here- one of the cathedral and one of Fred with the Torre del Mangia in the background. Use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at them:

When we first came up, we'd been asked to limit our stay, and so it was time to head back to the narrow, circular stairway for the trip back down.

Loading the player...

As I said above, the stairway was very, very narrow, and thus you could not pass someone on it. Because of that, and because it was a number of full turns in height, it was impossible to see whether someone was on their way down when you wanted to go up or vice versa. For that reason, entry to this stairway was monitored. There was always an attendant at the bottom of the stairway, and there was usually one at the top as well. They were like flagmen on the highway, communicating with each other so they knew when someone was going up or down.

Fred and I were the last of our group to head down. I went ahead of him so I could make a movie on the way down, so that you could see just how narrow and winding the stairs were. You can watch my movie with the player at right.

When we got back down to the museum level, and came out into the display hall again, lo and behold we found most of the rest of the tour group, including Greg, sitting and waiting their turn to go up. So we thought we would just hang around the museum for a bit and wait for them to come down.

I told Fred that since we had museum entries, I was going to go into the galleries for a bit- after each of us took advantage of the facilities in the basement. When I was done, I went up to the main gallery to have a look at the stained glass window that had been brought here from the cathedral- the Rose Window. There was no photography allwed in the museum, but I really wanted a picture, so I surreptitiously tried to aim my camera from waist level and I turned off the flash. I hoped the picture would come out; the result wasn't particularly good, but you can have a look at the Rose Window here. Upstairs, in a brighter gallery, I tried the same thing with one of the frescoes. That effort turned out much better, and you can have a look at that fresco here.

Then I looked around for Fred. No luck. I went back upstairs to where Greg would have come out. No luck there, either. I checked the museum entrance and exit, and actually waited at the exit for fifteen minutes or so. No luck then, either. So I either had to wait longer or head off on my own. I wasn't worried, for we'd been given a reassembly time back in Piazza del Campo, and I knew that if I didn't encounter Fred or Greg or the tour group before then, I would be able to meet them there. So, not knowing where Fred and Greg and the group had gone, I headed off on my own.


Fred: From the Duomo to Piazza del Campo

Obviously, since I was not with him, I cannot tell you where Fred (and Greg, presumably) went between the museum and Piazza del Campo. We were separated for about an hour. The only thing I can do for the pictures that Fred took during this time is show you a selection of them. Some, as it turned out, were similar to mine, so our paths had to cross at some point during that interregnum. And if you compare a few of Fred's pictures to the aerial view on which I marked my own route, you can probably figure out where we was- at least part of the time.

In any event, I have put clickable thumbnails below for some of Fred's photos of Sienna, taken in the area southeast of Piazza del Campo and east of the Duomo. The first group I want to include are a selection of his street scenes. Siena is very crowded together, as are most cities so old, and everywhere you look there are narrow streets and passageways- some are major thorofares, while others are almost deserted:

Fred always has a good eye for detail, and a good many of the photos he took were of just that.

I found two pictures that Fred took of some fruit outside a small shop, and I put them together to form a more interesting picture; that picture is at left. And below are clickable thumbnails for some of the pictures Fred took that show interesting detail from his walk through Siena:

Fred and Greg apparently walked around to the east of Piazza del Campo- an area I didn't visit. Along the way, they not only got some nice views of the main part of Siena, but also of the countryside to the east. There are clickable thumbnails below for some of these pictures:


My Walk from the Duomo to Piazza del Campo

When I couldn't find Fred and Greg, I headed off on a walk just to see what I could see. I left the Piazza del Duomo by its southeast corner, and headed generally south and west.

The Fountain of Contrada Pantera

Earlier, I mentioned the "Contrada Fountains," those fountains sprinkled throughout the city that were created by the "contrada" or districts; we've seen some of these already. Quite near the Duomo, I ran across another one- the Contrada Pantera fountain. This fountain was inaugurated in 1977, and is the work of sculptor Giulio Corsini. The sleek bronze panther crouches, gazing attentively into the basin below. The Pantera contrada is on the southwest side of Siena in Piazza del Conte, on Via di San Quiricio. Their patron, Saint John the Beheaded, is celebrated on August 29.

From this fountain, I followed Via di San Quiricio to the west, turning south on Via Mantellini. At left are clickable thumbnails for a couple of pictures from this part of my walk. A short way down this broad street, I came to The Church of San Niccolò al Carmine. Although altered at the beginning of the 16th century by Baldassarre Peruzzi, the structure dates largely from the 14th century. The simple facade of the building contains the main doorway and a rose window. To the left stands a square bell tower with four orders. The single-nave interior has remained intact from the 14th century and is lit by large single windows.

I turned south on Via del Sperandie, and found myself walking alongside a large building that seemed to be either a city building or police headquarters or something like that. An inscription below a bas relief on the side of the building seemed to refer to the contrada of Chiocciola, but I could not be sure. I found the long, narrow, sloping street interesting for the two arches that I went under. Both contained rooms within the arch and above the street. The first arch had two stories above the street, connecting the buildings on either side. The second arch, seen here looking back from the south, had only one story. It can be easily seen in the aerial view that you have been following (and I have marked it for you). Incidentally, in that last picture, you can see the first arch as you look through the second.

As I turned the corner to the west at the southern end of the street, I found myself on a stree at the western edge of Siena. The border between the town and the countryside was very abrupt; Siena on this side sits on top of a large hill, and has commanding views in all directions. It wasn't hard to imagine living in the fortified town a thousand years ago, with the farms and farmhouses outside the walls- but close enough so that people not in the town could get to safety quickly.

The Western Gate to Siena

This road brought me around to the westernmost point of Siena itself; here, of course, the buildings were much more modern, being quite some distance from the old part of town. Even so, they were old by US standards. I thus arrived at the western gate of the town of Siena. An inscription on the arch said that the gate itself was hundreds of years old, so I can only imagine that, at one point, the walls enclosed some open land as well as just buildings. I walked around outside the gate for a few minutes; the street from town went through the gate and turned into a road that snaked down the hill and out to the countryside. Below are clickable thumbnails for a few pictures I took along this part of the walk.

Going back inside the gate, I discovered that the street was Via San Marco, and there were helpful signs pointing to the Duomo, back in the center of town. I headed back into town on Via San Marco, and in just a few blocks came to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary. Built by the Contrada of Chiocciola (the Snail) 1655-1656, it was restored and enlarged in 1722-1725 it was restored and enlarged with the money from the proceeds of one of the horse races in Piazza del Campo. Its late Baroque façade spectacular was designed by Giacomo Franchini and enriched by decorations added by Pietro d'Austo Montini. The church, decorated on the upper level of the facade with a very faded fresco of the Virgin and Child by Francisco Feliciati, was deconsecrated in 1820 and then abandoned by the Contrada. In recent years, it was repurposed for use in conjunction with the races in Piazza del Campo, and for this reason it is also called "Casa del Caballo."

I continued up Via San Marco, crossed my previous path, and headed more directly back to Via di Citta. I retraced my path for just a short distance and kept heading for Piazza del Campo. On Via di Citta, a block southeast of the Duomo, I came to Palazzo Chigi-Saracini.

Palazzo Chigi-Saracini

The palazzo is one of Siena's most prestigious; once the home of a prominent Sienese family, it now houses a fine art collection and the equally prestigious private academy- Accademia Musicale Chigiana.

The oldest part of the palace belonged to the Ghibelline Marescotti family Marescotti, and dates back to the twelfth century. The building reached its present size during the first half of the fourteenth century, at the height of the Siena's economic fortune; between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it also housed the Council of Rulers of the Republic.

In the following centuries it was a center of the Renaissance in Siena, supported by a number of families. In 1770 the family Saracini became its prime benefactors and they made significant renovations, keeping the fourteenth-century style and adding a row of three lights up the alley of the Trone. In 1932, Count Guido Chigi Saracini established the Accademia Musicale Chigiana which today is an internationally prestigious center for the improvement of musical studies. The Saracinis lived there until 1965.

Like many structures in old Siena, the front of the building is curved to follow the course of the street. The style of the facade is an elegant "Gothic Siena," clad in stone to the second floor and then brick. There are orders of mullioned windows and on the left a truncated tower of stone. Today the building also houses the art collection of Bernardo Saracini, which began in 1776.

In the open hall stands a statue of Julius III, designed by Fulvio Signorini in 1609. There is also a beautiful courtyard that you can enter at the end of that open hall. Here, surrounded by beautiful doorways and numerous sculptures, is the palazzo's original well. The well is permanently covered by an iron grate, and is obviously no longer used.

My walk had brought me back to Via di Citta, just a block off Piazza del Campo, so I went down one of the narrow passageway/streets at the western side of the piazza to locate Fred, Greg and the tour group.


Piazza del Campo

From the Palazzo, I went up the Via di Citta a short distance to find one of the passageways leading into the Piazza del Campo. I went through it and came out in the plaza where we'd been earlier this morning.

Torre Mangia/Palazzo Publico

As I came into the plaza, there was a restaurant to my right; it had been empty this morning, but now, at lunch time, it was packed. I looked across the plaza and I was able to spot the members of the tour milling around by the entrance to the Torre Mangia. Before heading down there, I walked to my right to the extreme southern corner of the plaza where I had a good view of it, and stopped to make a movie. You can watch the movie with the player below:

Loading the player...
Piazza del Campo

I was hungry and noticed a gelato place right at the corner where I was standing, so I got a cone and then walked down to meet Fred, Greg, and the tour group.

Fred, as it turned out, had gotten to the plaze about fifteen minutes earlier, and he had been busy taking some photographs. One of his pictures happened to be looking towards the corner where I was standing while I was making my movie. For his part, Fred had been taking pictures of the outside of the Torre Mangia, and had gone into the courtyard where the tower entrance was to take some pictures there. There are clickable thumbnails below for some of his pictures:

Fred also had his camera stitch together a nice panorama of the plaza, taken from the same corner where I had been standing earlier:

Piazza del Campo

We walked around for a bit in the area, just looking at everything, until our tour guide gathered us together for the walk back to the parked bus.


Leaving Siena

I did not mark our route back from Piazza del Campo as it duplicated our route into Siena this morning. So we are done with the aerial view that you've been following along on, and you can close that window.

Salustio Bandini

Our tour guide took us north across the piazza and out to the Via del Bianchi where we retraced our route back to the parking area. At one point, I went out ahead of our tour guide and group so you could see what she, and the group, looked like. It's standard practice for the guide to carry a numbered sign so that if things get crowded, as they were in Ephesus, Olympia and Dubrovnik, group members can follow their own guide more easily.

On the way back up Via del Bianchi, we got a much better view of the Salustio Bandini monument, as the sun was full on it now. That is the inset picture at left. And heading back through the park, we also had a better view of the Garibaldi Monument.

Coming back to the bus, and on the drive out of the parking lot, there were also good views of the old fortress walls, and you can have a look at those views here and here.

You can return to today's index or continue with the next section below.


The Doors and Doorknobs of Siena

At our very first port three weeks ago, Fred started the practice of taking pictures of interesting doorknobs, and I did the same for the doors themselves. Before we leave Siena, let's have a look at what we found here.


The Doors of Siena

I found a number of beautiful doors here in Siena. The one common factor seemed to be that they were all made of wood stained generally the same. But the shapes and sizes were all over the map. There are clickable thumbnails below for my pictures of the doors here in Siena:


The Doorknobs of Siena

Of course, while I was noticing the doors, Fred had been concentrating on the knobs- and not just from the same doors. There are clickable thumbnails below for Fred's pictures of the various kinds of doorknobs he found here in Siena:

You can return to today's index or continue with the next section below.


From Siena to San Gimignano

Well, we were all back on our bus right on schedule, and we headed off to a second stop for today- the charming medieval town of San Gimignano.

Never having been to Italy before and not looking at a map prior to today's tour combined to deny me any sense of which direction we were going or what route we were following. Of course now, with maps available, I can see the route we took, but on this day all I could do was watch the scenery go by as first we traveled north on a major highway and then west to San Gimignano. Both Fred and I took some pictures out the bus window on the way, and I'll just put clickable thumbnails for some of them below:

As I have done before with walks we have taken, I'd like to provide you with the opportunity to follow us along through San Gimignano, so I have created a large aerial view of the town with both our route and some of the major sites we stopped at marked on it. (And I think this aerial view is particularly interesting, as it is one of Google Maps' "45° views," in which the buildings are viewed at a 45° angle making them stand out in three dimensions. Very cool.) If you will click on the button at left, that view will open in a separate window so you can both follow us along and read this album page.

When you do open the aerial view, you can find our starting point (the car park) if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the view. When we get back to the bus after our tour, you can close the window. I'll remind you when we get back.

You can return to today's index or continue with the next section below.


Our Walk Through San Gimignano


San Gimignano

We are still in the province of Siena, but now at the small walled medieval hill town of San Gimignano. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls form one of Italy's most recognizable skylines. Within the walls, the well-preserved buildings include notable examples of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with outstanding examples of secular buildings as well as churches. The "Historic Centre of San Gimignano" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town also is known for the white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grape which is grown on the sandstone hillsides of the area.

The city is on the ridge of a hill with its main axis being north/south. It is encircled by three walls and has at its highest point, to the west, the ruins of a fortress dismantled in the 16th century. There are eight entrances into the city, set into the second wall, which dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. The main gates are Porta San Giovanni on the ridge extending south, Porta San Matteo to the north west and Porta S. Jacopo to the north east. The main streets are Via San Matteo and Via San Giovanni, which cross the city from north to south. At the heart of the town are four squares: the Piazza Duomo, on which stands the Collegiate Church; the Piazza della Cisterna, the Piazza Pecori and the Piazza delle Erbe. To the north of the town is another significant square, Piazza Agostino, on which stands the Church of Sant' Agostino. The locations of the Collegiate Church and Sant' Agostino's and their piazzas effectively divide the town into two regions.

I'll be breaking up our walk through the picturesque town of San Gimignano into some rather arbitrary sections- just to make it a bit easier to deal with. Each portion of the walk will have its own section here. We'll begin by getting from the bus parking area to the south gate to the old town.


From the Bus Park to San Gimignano's Porta San Giovanni

To get to Porta San Giovanni, our tour guide led us from the parking area, across the street and alongside a modern building with stores and restaurants. We went up some stairs and a ramp and then around the east side of the building, passing some modern San Gimignano apartments along the way. Then it was up another set of stairs and along a street leading north to the small park that is situated just south of the old town. We stopped at an overlook that had a very nice view of the countryside.

We both stopped here to admire the view and take some pictures, and both of us had the same idea- to stitch together some pictures for a panoramic view. Both turned out well; here is the one with the wider view:

The Countryside East of San Gimignano

A little further north and our tour guide brought us to a stop just outside Porta San Giovanni so she could make sure we all knew what time to meet back at this same spot for the walk back to the bus and the trip back to Florence.

Fred at San Gimignano's Porta San Giovanni

As we listened to the tour guide, I got a really nice picture of Porta San Giovanni, one of the main gates that lead through the walls of San Gimignano into the old town itself. You should have a look at the gate here. As I mentioned, there was a small plaza and park just outside Porta San Giovanni; it was here that we were standing so our tour guide to talk to us, and give us a bit of the history of San Gimignano (see below). Looking west across this plaza, we got a good view of the walls of San Gimignano.

After her talk, our guide turned us loose and Greg, Fred and I headed into the old town through Porta San Giovanni. No sooner had we gone through the gate than there was a stairway to our right leading to the San Gimignano Museum. I thought that if there was enough time at the end of our walk, we might check it out.

Just inside the gate, we stopped to take some pictures. Fred got a nice view looking back out the gate to the plaza south of the town, and you can see that view here. I took a picture a little higher up, so that you could see an inside view of the gate. Remember that this is a Medieval town, and there would have to be places for lookouts, guards and, perhaps, defenders, above gates like these.

Now we are inside San Gimignano, at the foot of Via San Matteo, ready to explore.


A Capsule History of San Gimignano

In the 3rd century BC, a small Etruscan village stood on the site of San Gimignano. Chroniclers relate that during the Catiline conspiracy against the Roman Republic in the 1st century, two patrician brothers, Muzio and Silvio, fled Rome for this area of Italy; one of them built a castle known as Silvia. That name was changed to San Gimignano in 450 after the Saint of Modena, Bishop Geminianus, intervened to spare the castle from destruction by the followers of Attila the Hun. As a result, a church was dedicated to the Saint and in the 6th and 7th centuries a walled village grew up around it, subsequently called the "Castle of San Gimignano." "Gimignano" translates to "forest," and was chosen because of the extensive woodland surrounding it. From 929 the town was ruled by the bishops of Volterra.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era, the town was a stopping point for Catholic pilgrims on their way to Rome and the Vatican, as it sits on the medieval Via Francigena. The city's development was also improved by the trade of agricultural products from the fertile neighbouring hills, in particular saffron, used in both cooking and dyeing cloth, and Vernaccia wine, said to inspire popes and poets.

In 1199, the city made itself independent from the bishops of Volterra and set about enriching the public spaces with churches and public buildings. However, the peace of the town was disturbed for the next two centuries by conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines, as well as family rivalries within the town itself. It was these rivalries that resulted in families building tower houses of increasing height; towards the end of the Medieval period they were 72 in number and up to 230 feet tall. The rivalry was finally restrained when it was ordained by the council that no tower was to be taller than that adjacent to the Palazzo Comunale.

The city flourished until 1348, when it was struck by the Black Death that affected all of Europe, and about half the townsfolk died. Severely weakened, the town submitted to the rule of Florence. During this period, some Gothic palazzo were built in the Florentine style, and many of the towers were reduced to the height of the houses. There was little subsequent development, and San Gimignano remained preserved in its medieval state until the 19th century, when its status as a tourist destination and artistic resort began to be recognized.


Via San Matteo from Porta San Giovanni to Piazza della Cisterna

As you can see on the aerial view, our walk to Piazza della Cisterna was basically a straight shot up Via San Matteo, past one of San Gimignano's famous towers, and then through a tunnel next to another of those towers.

Loading the player...

Via San Matteo is not a wide street; few streets in these old medieval towns are. But it was busy, and shortly after we started up the street, I thought I should make a movie to show the typical activity on it. You can watch that movie with the player at left.

We began to stroll up the street taking in all the scenery (and the doors and doorknobs). At one point, we came to a piece of art, the likes of which you would not be likely to see in public anywhere in the United States. It was very interesting, and that is why I had Fred pose for that picture. It was standing in front of a nearby building which could have been a museum, although I saw no signage. At another point, Fred couldn't resist a picture of a quirky shop that seemed to be pairing wine and wild boar (to what end I have no idea). About halfway between the Porta San Giovanni (which you can see down the street behind me here) and a tower that I stopped to film, there was a wide area in the street with some welcome sunlight, and it appeared to be a haven for artists.

Below are clickable thumbnails for some pictures that Fred took along Via San Matteo:

Walking up the street was a lot of fun, but it was hard to take pictures sometimes, since the sunlight rarely filtered down into the street itself.

Loading the player...

At the top of Via San Matteo we encountered our first "tower," one of the medieval structures built by rival families in an effort to outdo each other. The towers weren't like office or apartment buildings; there weren't usable floors all the way up. But they were pretty impressive nevertheless- especially considering the time in which they were built. I made a movie of one of them, and you can watch it with the player at right.

Just past that tower, the street jogged right and headed toward another tower and the Arc of Becci, an ancient city gate. That tunnel leads to the Piazza della Cisterna. Before we went through that arch, I took some pictures of the approach and the buildings and streets on either side; there are clickable thumbnails below for some of these pictures:


Piazza della Cisterna

Just after we came through the Arc of Becci, a shop that our tour guide had mentioned was just on my right; although I might beg to differ, it was, apparently, a shop selling the best ice cream in the world. (I assume that they actually mean "gelato," but use the term "ice cream" for tourists.) This brought us into Piazza della Cisterna.

Looking East in the Piazza della Cisterna

Piazza della Cisterna has a triangular shape with a slight natural slope and is connected to the nearby Piazza del Duomo by an open passage from its northwest corner. The pavement is brick and the piazza is surrounded by houses and medieval towers. In the south-west corner, the piazza meets the Arc of Becci, an ancient city gate. The arc is flanked by the massive rectangular towers of Becci on the left and Cugnanesi on the right.

On the north side of the piazza are the Cortesi Palace, la torre del Diavolo, and the houses of Cattani. The west side is adorned with various towers, like the twin towers of Ardinghelli and the tower of palazzo Pellaro. All of these towers were built by individual families, and still retain the names of those families.

The piazza is located at the intersection of two main streets of the village of San Gimignano: la via Francigena and la via Pisa-Siena. The piazza was used as a market and a stage for festivals and tournaments. Its current layout dates from the thirteenth century.

Loading the player...

Standing near the open passage to the Piazza della Duomo, I made a movie looking around the Piazza della Cisterna. The movie begins at the Becci Arch, and pans around 360° to end back at the arch and, to its left, the gelato shop. Have a look at this movie with the player at right.

The piazza is named after the underground cistern (Cisterna) built in 1287. The cistern is capped by a travertine octagonal pedestal, which was built in 1346 under the mayor Guccio Malavolti and is close to the center of the square. Beyond the cistern, the piazza turns into the road to Siena, and you can see a view looking in that direction here.

You can use the clickable thumbnails below to see some additional views of the medieval buildings that line the piazza on all sides:


Piazza della Cisterna was a nice place to rest and sit in the sunlight, but we had more to see.


Piazza della Duomo

We left the Piazza della Cisterna at its northwest corner using the open passage to the Piazza della Duomo (Plaza of the Cathedral). As we approached the passage, Fred looked ahead at the towers clustered around that piazza and noticed that there was a male figure on top; it looked from a distance just like the sculpture we had seen coming up Via San Matteo. Perhaps, we thought, this was some sort of art installation, with the same piece scattered around town. (We have seen other examples of this; Custer, SD, and Buffalo, NY, both have decorated buffalo around each city- each done by a different artist. In Fort Lauderdale, someone took old bicycles, painted them the same shade of blue, and placed them around the city.) This seemed to be confirmed when we approached the passageway and found yet another male sculpture installed just to the right of the passage and just inside the Piazza della Cisterna. As it turns out, these rusty naked men are part of an exhibit called "Vessel" by sculptor Antony Gormley. One part of the exhibit is in the Galleria Continua- a gallery of contemporary art here in San Gimignano. The other part spills out into the streets of San Gimignano with six identical figures by Gormley— all of which are casts of his own naked body. So we ended up seeing three of them.

Fred at the Piazza della Duomo

The Piazza della Duomo is just north of Piazza della Cisterna, connected by the open loggia we came through. To the west, at the top of the square, stands the Collegiate Church, reached by a broad flight of steps. The name of the square would seem to imply that this church was at one time a cathedral, but although it was perhaps planned, this was not the case.

Other important buildings on the square include the Palazzo Comunale (the municipal building) and the Palazzo Podesta, the house of the mayor. The Palazzo Podesta is distinguished by its huge arched loggia.

The Palazzo Comunale (the building with the flags in the picture at left) dates from the late 13th century, and was built on the ruins of an existing building between 1289 and 1298. Further expanded in the 14th century, the facade is characterised by arched windows, with the lower half of the frontage built with stone, and the upper part in brick. On the ground floor is a courtyard, which was built in 1323; it is decorated with the coats of arms of those who have held public office in the municipality.

The main civic offices of the town council are located on the ground floor. On the second floor is a stepped gallery from which dignitaries would address the gathered crowd in the square. The battlements date from a restoration of the nineteenth century, and the structure is capped by the "Torre Grossa” (great tower). This tower was completed in 1300 and (at 170 feet) is the highest tower in the walled town.

The most striking feature of this this square, however, must certainly be the towers that surround it. Sitting on the steps of the church, one can see five of them; I would very much like to know what, exactly, is inside of them.

It was hard not to take lots of pictures of the towers; there are clickable thumbnails below for some of the many pictures we took:

I also made two movies here in the Piazza della Duomo, although they were made a different times. One was made when the above pictures were taken; the second was made when we returned to the piazza from our visit to the fortress walls northwest of this piazza. Both are good, and show the piazza from different perspectives. You can watch them with the players below:

Loading the player...
Loading the player...


Fortress Montestaffoli

From Piazza della Duomo, we turned to exit the square to the west, climbing up an incline as the street went uphill and behind the Collegiate Church. We went through a small square- the Piazza delle Erbe ("erbe" means vegetables and the square took its name from the market that used to be located here)- up to the highest spot of the town.

Fortress Montestaffoli

As we climbed up behind the Collegiate Church, we were treated to wonderful views of the Italian countryside spread out below us to the south. We went up some stairs to the fortress entry, went through the archway and were inside the fortress (where the picture at left was taken).

Fred had been taking pictures of the countryside around us as we climbed the stairs, and I have put clickable thumbnails for four of his pictures below:

From the inside of the fortress, we could get nice views of some of the towers of San Gimignano as we walked toward the north wall.

The Fortress Montestaffoli (seen better in the aerial view below, right) was built in 1353 on the site of a pre-existing Dominican convent. It was built during the time when San Gimignano had aligned itself to Florence. The military significance of the fortress declined during this period, and effectively ended in 1555 when Cosimo I ordered its destruction. The fortress was not totally erased; the walls and corner turrets still remain.

Fortress Montestaffoli

As we walked through the fortress towards the northern wall, I made a movie, and you can watch it with the player below:

Loading the player...

As you saw in the movie, we were heading towards the stairs up to the fortress walls. We climbed the short flight of stairs to join a couple of other tourists already on top admiring the view.

On Fortress Montestaffoli

The views of the Italian countryside and of San Gimignano were pretty amazing from here; there are clickable thumbnails below for some of them:

We spent quite a few minutes up here on the old fortress walls, just gazing around the hazy countryside and listening to the music wafting up from the plaza below. It was really quite beautiful.

Both of us had the same idea to try our hand at panoramic shots of our surroundings. For mine, I just took four pictures and stitched them together in Photoshop. The way Photoshop does it, everything is straightened, and this was the result:

I did Fred's a little differently. I used Microsoft's program to put images together because it would retain the slightly "fish-eye" effect that was a bit truer to the way we actually saw the scene. You can compare the two by looking at Fred's panorama below:


Leaving San Gimignano

From the fortress, we headed back basically the way we'd come. It was about a half-hour before time to meet our guide. As the two of us walked back down the Via San Matteo, we took some additional pictures you might want to see. There are clickable thumbnails for them below:

At some point walking down Via San Matteo, I lost Fred. He was behind me one minute, and gone the next. I retraced my path of the last couple of minutes, but did not see him. Thinking he'd bypassed me, I went on ahead outside the Porta San Giovanni, there to find our tour guide and most of our group gathering as instructed earlier. Fred was nowhere to be seen. I was growing a bit anxious, and so I went back up Via San Matteo looking for him and calling out. No Fred. Eventually, the tour guide had to leave with us, and I went along with the group- hoping that Fred would show up. When we got back to the bus, I was relieved to find that Fred had misheard the earlier instructions to meet outside the gate, and had gone directly back to the bus instead. (I might mention that on his way back to the bus, Fred had gotten a very nice picture of the countryside east of the town, and if you want to have a look at it, you can do so by clicking here.)

(Now that we are back at the bus, if you have opened the aerial view of San Gimignano and followed us along, you can close that window now.) You can return to today's index or continue with the next section below.


The Doors and Doorknobs of San Gimignano

Continuing the practice Fred began three weeks ago, he and I took a number of pictures of the doors and doorknobs of San Gimignano. Before we leave for Florence, let's have a look at what we found here.


The Doors of San Gimignano

I found a number of beautiful doors here in San Gimignano. They were all wood, of course, but unlike in Siena, they weren't all the same color. However, the shapes and sizes were again all over the map. There are clickable thumbnails below for my pictures of the doors here in San Gimignano:


The Doorknobs of San Gimignano

Fred did not find very many interesting doorknobs here, but he did find some. Below are pictures of four of them:

You can return to today's index or continue with the next section below.


Back to Florence

Our day trip to Siena and San Gimignano had come to an end; all that remained was the bus ride back to Florence. It was a pleasant trip, and, again, there was a good deal of nice Italian scenery as we came through the countryside and then into Florence. I won't bother with a map, since you've already seen one. But you might be interested in some of Fred's pictures from the trip back; there are clickable thumbnails below for a few of them:

Coming into the city, Fred also got a nice shot of some rowers on the Arno River, and you can have a look at that picture here. The bus dropped us where we had boarded this morning, and we walked back through town, past the Duomo, and back to Casa Rovai. We spent some time relaxing and then went out for some dinner- at a local kabob place, as it turned out. (More on the kabob place a bit later.) It was a really nice day, and we saw a lot. Tomorrow, we'll stay in Florence and have a look at the Duomo and museums.

You can return to today's index or use the links below to continue to another photo album page.

May 30, 2012: Florence, Italy: Day Two
May 28, 2012: Florence, Italy: Day One
Return to the Index for Our Week in Florence and Rome