Burnt Siena (12/04/03)

Last updated 12/07/03                                                                                                                                

Our guidebook claimed that to "bypass Siena would be to miss one of Italy's most captivating towns", so how could we not stop here? The town proved to be one of the most visually stunning experiences so far -- from the ever-present "burnt sienna" color used for most of the architecture, to the ubiquitous archways and labirynthine, small, steep streets which gave the town a definite medieval feel, to the striped white and black marble Duomo, the town of Sienna was almost a sensory overload.

The town, supposedly built by the sons of Remus (which explains the she-wolf statues in several locations -- see picture below), rests on three hills and is surrounded by all sorts of medieval fortifications (we walked along a large stone wall from the train station, and actually entered the town through an old gate). The medieval theme continues even in the very heart of town which consists of a series of tiny, sloping streets which were what I imagined Italy to look like (somewhat like the streets in the movie "The Labirynth", sans the goblins of course). My usually confused sense of direction was tormented by the multitude of streets that virtually appeared from nowhere, and my poor legs lamented at each steep incline that we faced during our strolls through the old town.

The Piazza del Campo, a vast bowl-shaped plaza, is the location of the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) and is surrounded by a series of restaurants and cafes which make it a popular spot to have coffee and observe locals and tourists alike marvelling at the beauty of the burnt-sienna-colored buildings which line the plaza. We enjoyed some delicious ice-cream, from an authentic gelateria (Italian ice-cream shop), while taking in the sights and sounds of the Piazza during the evening. I savored several scoops of vanilla (actually some sort of cream flavor that closely resembled a rich french vanilla) in a waffle cone, while Daria satiated her sweet tooth with some of the best coffee-flavored ice-cream I've ever had (I stole a few bites!). I'd be lying if I said I didn't envy the locals who get to regularly enjoy their panini lunches on the Piazza with the magnificent view of the Palazzo...

Our guide book claims that the Duomo is one of the "most enchanting cathedrals in Italy" and it certainly didn't disappoint. The black and white striped marble facade reminded me a bit of old jail uniforms (from the cartoons and movies of my childhood) and the tower looked like it would be a perfect fit for a place like Alcatraz. Inside, however, the cathedral was absolutely stunning with beautiful stained glass windows (have yet to see a European cathedral without them), and an inlaid-marble floor with 56 panels depicting biblical stories (most were actually covered with cardboard due to reconstruction efforts, another popular theme of our "world" trip --- I think it could best be called the "Mehra Reconstruction Tour 2003"). The few panels that were still visible were pretty impressive and I hope that the reconstruction efforts will allow visitors to enjoy this treasure for years to come.


Some prime examples of the burnt sienna color that is prevalent in the town

                    Another couple of images which capture the essence of Sienna. There are plenty of archways, and many are quite long (even extending through a couple of buildings, forming a tunnel of sorts), and several statues of Romulus and Remus along with the she-wolf that supposedly nursed them.

                              The Duomo, whose construction began in 1196 and finished roughly 20 years later, is another focal point of the city.