Act 2, Scene 6

Ancient Rome, The Italian Renaissance, And Postmodern Love

by Frederick Noble

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A two-hour scenic bus trip took us to Siena. It’s one of famed travel guide Rick Steeves’ favorite towns, and I can see why. It has enough modern conveniences for even the most urban traveler, but enough small town charm to make you feel like you’ve gotten away from it all. They’ve banned automobiles in much of the town so walking around is a quiet pleasure. But George Bent On Making This Trip Miserable wasn’t interested in a leisurely stroll. He led us on a cross-town sprint to Palazzo Publica where he proceeded to go into excruciating detail about the important art works there. We suffered through it as long as we could but eventually slipped out for a stroll, ending up atop the hill at the Siena Duomo.

Siena is an old town that hasn't expanded much since the plague wiped out something like 80% of the population back in the 1300's. At the time they were expanding the Duomo into what would have been the largest church of the day. But the plague came along and wiped out the work force, as well as the worshippers, leaving only one transept wall complete. Inside this lone, massive wall is the museum for the Duomo. It houses lots of important/impressive works of art but the real deal is the view from the roof. The museum is the highest point in town, save the peak of the Duomo itself, and the view is (can you guess?) breathtaking, and only a few flights of stairs up.
You can see the whole town from the museum roof. We brought our lunch and had a marvelous picnic right there on the edge without another soul up there to distract us.

Others head to the tower at Palazzo Publica but that hike is hundreds and hundreds of stairs and you end up only a shade higher than the roof of the Duomo museum.

Siena
The tall tower is part of Palazzo Publico.

Siena

Siena

Siena
Halfway up is a landing where you get some decent views, but the real deal is the highest landing.

Siena Duomo
I put this together from several shots of the duomo from the museum roof.

The interior of the Siena Duomo is absolutely lovely, though not nearly as stunning as St. Peters. Go to Siena first so you don't have the comparison in your head, should you tour Italia yourself.

Siena Duomo

Siena Duomo
Once every thirty years or so the Duomo in Siena removes the protective layer over their floors for exhibition. They are inlaid marble, wall to wall, and absolutely incredible with scenes from the bible done in such detail you'd swear they were gigantic etchings. Absolutely marvelous.

 

Siena Duomo
This is the ceiling of the Siena duomo. The entire interior is striped in dark green marble, very cool.
Siena Duomo

We wandered the streets a bit, casually window shopping. We couldn’t do actual shopping since the whole town shut down for siesta by that point and the program has, yet again, scheduled too many things in one day so soon it's back to the bus in a rush to get to our next destination. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for more on Siena, like I did.

San Gimingnano is a quaint medieval town turned into a cheesy overpriced mall. (In fact, just about every quaint medieval hill town in Tuscana has been converted into a shopping mall for tourists.) By the time we arrived we were too beat to make it to the one thing in town we wanted to see - the museum of torture. A few of the students in the program made the hike and said it was almost worth the price of admission. They brought back postcards of chastity belts and the like. Heather and I opted for gelato and found a new favorite flavor - banana. I ended up eating 5 scoops before they hustled us back on to the bus to ship us home, hot and tired. But we did get a few postcards showing some of the very cool scenes of hell taken from the frescoes of the cathedral. Demons, fire, people being tortured in bizarre ways, much more interesting than yet another Madonna and Child.

Siena
A peek inside a random little church in Siena.

Here's a phenomenon we noted in Siena. It doesn't matter how spectacular a sight can be, eventually you'll reach saturation. "Just another breathtaking view" had been our catchphrase of the trip but we added "just another important/impressive work of art/church/ruin" after Siena. It really is annoying because when you get back you feel so jaded. You know any one of the sights on it’s own would blow you away but, taken in rapid sequence, they just lose their ability to overwhelm. San Gimingnano is a perfect example - nothing in the town could impress us except the gelato. Siena
The pretty, but deserted, streets of Siena during siesta.
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