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Siena

Adorable Chick

ITALY, GREECE & MONTENEGRO Diary : Day 4 - 05th May 2018

Occupying a part of central Tuscany, covering most portions of the humps of three hills, at a height of almost 1200 feet, is the ancient city of Siena. Known for its spellbinding architecture, its renowned buildings embrace Renaissance and Gothic styles, fit enough to compete with any equivalent structure in the world. It lies at a driving distance of one hour south of Florence city. The History of Siena dates back even before 900 BC. It was first occupied by a tribe called Saina, belonging to the Etruscan civilisation, that changed face of the central Italy by introducing irrigation systems. Just like how ROME got its name from the twins REMUS & ROMULUS, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius the sons of Remus, who fled Rome after their father was killed by his twin. Though the modern looking new town grew around the old one over the centuries, the medieval parts of the city still remains prominent & is branded by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Its winding narrow alleys and by-lanes restrict plying of private vehicles inside the city. An aerial view of the labyrinth layout of Siena is sure to leave one dumbfounded. The more you know its History, the more interesting it gets. The city is split into 17 districts, each of which have their own name & a corresponding animal Mascot. The tradition of a bi-annual combat amongst these districts is still followed.

The Siena story can actually run into pages. Out from the winery after a great lunch (read CHIANTI) , our MYTOURS bus glided down roads flanked with valleys & vineyards, yet again. In approximately half an hour, we reached the Siena City. The tour bus was parked at a distance from the gate leading to the old city. This called for a good 10 minute, mildly elevated walk, to get to our destination. Crossing impressive medieval buildings and an abuzz new city filled with fountains and garden squares, we ventured behind our guide. The first historical structure in sight was the Western Bastion of the 16th century Medici Fortress. Attached to this red-bricked bastion is a triangular, stone pyramid with the head of a sculpted lion placed above it. The guide explained that each of its other Bastions held such complicated structures, the western one being the most simple of them all. The rectangular fortress today occupies a lovely part of the city, amidst pretty gardens, lying right above the old city. Its interiors currently hosts an amphitheatre for public use. We walked through the gardens surrounding a part of the fortress. Right opposite to this area, the pre-historic city of Siena, unravelled itself before us from a stone fenced quadrangle, which I believe was a certain parking area for cars. The distant yet clear visions of the dome of the Siena Cathedral & its bell tower, shining bright & high above every building of the city, was exhilarating. The hilly nature of the place was evident. We continued our brisk walk. On reaching the Piazza San Domenico, we found the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico occupying the right hand side of the square. The brown bricked, simple Italian structured Basilica, lies at a junction before curving towards the entrance of the old City. We spotted a priest in his holy attire, having a conversation with a civilian, outside the Basilica.

The entry into the fortress city was adjacent to the Basilica. A small street ran downward leading us to another parking lot. Crossing the pathway, we walked to reach a certain dark passage, that helped us enter the COSTA SANT ANTONIO street in the city. First impressions : The city was way larger than SAN GIMIGNANO or MONTERIGGIONI ( read San Gimignano & Monteriggioni). Featured with vennels, the layout was far too hilly with parts of its streets plunging deep down and the others steeply rising up. Furthermore, stone steps were randomly placed to manage the irregular heights of the floor. We diligently followed the upward path with the tour group, finally reaching the PIAZZA SALIMBENI.

Tidy Desk

The group gathered around the crowded square while staring in awe at the gothic buildings & surroundings. A special lady guide took over from our tour guide, instructing the group to use their given head phones to enjoy her narratives. Nearly half an hour passed in this square as she poured precious information into our ears. I was free to walk around and click pictures while simultaneously listening. The following is in an attempt to summarise the historical significance of this square, which can otherwise occupy an entire page. Flanked by three of the erstwhile Palace buildings of Tantucci (yellow coloured), Salimbeni (white coloured) and Spannocchi (beige coloured) is the 'Salimbeni Square' that wears a crown for hosting one of the oldest, yet currently functioning banks in the world - the "Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena". The Salimbeni family, belonging to the papal line, were imperial tax collectors who set up few of their offices on a lane leading to this square. In the early 15th century, their downfall led to the entire activity being taken over by a single credit institution, that gradually progressed into a bank as we see it today. It is housed in the Salimbeni fortress (central white building in the square). The centre of the square adorns a full sized, noteworthy white sculpture of a Sienese economist-cum-priest Sallustio Bandini, standing on an octagonal pandal built in step form. The sculpture was completed nearly a century after Bandini death. Born to a distinguished local family, the highly influential Bandini was known for his advocation of free trade & fight against undue tolls and levies. In addition, his donation of an entire personal library of nearly 3000 works, to a local university, for public usage, turned him a local hero. The beige coloured palace Spannocchi standing to the right, bears a resemblance to MEDICCI PALACE in Florence ( read FLORENCE). The guide invited our attention to the top portion of its facade that bore uniform arches. The twelve sculpted heads that stuck out here, were those of various Roman emperors and noted people. The art work, sculpture and designs around the square scream out their true Italian nature.

Moving further in total awe, we crossed a few elegant shops and boutiques on either side before we hit the PIAZZA TOLOMEI in under two minutes. The amazing red bricked Romanesque structure in the northern end of this square, is the Chiesa di san Christoforo , a Roman-Catholic church. The facade of this church is decorated by a pair of strong columns fitted on either sides of its central entrance at a height, with a perfectly triangular tympanum displaying the coat of arms in its centre, above the entrance door.

The stunning marble sculptures of Saint Bernardo Tolomei and Nera Tolomei of the prestigious Tolomei family, can be seen embedded on either sides of the entrance, in a niche between the columns. We continued our walk behind the guide without paying a visit to its interiors. The TOLOMEI PALACE (Palazzo Tolomei), a simple stone building, lies bang opposite to the Church, separated by the narrow street in the square. The intricately designed window frames of the Palace building displays the essence of Neo-gothic style adopted here. This historic building currently houses a local bank. The highlight in the square is a tall pillar holding a rectangular pandal on its top, on which lies a sculpted she-wolf with two infants feeding from her.

The famous Legendary tale of the founding of ROME (read ROME), explains that the she-wolf cared for the abandoned twins Remus & Romulus, after their family was overthrown by King Amulius, the brother of their grandfather Numitor. Subsequently, the bronze sculpture of the Capitoline wolf with the suckling twins became the symbol of Rome. While one story narrates that Senius & Aschius carried the bronze sculpture with them when they fled Rome, making it the symbol of Siena city when they founded it, the other legend explains that the new pair of suckling infants were Senius & Aschius themselves. Legends, History & Mythology never ceases to amaze me. The strong aroma of chocolate circled our senses further ahead. Crossing a few food stalls, other shops & enjoying all forms of Italian art & architecture, we wound our way towards the largest square of the City - the PIAZZA DEL CAMPO. Built on the natural convergence of the slopes of the three hills that form the Siena city, the square is universally recognised for its grandeur. We reached the Piazza through one of its many entry points, stepping down a passage leading to it. Sun shone brightly on a huge piece of tiled concave land, right in front of us. It lay coloured in various shades of 'brick red', where people freely sat scattered around.