March 31, 2011

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Il Campo (Main Square), Siena
Il Campo (Main Square), Siena

One day is far from enough for Siena but it is a start. We had wonderful weather for our brief walk about. Most of our time was spent in the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall), the Duomo (Cathedral), and the Santa Maria della Scala a hospital and home to orphans in the 14th-17th centuries and now a giant museum. We took full advantage of the good weather with a lunch on the Piazza del Campo, sitting among other tourists, all watching still other tourists, or the tower of the aforementioned Palazzo Pubblico that looms over the piazza.

To get to Siena, we caught the 8:10 train and ate our usual breakfast on the train. When we got to Siena we learned that the buses were on strike and almost cancelled the whole day as Gerry wasn't up for a multi-kilometer walk at both the beginning and end of the day. But good sense prevailed and we took taxis in lieu of buses.

Siena was quite lovely. Il Campo, the main public square in front of the Palazzo Publico, the city hall, with its famous fountain of joy was truly impressive. It is a semi-circle with the Palazzo Publico on the straight side, the fountain oppposite it and the arc of the circle lined with restaurants. Our first stop was the Palazzo Publico museum where we admired the rooms and rooms of frescoes. I especially liked the room with the frescoes depicting good and bad government. There was a group of school children looking at it with us and I admired the teacher for being so patient with them.

For lunch we did the tourist thing and sat down at one of the restaurants opposite the PP. We had a pleasant hour sitting on the terrace overlooking the sun-filled square and watching the other tourists watch us.

After lunch we headed for the Cathedral and then the Baptistry and finally the Ospedale Santa Maria della Scala, the former hospital, orphanage, and center of good works. The Cathedral was amazing. Most interesting was the Piccolino Library with its absolutely gorgeous frescoes of the life of Pope Pius II. We were so lucky because there weren't too many people around and so we got to sit as long as we liked and admire. The famous carved pulpit by Niccolo Pisano was being cleaned, very carefully and very meticulously by a young woman. Fortunately it didn't really stop one from admiring his people-crammed scenes.

The Baptistry was much more low-key, but quite nice. Better was Santa Maria della Scala, which we almost missed because what seemed to be the front door was in fact the exit. This former hospital and orphanage was quite a mish-mash of things to see. The most important was a room of 15th century frescoes depicting the work done by the hospital in those days, from accepting foundlings, to feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, and taking care of the elderly. The building is built on the side of a hill and so lower floors also have dayight windows. In one of the basement floors we found the original pieces of the Fountain of Joy that dominates Il Campo. Jacopo de Quercia's masterpiece has been ravaged by time and weather and has now been replaced by a copy done by a local sculptor called ??? We saw a room of his plaster casts and wondered why they were here and then realized it is because he did the fountain sculptures. He did a wonderful job and the fountain, moved to a more central location in the plaza is truly the pride and joy of the city.

By the time we left the Ospedale, it was time to start out for the station. Gerry was determined to at least walk through the part of the old town that we had driven through in the taxi and even thought he might walk all the way. But fate took a hand and while taking a rest at a bus stop we met a couple of Canadians, mother and daughter, who were looking for a way to get to the station. We shared a taxi to the train then parted company. We got to Florence just in time to catch the last night bus.

March 22, 2011