Tuscan Towns #5 – Siena
Of all the towns we visited during our last trip Tuscany, with Siena I have saved the best till last. More of a city really, this glorious product of the golden age of Renaissance is disproportionately heavy on art historical treasures, elegant shopping streets and stunning piazzas culminating in the most magnificent of them all – the Piazza del Campo. Siena’s geographical position, up on a steep hill and surrounded by verdant rolling countryside, is no doubt both the reason for its untouched beauty and for its prowess as a self-defended city. Today the city is almost intact in its historical architecture, with barely a modern blemish staining its golden walled, silver cobbled streets. The only embrace of modernity has been the emergence of super chic boutique shops and cocktail bars serving plate upon plate of tempting aperitifs, best enjoyed with an Aperol Spritz amidst the bustling atmosphere of locals filling out these packed social hang-outs. Siena is a place of vespas and La Bella Vita, of large sunglasses and shopping bags, of that irrefutable union between seductive Italian passion and the innate elegance which can be found in every street. It is Italy at its urban best, surrounded by the most beautiful rural landscapes imaginable.
The seductive streets of Siena
We entered Siena up a set of steep staircases, arising, blinded by the light, as though from a cellar onto the reflected glory of the Duomo, its black and white stripy façade literally glimmering as the sunshine hit the golden details of its external mosaics. What an entrance to a city! It was the ultimate precursor to a place whose treasures fill the senses like tree blossom swept liberally into the wind. A stunning mosaic here, a mighty altarpiece there. Cafes that dazzled, sculptures to inspire, street corners whose tangible charm roused the soul and inspired the mind. We went, of course, into the heart of the Duomo, but that adventure I will leave for the second part of this article. Rather today I want to concentrate on the soul of this ravishing city which, quite justifiably, has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the most visited in all Italy.
Getting lost in Siena’s uniquely sloping cobbled side streets is one of the greatest joys that Tuscany can offer, but after a time, the idea of being lost here becomes something of a fiction. For just as all roads in Italy may lead to Rome, as though in defiance of the expression, all roads in Siena lead to the magnificent Piazza del Campo, whose enormous semi-circular construct more or less dictates the layout of the remainder of the city.
The Piazza del Campo
It was in that delightful main square that our visit concluded. As we approached, the atmosphere of a thousand visitors lying out on the sloping pavements to enjoy the sun, or sipping upon spritz and bubbles in one of the many cafes which line the square was highly tangible. It was like human electricity, building up in the semi-circular square before finding occasional release as it leaked into the side streets through the Piazza’s odd openings. Once in, the space literally dazzled as before us the enormous scale of the campanile of the Palazzo Pubblico unveiled itself and the Piazza, which is famous for the annual Il Palio horserace which plays out around the square, glowed as sun rays met red and ochre brick. There we sat, at one such café, as the sun swept a shadow across the curve of the Piazza much like the effect of a sun-dial. Soaking in the last of the rays, as golden sunlight reflected against the prosecco and gelato on our table, we people watched and soaked in the atmosphere, and observed a city which seemed to exude contentment. We were certainly contented in turn. It was a visit which would provide the highlight of our year so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were return again, before the year is even out.
The highpoint: Prosecco on the Piazza
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