Wednesday, June 27, 2012


What a place!  Full of little alleys, narrow roads, covered walkways connecting one street to another, almost like a tunnel.  I found this quote in a tourist brochure which sums it up pretty well "The three hills it is built on ensure that in this town no two streets are alike, and they refuse to be tamed by any sort of geometry".  Wherever we go there are steps up or steps down, or else a steep gradient.  Restaurants have extensions on one side of the seats and table so that patrons can sit square!  The streets are crowded with tourists probably here to soak up the atmosphere of the Palio which is on July the 2nd. 
Steps down to our hotel.
A narrow street.
The "extensions" on the chairs and table to make them level!

The Palio in Siena is a horse race.  But in Pavia it is a boat race (where the oarsmen stand in the boat and use oars similiar in a way to the paddles puntsmen use.)  I have read that there is a Palio in a village near here that rolls cheeses!  Anyway - back to Siena's palio.  This horse race is between the Contrada of the town - I think we would liken the Cntrada to something along the lines of the council wards we have in South Australia, though I suspect, historically, it also had something to do with the most powerful families in the town. 

Each Contrada has it's own colours and symbol - an animal  of some kind, and these animals represent the virtues of the city.  As we have walked through the town we have seen flags, window displays, and even street lights showing these things.  There are flags, scarves, plates and m,any other little knick knacks for sale too.  There is a real festive feel to the city. 

A Palio window display.

The Palio is held in the Plaza del Campo, a huge space.  We have not seen it as normal however, as it has a ring of about 6" deep of sand tightly packed and well wetted running oround the outside edge of the Piazza.  Around the perimiter all the shop fronts are covered because wooden stands have been erected for people to sit, and on the corner where the track narrows considerably there are massive foam pads about 12 foot high.  In the centre of the Piazza there are a number of stalls selling the Palio souveniers.  The Piazza is unusual (for me) in that it slopes.  It is higher on one side, and it slopes into the middle as well as down to the lower side.  The building on the lower end of the Piazza, which has a large enclosed couryard, almost like cloisters, has had sand laid on the ground, and so I presume that is where the horses wait for the race. 

Contrada street lighting put up for the Palio

On the lower edge of the Piazza stands the mighty Torre or tower, which today Carol and I climbed.  We had to queue for sometime as we waited for the last lot of people to descend - it is only one way traffic!  The steps are well worn with the many thousands of feet that go up each and every day, and at one point they narrow considerably.  As I was ascending I tried hard not to think about coming down, though I was pleasantly surprised that it was easier than I thought.  The view of Siena, and the Piazza was well worth the effort. 

The top of the tower which we climbed - note the birds flying around.
The birds, 100's of them, are constantly on the wing and we can onlyassume that they are feeding on insects.   
A view of Siena from the tower

The Piazza del Campo from the tower, the shadow of which you can see. 
The little dots are the tourists! 
Note the Palio route around the outer edge, with the barriers on the insde edge, and the stands on the outside.

On the opposite side of the Piazza to the tower is the lovely Fonte Gaia.  This has continual drinkable water running into it, and out, from the hills of Chianti.  There is a network of channels which extend for over 25 kilometres underground, bringing the water to the fountain, and numerous other fountains in the city, that have been in use since 1342!

Fonte Gaia.

The next wonder of Siena is it's cathedral, or Duomo in Italian.  It is an extraordinary building, grey green and white marble, and though I have never been there, it reminded me of photos that I have seen of the buildings in Granada.  I know some reading this will be able to see some similarities.  The floor of the Duomo is quite remarkable.  It is inlaid, and etched, coloured marble making a wonderful storyboard and picture gallery on the floor.  Add to that some beautiful frescoes, and a magnificent dome and the eyes can drink their fill.  Around the inside perimter just below the windows is a row of busts, presumably knights or someone important.  I stayed quite a long time, and heard on three occasions a loud booming voice over the public speakers asking the honoured guests to please respect this place and remain silent!  I wonder if they realised the irony of it!
The Duomo
The interior of the Duomo
Two of the marble floor pictures

 It was interesting also seeing the many tourists and how they respected the customs.  We were dressed appropriately, with covered arms, and skirts below the knee, but others who had skimpy shorts and sleevless tops on were asked to cover up and if they had no scarf to do so were given a diposable one to wear.  Some did the right thing and wore it to cover up legs and arms, but others just draped it over their bag with no thought to the fact that they might be causing offence.  There seems to be no restrictions these days on having the head covered. 

We are staying in a convent part of which is now a hotel.  It is the Hotel Alma Domus and is part of the Santuario Santa Caterina.  We had to get a nun to come and stamp our pilgrim passport earlier today. 

Our hotel ......
.... and part of the view from our room.

Tomorrow Elizabeth and I move on to Ponte d'Arbia, and Carol spends another day here before heading off to Rome and then home.  It has been great having her here and we will miss her company.  Tonight we had a celebration dinner in the Piazza del Campo.  We have stayed up late (9.30!) - a novelty, as Elizabeth and I plan to catch a bus out of here, partly because of the heat and partly to give our feet another easy day.  Walking on roads is not the easiest on the feet, they get very sore and hot, especially in this heat.  I have found it much hotter here than on my previous camino's in France and Spain. 
Janet, Carol, and Elizabeth having dinner on the Palio track

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