September 28, 2012

Big Healeys in Tuscany - Siena Day 2

After yesterday's fiasco driving in Siena, we decide to just leave the rental car at the hotel and use public transportation to get to the city center. Conveniently, there's a bus stop right in front of the hotel, so after a short wait, we're transported directly to the center.

Siena was first settled by the Etruscans in about 400 BC.

 
The Palio di Siena is a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo (picture above) twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August. Although the square is large, I can't imagine a horse race taking place here.
 

This elaborately decorated outdoor courtyard of this the 14th century Gothic Palazzo Chigi is now a music school.

 
 

While April and I took photos, Dad took this opportunity to rest.



We wandered the streets a bit more before finding the Cathedral. Yes, we're visiting another amazing church! The Siena Cathedral, begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture. Its main fa├žade was completed in 1380. It is unusual for a cathedral in that its axis runs north-south. This is because it was originally intended to be the largest cathedral in the world, with a north-south transept and an east-west nave, as is usual. After the completion of the transept and the building of the east wall, the money ran out and the rest of the cathedral was abandoned.



Unfortunately for us, our turn to enter the cathedral was behind several very large tour groups. It's a Saturday and Siena is definitely filled to capacity with tourists. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in Siena and dealing with this volume of crowds. I'd like to think we're the "nice tourists" and we've definitely seen examples of "not so nice tourists."


I loved the striped stone in this church. It adds such a nice contrast to the interior.



This pulpit, made of Carrara marble, was sculpted at the end of 1265 by Nicola Pisano (1266–1268) supported on lions, and the labyrinth inlaid in the flooring, traversed by penitents on their knees. This same artist is created the dome of the Pisa baptistery.



The inlaid marble mosaic floor is one of the most ornate of its kind in Italy, covering the whole floor of the cathedral and consists of 56 panels in different sizes. They mostly represent scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues. Most are still in their original state. The uncovered floor can only be seen for a period of six to ten weeks each year, generally including the month of September (and we just happened to be there in September!). The rest of the year, they are covered and only a few are on display. They really are pretty spectacular.




The small Chigi Chapel is the last, most luxurious sculptural addition to the Duomo, and was commissioned in 1659 by the Sienese Chigi pope Alexander VII. The eight marble columns are originally from the Lateran Palace in Rome.

 

The organ was kind of interesting in that it had "horns" descending down from the pipes. I don't think I've ever seen pipes shaped that way.

 
My favorite room in the church was the  Piccolomini library, with illustrative choir books and frescoes. The library is very colourful and is quite stunning.
 
 
 
The frescoes tell the story of the life of Siena's favourite son, cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who eventually became Pope Pius II. He was the uncle of cardinal Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini (then archbishop of Siena and the future pope Pius III), who commissioned this library in 1492 as a repository of the books and the manuscript collection of his uncle.
 
 
 
 
The ceiling is covered with painted panels of mythological subjects. They were executed between 1502 and 1503.
 
 
In the middle of the library is the famous statue Three Graces, a Roman copy of a Greek original.



Pinturicchio painted this cycle of frescoes around the library between 1502 and 1507, representing Raphael and himself in several of them. This masterpiece is full of striking detail and vivacious colours. Each scene is explained in Latin by the text below. They depict ten remarkable events from the secular and religious career of pope Pius II, first as a high prelate, then bishop, a cardinal and ultimately pope.

 
 

After spending quite a bit of time in the cathedral, we decided to head back to the main square to find a bite (and a cold beverage) for lunch. The walk back to the square was full of stairs and hills, so we took our time. We were standing at the entrance to the square when Dad thought he saw a vintage car, but he wasn't sure. Then he said "that sounds like an engine from the 30's!" Sure enough, we saw a vintage car appear.

Let me just say that I have never seen my Dad move so fast! In no time at all, he had pushed his way through all of the tourists and was front and center among a whole bunch of vintage cars.

 
Turns out, we were smack dab in the middle of the GP Nuvolari vintage car race. Cars built between 1919 and 1969 are qualified to enter and there were approximately 280 cars entered. We probably stood there for two hours watching the cars come down the road. Some of them were tourists themselves and it was funny to see them snapping pictures with their cameras and iPads.
 

 
 
We saw a LOT of vintage Porsches, Fiats, Jaguars, Mercedes, some exotics I've not seen before and a few American cars too. Seeing an Austin Healey come around the corner was probably the highlight of Dad's entire trip to Italy! In total, there were 6 or 7 Healey's and a couple of Bugeye Sprites.
 


 
Dad took advantage of his captive audience and took this opportunity to hand out his business card to his fellow Healey owners.
 

I was standing directly in front of a church and we saw two different bridal parties come through there. One of the brides was having her photographer take pictures of the newly-married couple in front of some pretty sweet looking vintage rides!


For those of you who are interested, you can view all the information about the vintage car race here. The site includes information about the route, the participating cars and the race results. A 1957 BN4 came in 33rd and was the best showing for the Austin Healeys.

I've created a separate album on Shutterfly with all of the vintage car pictures. You can view those here.

We watched all of the cars come through the square, then found a nice cafe for lunch. After our lunch, we were heading back to the bus stop when we spotted THIS "Guy":


Turns out, Guy Fieri (Food Network star) was in town for a wedding and was kind enough to let us snap a picture with him.

We hop aboard the bus and here's where our should-be-just-10-minute-ride turned into TWO HOURS to return to our hotel. We wind down the hill towards the suburban part of Siena and come to a stop across the street from the hotel, but which is across a roundabout and some pretty crazy traffic. April asks the bus driver if he was looping around to the bus stop directly in front of the bus (where we first caught it) and he says "si." So we sit down and prepare to get off in a minute or so.

This did not happen. We were on the bus for two hours and didn't come back to any of the same bus stops we had been to before (or had driven by) but after about 90 minutes, we noticed that we were going the opposite direction, so we were hopeful that we were actually heading to the right location this time. We think the bus driver was new as he stopped several times to consult a map, change the bus number on the display and waste a BUNCH of our time. If we had known that we would remain on the bus this long, we would have gotten off during the first 10 minutes of the ride and would have been happy to play "dodge the traffic" in the roundabout to return to our hotel much sooner.

Let's just say that we had a leisurely tour through Siena. I think we entered/exited the walled in city of Siena 4 times. Funny thing is that we never returned again to the bus stop in the walled part of the city in which we first boarded the bus. I suspect our bus driver was just pretty clueless about where his route really was. I thin.k we were all humming the theme song to "Gilligan's Island" for most of the trip.

And that's a wrap for us in Siena. On Sunday, we head to Assisi. You can view my Siena pictures here on Shutterfly.

Ciao!

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