Ten years ago now, my husband and I spent a lovely summer in Siena, where he was doing some studies on Dante. He was there 6 weeks and I for 5–because of a passport renewal that wasn’t delivered on time as promised and therefore I missed my original flight. Still, 5 weeks is quite a good length of time!

In Siena they have beautiful medieval buildings, great food, vibrant local culture and a good climate…well, most places in Tuscany seem that way. From our base there, we went on weekend trips to other places.

Here below is the Piazza del Campo, the magnificent medieval town square. Sienese architecture is known for its distinctive tower designs and its black and white striped stone walls.

Every summer, the piazza is the site of a very unique event in Sienna: the Palio. It is a horse race tracing back to medieval times. The event takes place twice, once in July and once in August. Large amounts of soil are placed around the perimeter of the square and pressed down to make a firm dirt track. Ten horses with ten bareback jockeys go round this course 3 times. Before the race, there is an elaborate pageant with people dressed as knights and such. Each horse represents a contrada, or city ward. Each contrada comprises residents of a certain part of the city and has its own flag and songs. At the Palio, flags of all colours are flying and being waved as members of different contrade (plural) chant their songs and stared down rivals.

The magnificent Palazzo Pubblico, technically the city hall but that seems too belittling a description, don’t you think? The 13th century Palazzo has a striking bell tower–or campanile–called the Torre del Mangia, which was built in the 14th century to rival the tallest tower of nearby rival Florence. At that time it was the tallest edifice in Italy. The Palazzo is decorated inside with amazing frescoes which are mainly secular in theme, a thing not often found in a region where so much art is religious.
Here you see the vans coming to unload the dirt. The entire square will soon be filled with people. The area with brick is where people stand and the grey areas will become the track. 
The pageant. The light blue and white flag belongs to the Onda (‘wave’) faction, to which we aligned ourselves since some friends were part of it already. People were filling the square and hanging out of windows, terraces and every possible space. 
Alas, Onda did not win but we enjoyed a nice outdoor dinner after the race out on the street. I had a poor camera at the time so did not capture the actual race in photos. 
Lastly, since this post is rather long already, I show you the magnificent 13th century Cathedral, or ‘Duomo’ of Siena. Inside are found some examples of fabulous sculpture from Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo.  We also delighted in the beautiful Sienese School style of painting by looking at late Gothic works by Duccio and Simone Martini. The Sienese School is characterised by backgrounds entirely of pure hammered gold. You must see it in person! There are so many other things to show about Siena but I hope you enjoyed your brief glimpse. Ciao!  

Abbey of Sant’Antimo, Tuscany

© Jake Morley

The view from afar of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’Antimo near the town of Montalcino in Tuscany, Italy. Construction began on the abbey in the 12th century. The monastery stands out alone amid lovely golden fields of wheat, the typical narrow Tuscan cypresses flanking it.





View of St Peter’s Basilica from top of dome

© 2007 Letizia Morley

I’ve been going through my photo archives recently trying to weed out duplicates; for some reason the photos on my Apple devices are showing up double or sometimes even triple. While I was deleting extras, I culled out the duds and then collated some of my favourite travel photographs from over the years into albums. I found quite a few good ones from my summer in Italy in 2007. 

For this picture I had climbed the many many winding narrow steps to the very top of the dome of the basilica. Boy, did that make me dizzy! It was early in the day and as I gazed out over the nearly empty plaza in front of the façade and Bernini’s colonnade, there was a sense of overwhelming grandeur. What a place! What a place! From the top of the inside of the dome, one could look over a railing and see down to the impressive tomb of Saint Peter himself directly below. Inside the church, with its dusky side chapels and shafts of dusty light coming down in long rays, I even saw the famous Pieta statue of Michelangelo, circling around it slowly and in awe. Michelangelo was one of the principle architects for the basilica, did you know?

It’s hard to believe that trip was 10 years ago. How time flies…