Tag Archives: Siena

Italy 12: Siena (Part 2)

The Duomo and its Dome

May 15-17, 2019

The day after we arrived in Siena we set out by car to see the Old City and the famous medieval cathedral – built in the Romanesque Gothic style. It has been described as one of the most beautiful buildings in Italy and – despite the proliferation of beautiful buildings in Italy – I cannot argue with that assessment.

Being relatively new to Italian cathedrals at this point, I thought that the word duomo, as in Duomo di Siena, referred to the dome on top of the cathedral. In fact, duomo means “cathedral.” The Italian word for “dome” is cupola.

The Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta (aka the Duomo di Siena), was built on the site of a Roman temple and completed around 1250. The cathedral’s magnificent deep-green-and-white-striped marble exterior (designed by Giovanni Pisano) hints at the wonders inside, where the striped theme continues as a backdrop to an astonishing array of sculptures, frescoes and carvings by nearly fifty of the world’s finest artists – Donatello, Michelangelo, Pinturicchio, Beccafumi and Bernini among them. Some of the works, including Nicola Pisano’s astoundingly ornate and detailed pulpit (he did have some help with the sculpting), are considered to be among the most important works of art in Italy.

When you step inside the doors of this majestic edifice, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to lift your eyes toward the heavens – where they encounter a ceiling painted an appropriately deep blue, decorated with golden stars, rising toward a most spectacular dome. In addition to the nave and the chancel and the aisles, there are side chapels and tombs, a sacristy and a library. The place is huge, and a person with unlimited time would need at least a full day to take in the entirely overwhelming stock of riches contained within it – and another to do justice to the Duomo’s museum across the way and the crypt below. We merely skimmed the surface of all three.

Our friend Ksenija (I have mentioned her before) told us we must see the mosaics that have been set into the floor, so we were looking forward to those (more on those in the next post), but we were unprepared for all the rest of the magnificence.

I Ascend to the Heavens

“Duomo” may not mean “dome,” but in the case of the Siena cathedral, the dome itself does have a name: Porta del Cielo, or “Gate of Heaven.” Individuals can’t wander around up there on their own, so I signed up for a tour, which gives participants access to areas of the cathedral that until recently were only accessible to architects and builders.

In addition to seeing all kinds of tools and even drawings on the walls of planned sections of the building, the tour, which takes you 79 steps above the floor of the cathedral, offers amazing views into the interior of the cathedral and out across the surrounding landscape.

Not the Tower of Babel, but…

When we were in Pisa, Arnie had remarked that there were so many people speaking so many different languages that it brought to mind the biblical account of the Tower of Babel. I was reminded of his comment when I was climbing around the dome of the duomo in Siena.

I started chatting (as one does, or at least as I do) with others in the tour and discovered to my relief that the interesting young woman ahead of me and her partner were not Italian, but French-speaking Swiss. They had cycled into Italy, camping their way through the Alps, as part of a group. The reason I was relieved they did not speak Italian was that despite months of practice on Duolingo, I had found when I arrived in Italy that I was utterly unable to speak Italian. Every time I tried to think of a word I wanted to say, the French or the Spanish version of it popped into my head. This problem persisted throughout my time in Italy. (I am now working on German, and hoping that the vast differences between the Romance languages and das Deutsche will help me to avoid confusion when I get to Germany.) Anyway, I had a lovely chat in French with the woman from Switzerland and, in fact, discovered that I was more fluent in that language than I’d thought I was.

Unfortunately, when I get to France, I’ll probably be able to speak only Italian.

Italy 11: Siena (Part 1)

Overwhelmed by Photographs, I Resolve to Take None on Our Next Trip

May 15-17, 2019

One of the reasons why it takes me so long to post each instalment of this blog is the number of days it takes me to go through all the photos we (I) have taken. Long ago, in the distant past (i.e., prior to about 1997), when one had to pay to get each photograph developed, I was relatively parsimonious with my photo-taking. These days, however, I seem to have gone mad with the freedom afforded by the digital cameras on my phone and iPad. I find myself taking dozens of photographs of the intricate carvings on the door of one cathedral, assuming that there will be no negative consequences. (Pun unintended).

Arnie’s photos are much better than mine, probably because he is far more rational about the whole process. He also takes far fewer photos than I do: while I am getting the dozens of images previously mentioned, he has compiled a sensible array of pictures that perfectly represent the entire edifice, inside and out. He thinks ahead about what he’s going to photograph, frames the subject properly, snaps the picture, and then moves on to the next subject. Every hour or so, he goes through the photos he has taken and deletes any that are less than ideal.

Garden Hotel in Siena, Exterior

I, on the other hand, am thinking “Wow! Wow! Wow! Oh, look at that building! I’ve got to get a photo of that for Miro! And Kathleen would love this painting! I must take a photo of it for her! And here! Look! An insect! So sparkly! The grandkids will love that! Oh, look at that gnarly tree! And wow! The light has changed and the tree looks even better! And here’s the most beautiful bridge in Italy! And here’s an even better place to take a photo of the bridge! Wait! This angle is better yet! And the water under it! Just look! Magnificent! What a colour! Wait! Did I get a photo of that gnarly tree?” (Every exclamation mark in the preceding stream of consciousness represents at least three photographs. )

The upshot? (Pun unintended.) In the past week, I have gone through the two hundred or so photos I took in Siena, plus the one or two dozen that Arnie gave me, attempting to throw out the garbage shots and the duplicate shots and saving the rest for posterity, and then extracting the best of the best for the blog.

On future travels, I am going to allow myself a limited number of photos per stop, and leave the overall shots to Arnie. Or possibly I will never take another photo at all and will simply buy postcards.

Garden Hotel, Siena, Interior

Some people say you should actually look at the places you visit instead of just taking pictures of them. I do look, and I do enjoy what I am seeing. But I also want to hang onto those experiences forever, and to share them with everyone I know and love (and a few people I don’t know at all who have chosen to read my blog).

In the case of Siena, once I had whittled down my photos to a manageable number of “keepers,” I realized that in addition to those we had taken of the cathedral and the old town, more than a dozen of the ones I liked best were images of the hotel where we had stayed.

“You can’t write a blog post about a hotel!” I told myself. “Yes I can,” I answered. “It’s my blog, and I can do whatever I want.” And therefore, as well as focusing (pun intended) on the illusory (pun intended) seduction of the digital camera, this blog post is also about a hotel. (There will be another of these before we’re through. There were several hotels that I would gladly go back to just to hang out in them for a couple of days or even longer, without doing any sightseeing at all. This was one, and another was in Florence. More on that one when we get there.)

Dining Room, Garden Hotel, Siena

Everything about the Garden Hotel was… well… photogenic. The hotel was a villa before it was renovated in the 1960s, and the surrounding grounds have been preserved since the 18th century so they are beautiful, and many of the trees are very old. Someone who visited the hotel described it on a travel website as “dated,” but to my mind, that was exactly what gave it so much charm. From the telephone booths (no longer functional) near the dining room to the art-deco bedside lamps and the tiled bathroom, I felt as though I were in a movie from the 1950s: La Dolce Vita or something.

Then there was the dining room. Then there was the food. Breakfast was included in the price of the room. Dinner was not inexpensive, but then I suppose we didn’t have to eat both a pasta course and a main dish.

The views from the hotel were lovely.

And then there was this gnarly tree….