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Siena - Palazzo Pubblico, Campo & Duomo

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The Campo with barricades and tufa mud surfacing ready for the July Palio




The Palazzo Pubblico and Campo on a July morning - go inside and have a look at the famous Frescoes by Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Publico.  The elegant tower - the Torre del Mangia - named after the first bellringer Mangiaguadagni ("he who eats all he earns") was built in 1338-48 and finished just as the black death struck.  At 88m or 286ft it is the second highest tower in Italy, and visible for many miles around (as was intended).  Unlike Italy's highest tower (in the Piazza San Marco in Venice), Siena's has never fallen down!


Books about Martini and Lorenzetti


How the town centre fits together.  The Duomo is in the foreground of this postcard pic, and in the top right the Palazzo Pubblico overlooks the Campo.  You can also get a good idea of what the new Duomo nave (abandoned in the a calamitous aftermath of the 1348 black death) would have looked like - the facade can be seen at the right of the photo, and it is possible today to climb to the top for magnificent views of this beautiful medieval city and its surrounding countryside.


The Palio delle Contrade - Rule free bare-backed bribery dominated horse race with a difference, held in the early evenings of the 2 July and 16 August each year, after a day of medieval costumed street parades when most of the locals get dressed and wigged up.  We will in particular never forget the sound of the great bass bell tolling slowly as the race countdown got under way. 


Homesick Sienese Italian troops in North Africa in WWII organized a "Donkey Palio" in the desert (story from the grand daughter of the winner) and there is a donkey palio to enliven the first weekend of the Alba truffle festival each year.  Below left, the shields of the Contrade ... each one has a club house, chapel and other facilities and operates as a vibrant social centre throughout the year. 


The book on the right is a coffee table book with outstanding photos and English text.  Not easily gettable on the web, but lots on the shelves of local bookshops (well, in 2007 anyway!).









Everybody goes medieval at events like this all over Italy - and it's for themselves, not the tourists!


more photos to come




postcard photo



The Facade of the Duomo was started in 1284 in Romanesque style by Pisano.  The upper facade by Giovanni di Cecco was not started until 1376 (after the "Duomo extension project" had been canned in the aftermath of the black death of 1348). The change to Gothic style is easily seen.  The Gothic theme was influenced by Cistercian monk engineers from San Galgano, who among other things also upgraded the city's water supplies and managed the city treasury.

Since the introduction of entry fees for the Duomo and associated buildings (hint: get an omnibus ticket in the tourist free Baptistery and walk right past the long Duomo queues) the lights have gone on full time and transformed the once dark and sombre Duomo interior. 




Even brighter stuff is to be seen in the Piccolomini library on the left (north) of the nave..  "....... the visual impact of the room is unforgettable - full of light and enlivened by colours of an incredible freshness and variety."  The room contains ten huge detailed frescoes (recently restored) by  Pinturrichio depicting the life of the respected humanist Sienese Pope Pius II (Aeneus Sylvius Piccolomini 1405-1464) - and also, in the style of Renaissance painting, showing off the artist's mastery of perspective painting.  They were painted by Pinturicchio in 1502-09 - the project paid for by nephew Francesco Piccolomini - later Pope Pius III for eighteen days.


Above (left) and top right (detail) is Bishop Sylvius presenting the Emperor Frederick III with his wife.


On the right, portraits of Raphael & Pinturicchio (with six pack)  himself are in the foreground of a much bigger scene depicting Pius II canonizing Saint Catherine of Siena (below right).  In fact Pinturicchio (b c1452) was about 30 years older than Raphael (b 1483).  The latter had helped him with some of the early design work on the Library frescos.


Below left is a detail from Emperor Frederick III crowning Sylvius a Poet.


Link to all the frescoes in the Web Gallery of Art

A grotesque style panel from the amazing library ceiling



Donatello - San Giovanni Battista in the Siena Duomo



Many people miss the Baptistery, which is "hidden" under the Duomo Apse.  Just go down the steep steps on the South side.  Whilst the top of the Baptistery facade is unfinished, the bottom has some beautiful marble work (above), and inside (below) is a blaze of fresco colour plus font reliefs by the likes of Donatello and Pisano.  Well worth seeking out.  In fact it's well worth starting your cathedral visit here, because you can buy your cathedral admission ticket without having to wait in a huge queue, then walk straight past the aforesaid queue wilting away from the main cathedral doors.



One of the most famous of Siena's paintings - Duccio's Maestą



The Duomo's original east Oculus, which was almost certainly designed by Duccio, is now in the Museum after a complete "millennium" restoration.  Originally, the light from the oculus would have tumbled down onto Duccio's Maestą Altarpiece (now also in the museum).  An oculus is a large circular window with  much less elaborate tracery than the rose windows of Northern France, or indeed the wagon wheel "rosone" windows of the great cathedrals of Puglia, which in turn rely on their stonework rather than stained glass.



Photo: Nick Fletcher


View from the facade of the "New Duomo" looking over the Campo.  You can see the photographers on top of the facade arch below left - entry is via the museum and lots of narrow spiral stone steps which have to cope with two way traffic - avoid school holidays!



Leaving the city centre on a November evening - the floodlit facade of the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472 and the oldest bank around anywhere.

At the top left of the photo you can see the tower which housed the original bank and is now incorporated into the building with classic Sienese design flair.  



Looking south from Fonterutoli (where you can rent a holiday apartment) to the medieval towers of distant Siena (secular left, spiritual right) - a skyline that has remained largely unchanged since the Black Death 650 years ago (except there were lots of medieval towers then!). 



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