Today we are heading to the ‘reddish’ City of Siena, a medieval city located about 60km south of Florence where we are based for a few days while checking out the beautiful Tuscan countryside. While we could have chosen to make Siena our home-base during our Tuscan holiday, I chose Florence/Firenze for its central proximity to the many beautiful Italian towns and cities that surround it. This meant taking day tours to explore neighbouring cities via bus and trains then coming back to Florence at the end of the day full of awesome experiences, gorgeous photos, and stories to tell.
After our bus parked in a designated area in the outskirts of the city, we wandered through the narrow streets of Siena towards its heart and center called Piazza del Campo, otherwise called ‘Il Campo’ by the Sienese. The first thing I noticed during our walk was the color of the buildings that lined the streets on both sides. It was dark-yellow to reddish in color. I closed my eyes to feel its very earthy energy. Everything was made of earth from where these buildings came from. I learned that the clay soil of Tuscany is rich in limonite, a yellowish clay rich in iron oxide which gives the color to what is called the Sienna pigment. When limonite is subjected to heat by roasting, it turns to haematite, a reddish-brown color which after being heated some more, turns to burnt sienna. And these were the color pigment we were seeing on their buildings as we walked around this antiquated, attractive city.
Narrow streets of old Siena
Siena is a multi-faceted city setting excellence in areas of cuisine, museums, medieval look, art, churches, universities and of course, its famous celebration of the Palio race horses. Because of this, Siena was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, specifically for preserving its medieval characteristics and qualities.
Siena, which has a total population of 54,000 inhabitants, is also a city of universities, in fact, home to the famous University of Siena, formerly known as Studium Senese founded in 1240. The University of Siena comprises and contributes 20,000 students of the 54,000 inhabitants, almost half of the total population. Students study in the universities, as well as live in homes in the medieval city itself, weaving and becoming part of Siena’s old and urban fabric paving its way into modern times.
Siena is composed of 17 ‘barangays’ or residential quarters and I am informed that 10 of these participate in the Palio races. Each residential quarter is represented by an animal symbol or “statues” like the turtle, snail or lion that we saw around the city in various colors and representations, signaling which ‘barangay’ we were in at the moment.
This is the Piazza del Campo, located in the heart of Siena, the only place where the Palio horse races is allowed, riding the horses three times around the piazza, done twice a year every July 2nd and August 16th.
Dominating the Piazza del Campo where the Palio horse races are done is the Palazzo Public and the 102 meters high Torre del Mangia with the clock. This grand looking medieval masterpiece with gothic influences serves as the town hall of Siena and symbol of its freedom.
During our visit, we chanced upon the men of the village busy building and putting together a racing box and a representation of the Piazza del Campo, with the Palazzo Pubblico miniature painting as background in preparation for an upcoming festival “mock” Palio races for the village children.
We saw many cute and cozy mom and pop stores at every street corner. These are not put there for the tourists to visit but these are really genuine grocery stores frequented by the locals who know their grocery owner and each other by their first names.
Going around Siena is a joy and so memorable because as soon as we entered, it gave an impression that time has stood still in this medieval city and we are given the opportunity to peek even for a few hours what life was like in this “reddish” city from centuries ago. I look forward to coming back here again one day to enjoy its “old” charm and I am even tempted now to stay longer. However, the hands of time continue to move and our guide is already calling to head out to another beautiful town, San Gimignano.
Watch out for my next post next week… See you in San Gimignano, Italy!!!