13 – Siena

Siena, Italy – Wednesday 8 Ottobre 2008

I finally made it to Siena. One of the places on my list of must-see athletic venues in the world before I die. Unfortunately I am about 2 months late to make it woth the travel; but nonetheless it was exciting to be there and still got my blood pumping! Siena, Italy is home to the Palio – one of the most exhilarating and unique sporting events in the world and in history. the Sienese Palio is one of Italy’s most celebrated events. It is a bareback horse race that was first recorded to have happened in 1283 AD. It comes with loads of regalia including flag throwing (Italian favorite), costume processions, heavy betting, eating, and of course Vino. The racers come from the ten contrade (districts) of Siena. In total the race only takes about 90 seconds with thousands of spectators crowding into the Piazza del Campo. Festivities after the race I’ve heard can last for weeks. There is much controversy of recent from the animal activists since the racers loose about a half the crowd at each hairpin turn; and when a horse falls bones break resulting in on site euthanasia that is not so appreciate by all. Even still its a unique and timeless events that hopefully I’ll attend in the future.

Additionally Siena is blessed with having some of the greatest masterpieces of Medieval architecture and a layout that is almost wholly representative of its peak age (1260-1348). Its two main churches are phenomenal. The first we visited was the Church of San Domenico; very simple in shape and decoration and looks almost barn-like. It also contains, for your viewing pleasure, the head of the city’s patroness, St. Catherine. Unfortunately, the rest of her body remains in Rome. Afterwards we continued through the city’s alley’s lined with the flags of the Contrade. Even Chiesa di San Domenico carried the winner’s flags. Our next stop was the great Piazza del Campo I just described; with its odd nine sided polygonal shaped. The palazzo also contains the Palzzo Pubblico (which was our next stop to learn about the city’s history) crowned with a 30 ft bell tower, Torre del Mangia, the second highest medieval tower built in Italy.

My last stop was to see the other jewel I’ve had on my list of top church to see, the Duomo di Siena (1136-1382). It’s a unique of mix of sculpture, paintings and Romaneque-Gothic architecture and containing works by Nicola Pisano, Donatello, and Michelangelo. The church is unique in that the structural stone work used alternating blue and white marble bricks to create a unique look unlike any other church I’ve seen. There are also extremely elegant inlaid marble works on the floor. Furthermore, outside the church you can see the front facade entrance and east wall of the unfinished nave that would have changed the direction of the cross layout of the church and ultimately would have made the Church the largest in Christendom, but aparently after the Plague the plans got nixed. To top it all off Siena contains one of the most preserved City Walls that are a must-see. Siena definitely lived up to my expectation just hopefully next time I’ll see it during il Palio!


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