Siena & San Gimignano

These are both beautiful cities where you really feel their medieval history. They are small towns that feel relatively unchanged.

In Siena we first visited the Basilica of San Domenico. We had a guide for our Siena visit provided by the city. They do not allow outsiders to give tours. I will just say that her focus was Catholicism and the superiority of Siena to Florence. I quit listening early on. The church is …. interesting. They did not allow photographs sadly. It is a Gothic in style, built between 1226 and 1265. It has been damaged multiple times by fire and by wars. The first thing you notice when you walk in are very bright, gaudy in my opinion, stained glass windows. I am talking neon bright. They are contemporary, I don’t remember the year. When I asked about the original windows all I was told was that they were plain and that these windows had been designed and built by an artist from Siena. Additionally, the front doors of the church are covered in bronze art panels that are only 4 years old. The church also houses two relics from Catherine of Siena. Catherine of Siena lived 1347-1380. She was a headstrong and determined woman who became important in the Catholic church. Her beliefs were described as mystic. She fasted often and eventually starved herself to death. She died in Rome and it is said that her head and a finger were smuggled back to Siena where they are today in the church. Whether the head and finger were ever attached to Catherine, I cannot be sure, but there is indeed a head and a thumb on display. The head is enshrined in a chapel and you cannot get to close but it is definitely a petrified head.

This picture is from Wikipedia

The city is also known for the Palio di Siena, a medieval horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo twice a year. Siena has always had seventeen districts (neighborhoods). Each district has it’s own animal symbol. In past times intermarriage between peoples from different districts was not allowed. Today ten districts are represented by a horse and rider in the Palio di Siena. Dirt is placed on the cobbled piazza where the track will be. The riders wear the colors that represent their neighborhood, riding bareback they circle the piazza three times. Apparently it is not unusual for riders to be thrown off the horse. It’s not surprising when you see the small size of the piazza (for a horse track) and the fact that they are bareback. It must be quite a spectacle! Here’s a link to some interesting info about the race.

The city is amazingly beautiful and I had the most wonderful ravioli there that I have ever tasted. The ricotta was delicate and light and the very light sauce was made with a truffle oil that was so mild and delicious! I think it might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

San Gimingano was even more beautiful than Siena. I did not explore it as much because I wasn’t feeling well, but it felt to me more touristy and less lived in. Were I to go back I may feel differently about that. You definitely feel like you are entering a medieval city when you walk through the entry gate! Maybe that is why it felt touristy to me. It’s too perfect to be real, only it is! It’s economy was originally based on textiles but it collapsed after the plague which is probably why it has remained relatively unchanged. It has now become very popular with tourists as you will see from the crowds of people in the pictures.

This is where I had my first Aperol Spritz! So refreshing and good. It is bright orange in color. Aperol is an orange liqueur, not too sweet and slightly bitter. A glass filled with ice, 1/2 aperol and 1/2 prosecco with a dash of soda and a slice of orange. I will be trying this at home!

8 Comments on “Siena & San Gimignano

  1. Buongiorno Beth, loving your photos as always. Weird traditions those Catholics. The countryside is gorgeous. Hope you’re feeling better.


  2. Loved the photos. The clothes hanging out. The tower with numbers. The view through the arches. The countryside along the wall. And after your description of food, the osteria. So inviting. And the language? How’s it going?


    • I am getting a bit braver about the language. I have a story that I will save for a post! All well except for my feet!


  3. Wow, what scenery!! As an American, I’m always shocked about how old cities in Europe can be. The food sounds great. I hope you are bringing back some recipes, so we can try to recreate the lovely flavors.


    • My photos so far are very poor, maybe I will get something I can be proud of before I come home! I’m going to try to get some recipes but the secret is the ingredients. You can’t get ricotta and mozzarella at home like they have here….at least I don’t know where!


  4. The plaza where the race is held is enormous. I had difficulty capturing the full scope of it in an image. I think it would be fabulous to attend that race. We were told that the roar from crowds is a pretty wild experience…those crazy Italians! The day was gorgeous for you…what a gorgeous example of Tuscany!


  5. Your shots are great. I especially like the one of the young woman playing the instrument. You caught a sense of melancholy and isolation while still getting the action of her playing. Great lighting too!


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