Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Italy Day 6: the rest of Siena

As it was our last day in Siena, Lisa brought us to the remaining must-see places on her list. Tops was visiting the interior of Palazzo Publico, the building on the edge of Il Campo square that hosts the iconic square tower of the city. Though technically just the city hall, and functioning still as such, it is gorgeously decorated with mosaics and notable frescos. It’s a veritable visual and historical feast in there, all colorful and sparkley, totally belying the plain brick exterior. I most enjoyed getting a glimpse into what life in medieval Siena looked like, as seen in the detailed and ornate frescos on good and bad government. The city looked surprisingly the same architecturally, but in ye olden days it apparently had more serfs, capes, and ladies dancing, and fewer coffee shops: about what I would have expected. Plus the sin in the “bad government” fresco was funny.

We had lunch at Lisa’s local deli, but don’t let that make you think it was simple fare. These Italians, they really really take their lunches seriously, taking 2 hours off every day for a multi-course meal, even if just at the deli. We started with five tiny bruschetta with, respectively, smoked cheese, hot pepper goo, pesto, olive oil, and stewed red cabbage; more ribolita (Tuscan bread soup); Tuscan bean soup; of course more Chianti; and a plate of grilled meats incl. a breaded chicken cutlet, a lamb? meatloaf with interesting spices, and a pork? meatloaf with tomato sauce. It was all meltingly scrumptious. And of course we finished with tiny, intense coffees.

Next on to the Panaramio, the intriguing tall arch initially built to be the front façade of the Duomo cathedral. The current cathedral is what was intended to be the transept of a much larger structure. When the plague and then the Florentines brought low the city in the mid-1300s, construction permanently halted, leaving some glorious columns and arches surrounding an open space that is now a parking lot of sorts. You can still climb up the tiny stairwell within the wall of the intended façade, though, and walk out somewhat dangerously along the top two arches for some of the best views of the city and surrounding countryside. Which we did, somewhat to my mother’s horror. And the sunlight and rooftops and bricks and hills were beautiful.

Across the plaza from the Panoramio is the imposing structure brick structure of Santa Maria Della Scala. The heart of the building was built around 850 CE and functioned as a hostel for pilgrims, an orphanage, and a hospital until the mid-1900s, expanding all the while into its current airy warren. The city is still trying to settle on a use for this huge space, which boasts not only enormous historical significance and antiquity even for Italy, gem box chapels and truly unique well-preserved frescos, and echoey plain former ward rooms, but also enormous maintenance and heating bills. It’s currently serving as a museum, holding the collections of other city art establishments. I especially enjoyed seeing the frescos of medieval medical practices in all their gory glory, and appreciating the perfect evening light coming through the ancient windows.

Dinner was another feast, this time featuring crepes filled with paste made from boiled salted codfish. Lisa had raved about it so much I was sure the real thing couldn’t stand up to her praise, especially since it sounded so icky, but indeed I wished I could have eaten six more.

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