We were suppose to arrive in Siena, from Cinque Terre at 7 pm. Given the train strike, we only reached our destination around 10.30 pm. The buses that were suppose to take us to our b&b were nowhere to be found so we started walking. The city is set up on a hill, but the officials were kind enough to consider luggage loaded tourists and built some great escalators, that take you quite quick from the train station up to the main road. From there you go straight ahead until you reach one of the city gates, and that keep going towards the city centre.
A light rain had started, the streets were pretty quiet, our accommodation was basically at the other end of the old town, so we moved along at a pretty slow pace. We stayed at Casa Laura, a bed & breakfast, without the breakfast, but set in an old palazzo, with tall rooms, vaulted ceilings and the nicest host. It was late and we were veeert tired, but we decided, since we only had one evening in the city, to take a quick stroll round town. So we dropped our bags, put some jackets on because it was a bit chilly and went out. It was the typical old city atmosphere, with narrow streets and old buildings. Very nice, but not extraordinary.
That was until I entered Campo. Campo is the central square of Siena. It’s a huge impressive sight, possibly the most beautiful square I’ve seen in the whole of Italy and elsewhere. The effect was even more amazing since the rain had just stopped and the whole square ant the buildings around it were wrapped up in an almost unearthly mist. I needed a couple of minutes to snap out of the awe and fascination. The square is tilted and opens up like a gigantic fan. At the base is the Palazzo Pubblico, with Torre del Mangia, and around all sorts of gorgeous buildings. It’s the perfect square!
Just a couple of streets away, I was amazed once again when I ran into the dome. I had read somewhere that it’s the third most beautiful in Italy, after Milan and Orvieto, and it was indeed superb, with the black and white stripped model, that starts on the outside and continues inside. Unfortunately, the tower cannot be visited, but you can join a tour underneath the dome roofs, that offers a nice view from above of the dome and the city.
Another place that looks beautiful at night is Piazza dei Salimbeni. I couldn’t tell what made the impeccable image, but I’m inclined to think it’s all in the very well thought out lighting, that adds up to the place itself.
Since outside it was getting pretty chilly and we were beat, we turned in pretty soon. I for one had a very short nap and, waking up at 6, I left the room quietly and decided to have a look at the morning city. Just as beautiful. The square was even nicer with all the bars closed and no people around, so I washed my face in the central fountain, set on the ground and looked at the swallows that circled the tower and took wonder at how beautiful the place was. At about 7 things started to liven up. The garbage trucks and sweepers appeared, people started walking the streets, whistling happily, walking their dogs, jogging and opening shops and terraces. And a new day started. So we walked the streets, we bough panforte (a delicious Tuscan sweet that I had just discovered and totally loved), we visited the dome, went up Torre del Mangia to get a view from the top of the square and then came down and set on the cobbled tone to admire it again, from ground level. Anyway you go about it it’s amazing.
The very unstable weather only contributed to increasing the city charm. We’ve seen in under the rain, covered in mist after, under the clear sky at sunrise, completely swallowed by fog for about an hour, shaded by white fluffy clouds, rained on again and so it went. A marvellous meteorological madness.
In the end, analysing the reasons Siena was such a visual amazement we concluded that is was probably the combination of the relatively small scale of the city and the elements of grandness. The awe you feel when you walk out of a narrow street and enter a huge square and feel so small. I think that’s the secret. Anyway, you are left with a pretty strong impression and the desire to come back. But we had to move along to the Tuscan countryside.