Siena Off The Beaten Path Tips by leics
Siena Off The Beaten Path: 63 reviews and 130 photos
One of the things I love about historical towns is the way buildings have been re-built, re-used and recycled over the centuries. There's evidence of this in some of the older parts of the UK, but I have seen far more when visiting other EU countries.
It's worth keeping your eyes open for odd arches, windows cut into doorways, new facades on older buildings and so on. Ancient towns and cities were organic; they grew and developed slowly, as circumstances dictated; none of the wholesale destruction and re-building which seems to have really begun in the 20th century.
This building is in the streets behind the Duomo. You can see the original arched window now blocked up, the orignal roofline and evidence above that of further changes and additions. Who knows, maybe the original foundations of the building date back to the time before the Duomo was even thought of? History on show, but almost hidden. Fascinating.
Whilst in the church of S. Domenico, do look at the beautiful wooden carving of Christ which is displayed on the wall of the chapel to the extreme left. I could find out nothing about it whatsoever. It is clearly very old, with evidence of woodworm, and is most beautifully and accurately carved.
Perhaps it wasn't carved by anyone very important, and that's why there's no information about it. But I thought it was lovely, and worth seeing.
You'll no doubt visit S. Domenico, founded in 1125 and one of Siena's most important churches. And you'll probably note (on the right of the entrance) the steps where Saint Catherine received her stigmata, and the chapel to her memory above.
What you might not do is walk up and into the chapel, and even if you do you might not notice the small white marker tiles set into the floor. One marks where her heart lies (in front of the altar), one her vestments, one her crucifix; I don't know if they are still there.
Catherine's head, and one finger, are preserved in a reliquary in her chapel proper, which lies further down the church on the southern side of the church. The rest of her is buried in Rome.
I only noticed the marker tiles by accident, but thought I should share. Apologies for the quality of the photos; I have dreadful camera-shake sometimes!
I always go angel-spotting when around old religious buildings. Not because I believe in them (because I don't) but because they are often tucked away, beautifully carved or sculpted and (most importantly from my point of view) if they are Medieval then their faces are probably those of real people who were around at the time.
In the UK cathedrals and old churches are covered in images of the worthy and not-so-worthy citizens known to the artisans who carved and sculpted and built; I am sure the same applies to the Medieval artisans of other countries. So it's worth exploring the faces a little, for they let us know a little more about the ordinary people who were around at the time........and that builds understanding.
The angels in the picture are hidden away on a side door panel of the Duomo. The one on the right is clearly a most determined young man!
A horse, and a bull.........
The Duomo is beautiful of course, its 13th century facade a panorama of twiddles and images, its barley-sugar twists and its pink-and-white layers..............rather like a cake, in fact.
It's easy to be amazed, and then wander inside to explore some more. But it's worth exploring the facade in more depth, if you have time (your camera zoom-lens wil be helpful). The statues are mostly from the workshop of Giovanni Pisano, who designed the frontage in 1284, although the mosaics date from the nineteenth century (made by Venetian artists). There's am amazing range of statues and carvings: people, geometric twiddles, tiny angels, animals, birds.....even a Green Man hidden away (see tip below).
Remember that Medieval sculptors based faces in their carvings on people they knew.........you are looking at images of real people. And it didn't matter if the carving was too high up for people to see it, for it would always be visible to God.
Green Man in Siena
The Green Man (with foliage growing from or around his head) is a massively ancient symbol of fertility and new life. As with so many other pagan customs, he was absorbed into Christianity and his image appears in many ancient UK cathedrals and churches. He is a symbol across Europe (though far less common within the European churches and cathedrals I have explored) so I was especially pleased to find him tucked away on the facade of the Duomo. He's on the right, emerging from a garland of foliage (as he should), about halfway up.
Finding him was rather like finding an old friend!
Alleyway view 2
Do look out for the numerous alleyways which lead off the narrow Medieval streets of Siena. They are hugely evocative of what the city must have been like in those days; narrow and shaded, probably rather smelly (though not now), vibrant with noise and life. There are some wonderful glimpses and views to be had............my camera isn't brilliant, so maybe your photos will be better than mine.
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