Friday, June 29, 2018

Duomo, Cathedral

The 13th-c duomo or cathedral is the other major site in Siena. The ornate west facade of pink and white stone with the black and white layers reminds me of an elaborate wedding cake. As Henry pointed out, it is on a much smaller, less central piazza than the Palaccio Publico.

What fascinates me about this cathedral (besides the incredibly medieval interior) is the mid-14th-c plan to enlarge it and create a church even larger than that of rival Florence. It was started in 1339, but in 1348 the Black Plague arrived. Half the city died or fled and work stopped. Here stand the partially built walls--framing a parking lot. The red brick is a museum built in the aisle.

The interior of the cathedral is mind-boggling as well. Definitely NOT twentieth-century design.

Even the floor is covered with stories.

I couldn't skip the Piccolomini Library, although I see that I didn't take any pictures of books.

I was pretty spaced out by then. We went back to the hotel and I went to bed, leaving Steve to find lunch on his own. In the late afternoon we headed out to see the baptistry (right) built underneath the nave. The steps lead to the never-finished part of the cathedral.

The font shows the baptism of Christ as do some of the wall paintings.

According to the authoritative Wikipedia article, the baptistry was completed in 1325, but the design on the floor seems to be a premonition of the Black Death.

Across the piazza from the duomo is the Santa Maria della Scalla, a medieval hospital used into the 20th c. I saw a photo of twentieth-century hospital beds lined up in this ward. By then I was coughing so much I thought they might let me stay.

Sunday we traveled from Siena to Rome to Amsterdam. We got lost (again) on our way to the train station. We came down the wrong side of a ridge and were going the opposite direction from the station when we stopped to ask directions. We made our way back up the ridge where we found a long escalator (series of escalators actually) that come down into a shopping center across the street from the station.

Monday was Amsterdam to home in time for Steve to get to band practice. I went to bed and slept most of Tuesday as well. I'm feeling much better now, but I did not get pictures up until now. I would love to return to Tuscany when I am healthier and have the time just to soak it all in instead of running around trying not to miss anything. Anyone want to rent a villa?

Palazzo Publico, Siena Town Hall

Well, I didn't get pictures up the next day...or the next... Saturday, our last touring day, I coughed more and more, but there was still so much I wanted to see! Siena is a marvelous city, well worth the visit. I hope to get back when I am feeling better.

Saturday morning we started with the Palazzo Publico, the 13th-c town hall on the Piazza del Campo, where the Palio horse race has taken place annually for hundreds of years.

Henry Brooks points out that where most cathedral towns are centered around the church, Siena made government their god. (The climax of his not-yet-published book Absolution takes place in the Palazzo.) The interior is lavishly painted in medieval style. 

Perhaps the most famous painting is this one of Good Government (on the right) aided by Justice (on the left) assisted by Harmony (below her) dispersing wisdom to the citizens who give authority to the government.

To the right is a mural portraying the results of good government in a prosperous city and countryside. To the left is a painting of Bad Government. The result is dead bodies in the street and general decay. Perhaps our politicians should take note.

The Torre del Mangia towers over the courtyard of the palace and over the piazza.

Despite my cough, I couldn't resist climbing. (I noted that there was a senoir discount for touring the palaccio, but no senior discount to climb the 400-steps of the tower.)

I stopped freqquently to enjoy the views.

The views of the surrounding city and countryside were fabulous, including this one of the cathedral.

Steve climbed with me to the loggia at the top of the back of the building. It made we wish we had brought a picnic lunch to enjoy in the breeze.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Living in Style in Siena

This is a marvelous medieval city and I had no intention of staying in a Holiday Inn and busing in for the day. I was amazed at where we ended up. It's a marvelous old building, I assume a sumptuous family home from long ago.

The door is automatic and uses a fob.

After letting ourselves through another door into a courtyard, there is a sort of bridge to the elevator, which only goes between the ground floor and our floor.

Here's Steve relaxing in our living room. He turned the couch so he could see the World Cup on TV while he reads.

The bedroom is elegant.

And my favorite: the ceiling of the bedroom.

I took way more pictures today, but my cough is worse, and I'm headed for bed. :-) Maybe I'll get them up tomorrow.

Friday, June 22, 2018

At Home with St. Catherine

Beautiful Tuscany. I have read stories of people who rented a villa in Tuscany for a month. If anyone is interested in sharing expenses, I would love to do it. As we rode the train north we caught glimpses of hilltop towns and castles, sunny fields, little villages--the stuff of dreams. The grocery here in Siena where I bought things for breakfast has sausages and cheeses, ready-made salads and fresh baguettes that all screamed picnic.

We arrived around noon, and although I remembered walking up with Katie 18 years ago, the way wasn't obvious and Steve convinced me that with our luggage we should take a taxi. Well worth it. The taxi couldn't take us the whole way, but he pointed out where we were to go. The place is a baroque fantasy and I will give you pictures tomorrow, but for this afternoon we just wandered around the narrow streets of this medieval town.

We spent more time at the sanctuary of St. Catherine of Siena. It's on the site of her house, but I have a feeling it doesn't look anything like her house would have looked. She was from a trandesman's family in the 14th c. There was an orchard, but I need to do a lot more reading before I can write anything. She was a year old when the plague wiped out half the city and sent it from a major rival of Florence to a backwater. It still produced a pope from the Picolomini family in the 16th c.--my kids all know a song with that name--but never again achieved the same prominence.

It is Catherine's infancy (one of the younger children in a family of twenty something) and the crisis of the plague that interest me. But it comes after several other ideas in my priorities, so I doubt it will ever be written.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Santa Maria Maggiore

The papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was an easy walk from our hotel. The original basilica dates from the fifth century when Mary was declared Mother of God and not "merely" mother of Christ. The columns are even older.

Of course, there has been a lot of remodeling over the years. The ceiling is covered with gold brought from the new world in the 16th c.

The crypt beneath this shrine commemorates the nativity, with a life-size statue of Pope Sixtus V adoring pieces of the original manger in a silver reliquary. Again, I lament how Satan could take something good like respect for Jesus' mother and twist it into something that distracts people from God himself. No wonder Muslims often misunderstand the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Mother, which strikes them as blasphemous. I tend to agree.

We took an extra tour to the loggia (three arches above the doors in the first photo) which includes marvelous mosaics and four statues of angels. They were originally intended for above the altar, but it was decided that they were too heavy and might crush the thing.

View from the loggia down one of the radiating streets.

The 17th-c Lorenzo Bernini spiral stair is in the private apartments that we could only see (along with the loggia) in the tour. I guess quite a few high ranking priests live there, some in apartments off the papal hall we were shown. We weren't allowed to go up or down more than a few steps on the stair because it is their private quarters. Just after we viewed the stair, a priest came down and walked through the papal hall where we were in silence. When he was gone, the guide said, "I hate him. He doesn't want us to be here." I suspect that 'hate' was rather a strong word for her irritation, but I couldn't blame him for not appreciating tourists come to see his apartment building. However, if you live in a centuries-old papal palace, it kind of comes with the territory.

For supper we shared a pizza in the same colonade where we had lunch. The menu said sausage, broccoli, and mozzarella. I thought that sounded strange, but Steve was interested in something completely different from Burnett Dairy. It turned out to be spinach, not broccoli. I was just glad that "salsiche" didn't mean "hot dogs" like it would in Brazil.

Adam, I'm trying to figure out where I could install one of these light fixtures. Maybe you should get one for your stairwell.

Second Attempt at Saint Peter's

If yesterday's bus experience (at 7:30 in the morning) had been the same as today's (at 9), I would not have recommended it to Steve. We were squashed in like porverbial sardines. (Not roasted on coals. Fortnuately the buses are air condditioned. There was still a security line, but not as bad as when we came out of the church.

St. Peter's is overwhelmingly beautiful. Pictures cannot begin to convey the experience. It boggles my mind to imagine how the artists (there were several) conceived of how to create such beauty.

Those Swiss guard uniforms must be hot.

We took the bus past our hotel to the piazza near the train station and this basilica of St. Mary and the Angels and Martyrs in the Emperor Domitian's old baths.

There is restauration going on. You can see someone on a scaffold to the left. The truth is that every church we have been in, even those that don't make the tourist map, is full of gorgeous art. There is no 19th and 20th c Romantic smaultz.

Lunch was in a colonnade on the Piazza da Republica. I ordered clams, shrimp and callimari with squid ink pasta. The black 'worms' here are the pasta. Delicious. Katie would have loved it. Steve turned up his nose and ate lasagne.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Exploring Rome

My plan was to take the bus to the Vatican this morning since Steve had been there a couple months ago. That worked fine except that there was no place to pay my money. You seemed to need a transit card. Except that I never saw anyone pay with a card. I never saw anyone even pretend to pay. Even the priest. I hung onto my E1,50 in case someone asked.

I wasn't surprised at the security at St. Peter's. After all, it would be a great target for anyone who hated Christianity. But when I got into the courtyard, I found it full of chairs ready for an event. This is Wednesday; the pope comes into the courtyard to bless the people. I could have gotten a great seat and undoubtedly shaken his hand, but I couldn't see sitting in the sun for an hour plus before it started, and then sitting there for another couple hours for the event. It felt disrespectful to leave, but I did.

I wandered along the river and through the Trastevere area instead.

I'm sure there is a banquet scene set in the Villa Farnesina in the book I have been editing for Henry Brooks. I was disappointed that the gardens were not open to visitors.

Henry's book is set in 1508. The building has just been constructed, and the artists are discussing what they plan to paint. One thing they are playing with is ideas of perspective. The niche over the door here is just as flat as the niche to the left. Both are simply painted into the plaster to give the illusion of depth. The garlands show fruits and vegetable from all over the world, many new to Europe in the previous decade and a half.

This upstairs room has scenes painted at each end. This is a flat wall. No columns. No statue in a niche. No city beyond the balcony rail.

Having come that far south of my return bus, I sought out the Santa Maria in Trastevere Church. The frieze under the pediment shows ten vigins with lamps coming to Christ.

The apse is gorgeous gold mosaic.

This 7th c icon is the oldest extant image of the Virgin Mary. So many of the churches here give more honor to her than to her Son. It must make her so sad.

I came home to a shower and nap. Then Steve messaged me that they were making great progress and he would come back this evening rather than tomorrow afternoon. Great news, but he wouldn't be back in time for dinner. I had this idea of where I wanted to eat near the Piazza Navona, but I kept getting turned around. I wandered the whole area without finding the piazza. I WANTED to wander the area, but I wanted to do it radiating out from a known point, namely the piazza. Very frustrating to go up and down, sometimes the same streets after asking directions. I must have looked left when I should have looked right or something. Finally found it, but the place I had been dreaming of wasn't open yet. Since Steve was going to be coming back, I found an alternative, ate my spaghetti with clams which he would not have enjoyed at all, and headed 'home.' Except I got turned around again. I finally figured out that although the map I was using showed little pictures of highlights, they weren't necessarily oriented correctly. It was 8:30 before I got 'home', only to find Steve had arrived and gone out for lasagne locally since I wasn't here. He pointed out that, although I don't have international data on my phone, the tourist app uses the phone GPS and could have told me where I was. Duh. Next time...

I'm coughing and my desire to go anywhere tomorrow is pretty slim right now.