This post is brought to you by CalChews, calcium goodness you can chew which gives you your daily recommended dose of Calcium, Vitamin D, and K, for optimum bone health, minus the risk of heart disease; and by the Lifestyle Network, the premiere cable channel for women in the Philippines. This 5-day getaway was my prize as the official winner for the Tuscan Blogger Adventure by CalChews.
“Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.”
— Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun
*This post on Siena deserves a solo spot, partly because it was my most favorite stop on this Tuscan adventure, and partly because I took too many photos!
There seemed to be no end to the travelling, come day 2 of our Tuscany itinerary. Ordinarily, I would have winced at the idea of spending five hours on a bus, but not this day. That’s because we were going to three of the most illustrious cities in the region: Siena, the Castello d’Albola (home of the famous Chianti Classico wine), and Pisa. (It took about 90 minutes to 2 hours between each city!)
Our first stop: Siena.
Siena is about an hour and a half drive by bus from Florence. Its city center is, in fact, a UNESCO World Heritage site. With its medieval cityscape that has remained virtually unchanged since the High Middle Ages (just before the Renaissance of the 1400′s.), Siena still echos with stories from the past. Being a history buff, I was giddy. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to see this ancient city I’d only read about in school textbooks and encyclopedias.
Our tour began when we met our guide, Costanza, who had grown up just outside Siena . We met her in front of the Basilica of St. Dominic. Situated on a hill outside the city center, the basilica is still home to the Dominican Order, and the shrine of one of its most important personalities, St. Catherine of Siena. (Her relics are venerated in the main church, which is why photographs are strictly disallowed.)
Our Siena guide, Costanza; the door into the Basilico di San Domenico
History began to come alive for me, as we began the tour of this basilica. Like its patroness, Catherine, the humble exterior of the church is simple and unimposing. But, as you go inside — into its very heart and sanctuary — the spirit of the city begins to speak; Catherine’s soul is still very much alive. The church’s interior chapels, altars and artwork, which were all crafted by artisans of the 1300-1400′s, showed how the Christian religion was heavily intertwined with everyday life. Everything was sacred, venerated, and adored.
In the same way, there’s a somewhat sacred vibe that resonates in Siena, especially as you walk through its labyrinth of medieval streets and alleys. The mere age of the city amazed me, and seeing how not much has changed in the last 800 years made it even more alluring.
The edge of the city of Siena, overlooking the basilico di San Domenico. My husband said it looks like a Wikipedia photo.
If these streets and walls could speak, what secrets they would tell! My friend Gab says this looks like a still from The Bicycle Thief.
This is the side gate from the Duomo’s baptistry, which leads to the front courtyard of the basilica. (Yes, it’s just a gate!)
The show-stopping Duomo di Siena, an imposing Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, completed in the 14th century.
I honestly did not mind all the walking we had done up to this point. Seeing the Duomo in all its splendor made me forget how my back was smarting from the long plane ride the day before. (And of course, my morning dose of CalChews was surely doing its work.) I remember alternating between my phone cam and Lumix, frenetically capturing as many angles and details as I could of this masterpiece.
Time to get cultured! (OK, that came out weird. Anyway…)
The vastness of the Duomo di Siena!
The inside of the Duomo di Siena is just plain awesome. I tried to imagine how the Sienans back in the 1300′s must have felt the first time they set foot in this place. Back then, this was the equivalent of today’s latest mind-boggling gadget: It wasn’t just a cathedral; it was a technological wonder of its time.
Everywhere I looked, there were just details, details, details. Everything was created with purpose, with a story, from the pulpit with a 360 degree marble etching of the story of salvation, to the marble panels on the floor that illustrated famous Bible stories. Being in the Duomo di Siena was like rediscovering God all over again, and how he really is Creator, the originator of everything beautiful, of the author of every design.
I also breathed a prayer of thanks for the arts. As a totally right-brained kid, I appreciated that I was given the freedom to revel in my creative side, whether it was through painting and sketching, or writing short stories and poems. I felt totally at home amidst this artistry. It was brilliant.
The different marble floors in and around the Duomo di Siena
The “Madonna del Latte” by Paolo do Giovanni Fei (1300′s), is one of the first daring paintings showing a nursing Mary. Tweeted this out to some of the nursing moms I know!
The ceiling in the Duomo’s Piccolomini Library, which tells the life story of some of Siena’s most important figures.
Illuminated choir manuscripts with Gregorian chants. These were ginormous!
Even with world-renowned heritage sites, Siena is still a simple, beautiful and traditional town. If you’re from a big city like Manila, you’ll find it rather inconvenient, to be honest! But, the people there have made the most of their rich heritage, their unique culture, and their artistic treasures, their traditions. In fact, every year, they still hold annual horses races (known as Il Palio di Siena) in the Piazza del Campo, a plaza hailed as one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe. No prize money is awarded to the winner of the race! He receives a higher honor: The privilege to display his emblem around the town square.
Our group in the middle of the Piazza
Siena made a deep impression on me. Being a rather “unschooled” learner at heart, it was amazing to walk through the city, to see things first hand, to have those high school World Culture lessons leap out from the pages of my old textbooks. I don’t know if one can be overly-fascinated by a place, but that’s exactly how I felt. Even Costanza, our guide, mentioned to me, “I like you! You are very interested!”
I felt like a student again.
It felt fantastic.
It’s true that when you visit a place, you become a part of it. In Taglish (Tagalog-English), some might say “nag-fe-feeling lang siya” (or, “she’s just feeling it too much that she was in that place), but please reserve judgment. When you’ve been dreaming of a place so badly — ever since you were a little girl — the experience of a dream come true is just phenomenal.
Kinda like my wedding day all over again. Or the time I became a mom.
It is fantastic.
Our half-day in Siena had opened a new door into Tuscany for me. I couldn’t wait to see what else lay ahead.
Read the other entries in this Tuscan Blogger Adventure Series: