For years I’ve dreamed of visiting Siena. I thought I’d jinxed myself when I elected to visit San Gimignano (which was beautiful but not nearly so interesting) instead of Siena in 2006. But never say never, and last Monday I stood, near tears, in Il Campo, the main square of Siena, and thought my heart would burst with happiness! Rick Steves calls Il Campo “the best square in Italy,” and it’s definitely almost on the top of my list as well (after the main square in Syracuse in Sicilia)—at least so far. It’s certainly one of the most energetic squares in Italy, along with Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona in Rome.
Fortunately our Monday receptionist told us which parking lot to use, because historic Siena is at the top of a REALLY steep hill, and the parking lot, although part way up the hill, was just a couple of blocks from a series of escalators that whisked us to the top. In Rome many escalators are out of order much of the time, but in Siena, only the last, short escalator wasn’t working. We came out of the escalator near the Baptistery just under the Duomo and marched straight down a short distance to Il Campo (everything in Siena is straight up or straight down—nothing is level!).
We gawked for a bit, trying in vain to imagine the Palio di Siena, the world-famous horse race held two days each year—July 2 and August 16. During the Palio, crowds fill the center and line the edges of Il Campo and horses representing 10 of the 17 city wards race three times around the “track.” The race, which began in the 14th century, lasts for about 90 seconds. Wow!
We then found a bar overlooking Il Campo and had drinks—coffee for Michael and Pepsi for me. I’ve seen lots of photos of Il Campo, but I’d never realized that it forms a large bowl, with pretty steep sides. People were everywhere on Il Campo, having drinks and snacks in bars, walking around the square, and sitting in the bowl. Because the streets in Siena are so steep, we decided to hang out in Il Campo and have lunch there, so we made a slow circle, ending up at Il Bandierino in the southeast corner. Michael finally had his beloved cinghiale (wild boar), and I had a sausage and onion pizza (good pizza and good sausage but not so good as the sausage the day before at Nerbone [now La Terrazza] in Greve).
While we were eating, it began to spit rain, and by the time we headed up the hill to the Duomo, it was pouring. We almost decided to skip the Duomo but eventually got in line to buy tickets, and we’re so glad we did. It is glorious! If you go to Siena, don’t miss it.
The Duomo, which sits on the highest point in Siena, is constructed of dark green and white striped marble in the Tuscan style of the Duomo in Florence. If the outside is beautiful (and it is), the inside is breathtaking for the art, sculpture, frescoes, striped columns, and inlaid marble floors created by Michelangelo, Bernini, and Umbrian painter Pinturicchio, among others.
We braved the rain to visit the Crypt and the Baptistery and then headed home for a lovely special dinner at our B&B, La Canonica di Cortine, where we enjoyed marinated olives, pecorino cheese, and herbed focaccia; asparagus and artichoke lasagna (to die for!!!); peposo all fornacina (sort of like pot roast cooked in red wine and spices—delicious!); and chocolate torte served with a bottle of red wine from Cortine and Vin Santo for dessert.
If this wasn’t a perfect day, I’ll never have one! Sublime!