Sunday, October 4, 2015


After Florence, we were to spend our next three nights in the Tuscan town of Cortona.  But on the way, we spent a day in the beautiful, charming city of Siena.  Until the high Middle Ages, Siena was a major intellectual and commercial rival to Florence, but it was devastated by the plague in 1348 CE and never really recovered.  Now it is a tourist center known primarily for two attractions, (a) its large fan-shaped city square, Il Campo, and the annual horse race associated with it, the Palio, and (b) its stunning cathedral, the Siena Duomo.

Our tour of Siena was made that much more enjoyable by our able and colorful guide, the most entertaining on our tour.

In addition to describing the rivalry between Siena and Florence, she explained the emotional importance of the Palio to the city's culture.  It seems that for centuries the city has been divided into 17 districts that are partly a matter of geography and partly one of heritage.  Each of the districts has a mascot, usually an animal, and representations of that mascot are spread throughout each respective district.  Here are photos I caught of the eagle and the elephant.

Tow of the other mascots are a turtle and a snail, not exactly fitting as mascots for a horserace.  Each year 10 of the districts are selected to have horses in the annual Palio, though it appears that the horses are assigned to the districts on a random basis.  The race is then held in the city square, which, while large for a plaza, seems small as a racetrack.  The horses (and jockeys) do three laps of the perimeter of Il Campo, the track for which is covered with sand for the race.  The winning horse gives that district bragging rights for the following year.  Exciting if you are a Sienese.

That this is a big deal for the city is illustrated by the fact that the modest sized but ornate church in the following photo has been converted into a stable for the horses.

There was no horse race on the day we were there, but there was to be some sort of semi-serious foot race, and a crowd was gathering in anticipation, including the following individual on the upper floor of one of the buildings on the square.

It appears there were actual teams of competitors, and I was lucky to catch the following runners, apparently part of a team, stretching out in advance of the start.

Note that, not only did they have matching uniforms, each of their names was printed on the back of their jerseys.

Tourism is a major enterprise in Siena, as in most of the towns that we visited.  Here are a couple of photos of retail offerings.

To be honest, I'm not sure what the athletic Olive Oil lookalike below was about, but I liked it anyway.

I also liked the sculpture that I caught in the following shot.

I thought that shooting the statue from the side to include the surrounding buildings worked to create context.

Following is a typical city "street" in a shot that includes a few of our fellow travelers, including Geri.

One thing we learned about drivers on these narrow city streets--they are not cautious about making their way through the pedestrian traffic; rather, they simply assume that pedestrians will fend for themselves.

Finally, here is a shot through one of the portals leading to Il Campo.

I worked quite a bit in post processing to keep the two figures largely in silhouette and still bring out color and detail in the scene behind them.  In the end, I decided that the car and motorcycle were OK as part of the urban scene.


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