Siena is a lovely and historic city in Tuscany, home to a total population of about 53,000, according to a 2016 census. The city center is almost completely free of vehicular traffic except for deliveries during certain hours and some very restrictive times, as brief as 15 minutes, for residents to move their cars! My one night stay was in the historic Grand Hotel Continental Siena, the only 5 star hotel in the city, housed in a lovely 17th century palazzo. The hotel is a reminder of the “Grand Tour” popular with young, wealthy Europeans, especially British and also Americans, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with it’s dark wood paneling, sweeping curtains and drapes, high ceilings and walls and classical room decorations. My room, Number 144, was somewhat dark with one window overlooking the rooftops of Siena with the Tower of the one of the many churches visible in the distance. Although the Wifi was very good, there was really no suitable work surface for a laptop, for instance. A small vanity surface was really not sufficient as a work space. The very comfortable bed and well appointed bathroom completed the rooms and I particularly enjoyed the walk-in shower although it was probably no more than one meter square!! I also enjoyed a Campari and orange juice cocktail in the very grand and formal bar which is seen in one of the attached photos. The breakfast the next morning was complete with everything that one could ask for. At about $280 for the night as the only 5 star hotel in Siena, I would recommend it for relaxation and nostalgia but perhaps not for business.
The morning following my overnight stay in Siena, I took a 2 hour tour guided by Maria Irena who spent the first hour showing me the magnificent Duomo or Cathedral begun in the 12th century and considered now one of the finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture available anywhere. The main facade dates from 1380 (see attached photos) and demonstrates the use of white and black marble to provide the distinctive white and black stripes which mark the Duomo’s exterior and interior as well. The interior of the Duomo is truly magnificent and full of historical and religious frescoes, paintings, sculptures and gold and jeweled decorations. The interior of the dome and the well preserved stained glass windows are particularly beautiful pieces of workmanship. One could spend many days and many hours and still not come to a full understanding of this fabulous place. It is a sight not to be missed if one visits Siena!
And then there is the fan shaped, Piazza del Campo, the site of the famous Palio horse race, held every July 2 and August 16 to commemorate the intervention of the Virgin Mary to secure victory for Siena over it’s foes in battle. The bareback riders carry colorful flags representative of 10 of the ‘wards” or districts of Siena, each of which has an animal mascot and the winner of the race is awarded a special, painted banner with an image of the Virgin Mary on it. The race has come to be widely known thanks to modern television.
There are so many wonderful sights in Siena including the Ducal Palace, the site of the government of Siena on the main facade of the Piazza del Campo; the Palazzo Chigi-Saracini, the location of the Academia Musicale Chigiani or Sienna Conservatory of Music; the Sanctuary Santa Caterina the site of the house where St. Catherine lived; the Jewish Synagogue in the Jewish Getto; and the Torre del Manga, a 114th century tower to name just a few of the sights of this remarkable Italian, Tuscan City.. Since the central city is virtually free of vehicular traffic it is fantastic for exploration on foot.
Finally, my friend and I had a very nice lunch at Osteria Le Logge, just a short walk from Piazza del Campo, at Via del Porrione 33. The restaurant has, since 1977, occupied a former ancient grocery store,
which was re-purposed as a restaurant by the husband and wife team of Giani and Laura Brunelli. I had a lovely and flavorful introductory dish of tender, white asparagus in a delicious cream sauce followed by a main dish of delicately sliced Tuna in a Ponzu sauce. My friend had a delicious (I know, I tried it too!!) dish of Tortelli-ricotta-Pomodorini gialli-basilico which was a larger version of Tortellini pasta Pomodoro with basil. We concluded our meal with the local favorite, Richiarelli cookies and Vin Santo, the later a fortified wine for ones health!! Eating in Italy is a fantastic, delight for ones palate and Siena is a delight for sight and sound and with excellent exercise thrown in. I recommend it highly!!