Monday, February 29, 2016

Panthers and Unicorns and Snails, Oh My!

These two are the cutest!

Nothing is better or makes me feel more centered than visiting with my family, and luckily for me, my parents have been able to visit every February since I arrived. 

I was incredibly excited for this visit, in part because they'd be staying with me in the city! During their past visits I was living in Opera, which, though a quaint little town to live in, was not very much fun for visitors. It also took about 40-60 minutes on both a tram and a bus to get to the city center (though only about 15  minutes in a car-- if only I had one!), which meant that there was a long trek to get to the train station even before getting on the train for all of their day trips! I loved being able to show off Milan a little more, and to give my parents a more convenient base to explore from. 

On our first weekend together we took the train to Siena. 

The Tower of Eats (Torre del Mangia)
Despite the late hour of our arrival (we didn't get in until the afternoon), and the fact that most shops were closed all weekend, I completely loved the city. 

The more time I spend in Europe, the more history fascinates me. Medieval architecture has the power to transport you back in time, giving you the smallest glimpse into what it may have been to live hundreds of years ago. Siena maintains a Gothic feel, with it's street-plan dating back to the15th century. Towards the center of the city is the Piazza del Campo, with the Torre del Mangia as it's focal point. My Italian is by no means stellar, but I'm pretty sure that translates to "Tower of Eats." That's my kind of tower! 

It was fascinating trying to remember what all of the Roman numerals on each building stood for; the tower dates back to the early 1300s, but it was super funny to see buildings and fountains with dates in the 1980s. I love thinking that someday a future-family would float by with their jetpacks and consider what life might be like way back when in 1982! I wish the photo showed this better, but a particularly striking feature of the the plaza was how it was sloped. It was established as a marketplace even before the tower was built (sometime before the 1200s), but wasn't paved until the 1300s. The entire plaza slopes downwards towards a point right in front of the tower and the Palazzo Pubblico, which made it a little nerve-wracking to walk in on the rainy, slippery weather. 

Siena's beautiful Duomo! While the facade reminded me of Milan's Duomo, the striped marble was more like Genoa's. Please feel free to refer to me is Ted Mosby, architecture snoot. 

A boy playing with Barberi
For a while, all of the incredible Medieval cities I saw reminded me of the movie Ever After, but lately it's been Romeo and Juliet (the one with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, not Leo and Claire). Siena was the epitome of this not only due to the city's layout, but also the history of rival clans. Though it is a small city, it is divided into 17 districts. Historically, each district was home to those of a specific occupation. For example, tanners lived in the snail district (Chiocciola), while while bankers lived in the dragon district (Drago).  

Originally there were many more, as well as a military association, but over the years the number of districts dwindled down, and they became more about patriotism and traditions than military. Each district (or contrada) has it's own flag, patron saint, motto, symbol, and animal. Important life events and festivals are celebrated within each district, and they still come together to compete at the Palio di Siena, a biannual horse race held in the Piazza del Campo. You can find the symbols all over the city; the different animals are proudly featured on fountains and statues, as well as souvenirs with each district's symbol. There was a statue I liked that I didn't realize until later was about the Palio and the districts: Barberi. One of the first games children from Siena play is with a bag of small wooden balls called barber. Each of the 17 balls is painted with colors and symbols to represent each district, and children race create courses to race them through like the horses race through the Palio. In this way, they come to recognize each of the contrade.  

Lupa (She-Wolf)
"Et urbis et senarum signum et decus"
"The arms of Rome, the honor of Siena"
Leocorno (Unicorn)
"Humberti regio gratia"
"A kingdom by the grace of Umberto"

Pantera (Panther)
"Il mio slancio ogni ostacolo abbatte. La pantera ruggì e il popolo si scosse."
"My momentum breaks down every obstacle. The panther roared and the people stirred."

I mentioned that most shops were closed for some reason...

(Off season? Carnivale? Weekend? Who knows!), but I can't close this post without mentioning one of the cutest souvenir shops I've ever been in. Though chock-full of tokens to remember Siena by, it can hardly be called a souvenir shop, but instead an art shop. As my parents and I happily looked through the store's lovely offerings, the sweet man who stood behind the counter told us that everything in the shop was made by him, his wife, and his son- truly a family business. 

I left with two beautiful blue espresso cups and saucers to use with my fabulous new espresso machine! I'm going to be SO Italian by the time I leave!

Each is decorated with a different contrada's
symbols and colors
Ceramiche S. Caterina- if you're ever in Siena,
 you've gotta go!

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