If visiting Tuscany then I recommend a visit to Siena; set on three hills with the Piazza del Campo at its centre, reached by winding alleyways and steep staircases. Founded by Senius and Ascanio sons of Remus (twin to Romulus who founded Rome), with statues of the wolf feeding twins spotted throughout. Declared as a world heritage site filled with cuisine, art, museums, fantastic architecture and the Piazza del Campo where the Palio (annual horse race) is held twice a year on the 2nd July and 16th August.
Palio Siena Tuscany
The Palio is a major event in the Siena Calendar which begins with the Corteo Storico (a historical costume parade). Siena is split into seventeen districts (contrada) with each being symbolised by an animal or mascot; and ten horses and riders (in appropriate colours) represent their contrade. This bareback horse race is three laps of the piazza del campo which lasts no more than 90 seconds. Jockeys are often thrown from their horses and it is not uncommon for horses to finish the race without their riders – they will still win the race if they do so. The contrade that wins receives the Drappellone (a painted silk banner). It is free to watch the Palio from the centre but very busy. You are unable to go to the toilet or buy food/drink and it is not advisable to take small children.
Catherine of Siena
Catherine of Siena was from the 17th contrade of Siena (Contrada dell’Oca) that of the Goose and you can still visit her family home where she grew up. Catherine of Siena is one of only two patron saints of Italy and one of six patron saints of Europe. She is believed to have felt herself unite in marriage to Jesus and had miraculous visions. Catherine grew up in a poor family being the surviving twin after her mother had already borne 22 children (half of which had died) and two years older than the 25th child in the family. Catherine of Siena’s pet name given to her means Joy in Greek (Euphrosyne).It is no wonder as she became very involved in Politics, travelling around Italy to make her views known. She begged for the return of Papacy from Avignon to Rome and peace between the republics and principalities of Italy. Catherine died at aged just 33 years of age in Rome. This is where her body is preserved in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva Rome, but of course because she did so many amazing things for Italy, different areas of Italy wanted to have Catherine of Siena there with them. There are stories of how bits of Catherine of Siena’s body were snuck out of Rome – such as her head and finger but turned into a bag of petals when searched by the Roman guards. These were taken to Siena and you can now see Catherine of Siena’s preserved head and finger in the temple Basilica of San Domenico. Her foot is in the Basilica of Saints John and Paul in Venice.
Food in Siena
We enjoyed slices of Pizza at a very reasonable price and bought some Panforte – as Siena is where it originated from back In the 13th century: it is a traditional chewy Italian dessert containing fruits and nuts, similar to a florentine but much thicker and larger, or a little like a Lebkuchen.
Have you visited Siena? Do you have anything to add about this beautiful place?
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