Explore the Medieval Walled City of Sienna
Excerpt from the book On a Tall Budget and Short Attention Span from the Teresa the Traveler Series.
The train ride took longer than I had anticipated and much to my dismay I arrived in Sienna around nine in the evening. I was a little worried about how I was going to find a hotel so late at night and the train station was not in the center of town like most cities. I took a city bus into town and asked the driver where I could find a mid-range hotel. He stopped right in front of a boutique hotel with a vacant room. Thank God!
I unpacked my bags and went straight to sleep wanting to take it easy for the next few days before heading to Rome. The next morning, I grabbed a city map from the reception desk, went on a self-guided walking tour of Sienna and stumbled upon a cathedral built in the 13th century. Unfortunately it was the victim of weird Italian art. The front façade was covered with scaffolding over which was draped a huge canvas picture of the Domo di Orvieto.
I wondered why so many beautiful old buildings around Italy were covered with pictures of other buildings. I wished this weird form of art been invented after my visit. I prefer to see the actual building rather than a picture of another building covering the building. Was Italy trying to create jobs for unemployed scaffolders? I fretted about what other buildings they had done this too and prayed they hadn’t got to the Coliseum or the Pantheon.
I ended my day in a large medieval square in the center of town called Piazza Del Campo. Sienna’s main square plays host to the famous biannual horse-race, called the Palio di Sienna which takes place on July 2nd and August 16th. Attracting spectators from all over the world, the race consists of ten horses and riders representing ten of the city’s seventeen wards. The seven wards who do not participate are automatically entered into the next race while three are more chosen at random.
The race is preceded by a magnificent pageant in which the riders and horses are dressed up in the colors of their wards. At 7:30 pm, an explosive charge is detonated signaling the start whereupon the contestants run three laps around the outside of the plaza (which is covered in dirt with all the corners padded in preparation for the event). During the race, the riders are allowed to use a whip, made out of a dried bull’s penis, on either their horse or the other contestant’s horses to disrupt them. The winner is the first horse across the line with or without its rider and the loser is the second place horse.