On a day trip from Florence, I went to Siena, which is strategically placed up a big hill from the railway station. Siena is an exceptionally well-preserved renaissance city which has ensured that any development since has to conform to the existing design (sadly this has not prevented a McDonalds being built there). It looks very pretty. After being refreshed by a liquid lunch, I decided to check out the cathedral complex – a ticket for the cathedral also gives access to the crypt, the libreria, the baptistry, a very high wall that had been intended to be part of a new cathedral, and a gallery across town.
The cathedral looks a little fancy pants from the outside, but I really liked it from inside. It was grand and beautifully designed. The ceilings were magnificent and there were gorgeous floors. Outside there had been a sign warning that the floor was only open from August to October so I was kind of envisaging the floor being covered in straw or something. Instead, there was some beautiful marble and decorations. Between floor and ceiling it wasn’t quite as good, the art was nothing special and the green and white striped pillars kind of looked like mint humbugs if you looked directly at them. However if you kept them to the periphery of your vision then the overall ambience they create (combined with a couple of lovely stained glass windows at either end) is really effective. It also passed the due reverence test, excellent usage of candles and inappropriately dressed people were given a turquoise shawl to cover up, which made them look appropriately ludicrous.
Elsewhere in the complex, the Libreria had a pretty floor, a bloody horrible ceiling and some great manuscripts – for me anyway, I’ve never seen a medieval manuscript I didn’t like, damn you Caxton and Guttenberg! The Crypt had some very brightly coloured frescos which had only been rediscovered very recently in renovation work. It’s hard to believe that they could have been simply forgotten when the current cathedral replaced the previous structure. It was also interesting that they contrasted sharply with the sombre design that supplanted it. The Baptistry was very pretty, as was the views from on top of the wall. Less impressed by the art, the brilliantly nicknamed Sodoma apart (I wouldn’t like to guess how he got that tag, but judging from how many devotional works he was allowed to decorate the city with, I’m thinking it wasn’t the obvious one). Most incongruously, while I was looking at all the religious art in the gallery, outside in the square there was some kind of speaker system blaring out Queen’s “We Are The Champions”. Mind you, when I was going round the Uffizi I had “Pump Up The Jams” stuck in my head without external stimulus, so I’m not one to talk.
The other main attraction of Siena is the main square which is scenic enough though I can only imagine how much more exciting it is when the palio is on.