Siena, San Gimigniano and Pisa

Filed under: Italy — Russell @ 10:14 am  

Well a lot has happened since Florence.  On our last full day we took a bus trip to Siena and Pisa.  I liked Siena a lot.  Our tour guide talked about how historically, Siena was neither a religious government or a aristocracy.  Instead, the government of the nine, created a secular rule.  They overcame Siena’s lack of a port by building a modern (at the time) banking center.  The money from this paid for the maintenance of the public spaces, infrastructure and defence of the city.  This difference in government is reflected in the city architecture.  They built a large central public square.  This was a vote of confidence in the populous since often squares were kept small to avoid large public gatherings that could turn into revolutionary mobs.  They also build a town hall with a tower that was the same height as the cathedral.  The message was clear, we are acknowledge your authority but we don’t bow to it.  This Republic of Siena lasted about 500 years until the city fell to the Spanish in 1555.

The cathedral in Siena is beautiful.  The floor is inlaid with beautiful murals.  At the side of the main chapel is an entrance to a room that had been sealed for many years.  There were tapestries that hadn’t been exposed to candle smoke and were fresh and vibrant without having to be restored.

After Siena we had lunch at a family farm.  Tuscan farms are smaller than commercial farms in North America.  This may be the reason the food tastes so good here.  The Italians have opted for quality over efficiency.   This farm was less than 200 acres and family run.  The food was excellent and we sampled many wines from the local vineyard.

After lunch we went to San Gimignano.  As we approached we could see several tall towers on top of the hill.  They looked more like monuments than buildings with a real function.  The town was so clean and well ordered it felt like we were at Disneyland.  I suspect that all of the residents live outside the old walls to avoid cluttering up the streets with signs of life.  Each morning they open the gates and go to work selling trinkets, good food and excellent ice cream to the tourists.

Our final stop was Pisa.  We met some Australians on the trip who nicely summed up seeing the leaning tower of Pisa.  Check!  Another item of the tourist itinerary completed.  It took about half an hour to see the tower, take a few pictures and wander back to the bus.  It was in better shape than I expected.  It was recently cleaned and restored.  Engineers arrested the increase in the angle but declined to straighten it up.  You can imagine the original architect looking at the tower and thinking, well, I’ll never work again but at least it will fall over soon so I won’t be reminded of this failure.  Unfortunately, the tower has stood for over 500 years as a testament to good enough engineering.  Several architects have tackled the problem over the centuries.

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