For an adult full of intellectual, historical, and artistic curiosity (that phrase may eliminate most Republicans), the entire region of Tuscany is a treasure trove. However, every container full of riches has one special little jewel hidden within its wealth, one in which the perfection of each varied facet combines to create a gem greater than the sum of its parts. For me, this has always been the small town of Siena, beginning with Piazza del Campo, the town square that Henry James once called the greatest plaza in Italy and the whole of Europe.
The Piazza, which is actually a fan or shell shaped area paved with individual hand-laid bricks, seems to be constantly full of brightly colored tourists feeding brightly covered pigeons. A few steps off the Piazza, outdoor cafes serve up mussels and clams and every kind of pasta imaginable along with liberal offerings of gelato and glasses of wine from the Sangeovese grapes grown a few kilometers away. Sadly, you’ll have to pay a hefty price for these fine meals, about as much as lunch at McDonald’s in some dreary little town in America. Boo Hoo!
After lunch, you may stroll to Plazzo Publico, or Town Hall, and inside stare at the wall of the civic museum in amazement. The allegory of Good and Bad Government, a series of frescoes painted by Ambroggio Lorenzetti in the 14th century, portrays the struggle between order and chaos. This contrast is an example of what makes art a cultural heritage, its timelessness. We struggle with the same conflict in the 21st century. Don’t worry about leaving the Piazza and having nothing to do. A short distance away, the Duomo of Siena stands. This cathedral was built with alternating blocks of black and white marble and the reliefs in the Baptistery were painted by Donatello (and I don’t mean one of the Ninja Turtles). If you have time after visiting the leather shops and watching the street comics, stop by the old Medician Fortress that is now the Siena Jazz School and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to hear one of the free concerts that go on year round. These things I’ve mentioned are only the beginning
of sights, sounds, and tastes available to any tourist in Siena. There are more churches, a university, an opera house, museums, professional soccer and basketball games, and a host of jewelry and clothing stores to keep you occupied. The town is accessible by bus Florence (1 hour), Rome (three hours), and Milan (four hours).
Juror #3/Jim McGarrah
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