Sunday, October 20, 2013

SIENA: A TOWN ON A HUMAN SCALE



"SIENA IS A WORLD UNTO ITSELF IN WHICH THE PAST IS ALWAYS PRESENT AND UNAVOIDABLE".

ITALO CALVINO

Every city displays the effects of its vicissitudes, but in Siena they are more prominent and lasting, and their continuity is more explicit and sought after than elsewhere. Siena's history is quite long. Siena’s hypothesized Etruscan origins are supported by an increasing number of archaeological findings. Nonetheless, over the centuries locals have preferred to believe the lively mediaeval legend according to which the town's founder was Remus’s son Senio, who fled Rome on horseback together with his brother Aschio. With them they carried a carving of a she-wolf which was to become a symbol of Siena. Romulus’s knights followed them through Lazio and southern Tuscany, until they finally reached the fateful hill known as Siena Vecchia. According to legend, Senio and Aschio founded Siena following an almost interminable, mythological race known as “Palio alla Lunga”.


Siena’s civic history was then marked by the growing predominance of a number of upper-class merchant families such as Buonsignori, Salimbeni, Tolomei and Piccolomini that created a new oligarchy. These families were responsible for Siena’s great financial, political and cultural advent during what has nostalgically come to be considered as its Golden Age. In fact, they are still honoured by six knights that trail behind the Palio-bearing cart during the pre-race procession.

The Gothic dream

“AS I SCRUTINIZE SIENA’S ANCIENT BUILDINGS, TIMELESS DWELLINGS WHERE I WOULD LOVE TO LIVE ONE DAY WITH A WINDOW OF MY OWN OVERLOOKING THE CLAY TILES AND THE GREEN SHUTTERS, I TRY VAINLY TO UNDERSTAND WHEREIN LIES THE SECRET THAT SIENA WHISPERS AND RINGS ON AND ON IN MY EARS AS LONG AS I SHALL LIVE."

JOSÉ SARAMAGO,
NOBEL PRIZE WINNER


Siena's intact circuit of city walls is entirely made of bricks. Palazzo Pubblico and its tower are also made of bricks, as are the mediaeval dwellings built by nobles. So is Santa Maria della Scala and the other large churches dedicated to the Franciscans, Domenicans and Servi. The bricks have changed in colour over the centuries: The dark red of the oldest constructions gave way to a reddish-orange in the 1500s. The streets were originally paved with dark brown bricks laid on their edges or in a herring-bone pattern. Bricks make up the Medici Fortress and the neo-Gothic constructions undertaken in the 1600s
and 1700s, such as Palazzo Sansedoni in Piazza del Campo. The same technique was used in later centuries to build Palazzo Buonsignori, Palazzo Marsili and Palazzo del
Capitano right up to the 1900s. The neo-Gothic rebuilding of the Salicotto area was entirely carried out with bricks, as was the newly-built outlying neighbourhood called Ravacciano to which many of Salicotto's original families moved.


Gothic art, thanks to the contact occurred during the fourteenth century, with France and Venice, is one of Siena's most fascinating feature.  One of its most interesting example is the famous cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, as well the Duomo and some elements of the Town Hall located in Piazza del Campo. For nearly a century, between year 200 and 300, Siena played a starring role in Europe thanks to its mercantile aristocracy and intense banking activities. After losing its independence in 1559, Siena experienced a period of decline up to half of year 1800, when he began to grow again with the construction of the railway, which connects Siena to Empoli, and with the first University Hospital of Italy, founded in 1883. The image of Siena in the world was revived early in '900 with the birth of the great exhibition of Senese Ancient Art and the Accademia Musicale Senese Chigiana.
Art is thus what has most influenced Siena, making it one of the most visited tourist city: Piazza del Campo, the Duomo, Palazzo Comunale and the Torre del Mangia attract visitors from around the world. Another attractions of Siena is wine and food, with the Italian Wine Cellar, located in the Medici Fortress, with the sausages and the ancient Sienese sweets, like ricciarelli, gingerbread, the copate and cavalucci.


The palio

Colours, crowd, celebratory shouts, a piazza covered with tufa, ten horses ridden bareback in a race that lasts only a few seconds.  For those who are seeing it for the first time, this is the Palio. For the Sienese it is life, passion, history. It’s the miracle of a game that becomes real life, where there is a place for joy and pain, courage and intrigue, loyalty and betrayal.
A mediaeval inheritance which, on 2nd July and 16th August deeply affects Siena life and is always a catharsis.


The culture of food

Sienese cooking is steeped in history. Its vast array is fascinating to study and even more enjoyable to taste. Local starters include “bruschetta” (toasted crusty bread seasoned with
garlic and extra-virgin olive oil), “crostini” (bread rounds spread with meat or beef spleen paté) and cured meats which have been made with the same techniques for centuries, as is shown by the Cinta breed of swine depicted in Lorenzetti’s Buongoverno freso. The locally-produced sausages and cold meats -“buristo”, “capocollo”, “finocchiona”– boast a long tradition, actually two long traditions: they were produced in Fontebranda and Salicotto, where the filling was in fact salted and cooked.

Typical second courses include world- renowned Chianina beef, Cinta pork, wild boar, range chicken, pheasant, goose and pigeon. Lamb and rabbit are grilled, roated or sautéd.  Artusi, the author of one of Italy's first cookbooks, criticised Tuscans for eating too many vegetables, and Siena certainly has a vast assortment available in its gardens and woodlands. Truffles arrive from San Giovanni d’Asso and wild asparagus come from the Montagnola, while Monte Amiata provides mushrooms and wild greens. As mealtime draws to a close, syrupy “vinsanto” may be accompanied by the sweets enjoyed in Siena since the Middle Ages: “copate”, “cavallucci”, old-fashioned spiced “panforte (panpepato)” or the sweet, fruit-filled type dedicated to queen Margherita di Savoia, and finally “ricciarelli” made of sweet and bitter almonds which are Siena’s most unique and aristocratic cake.

Enoteca Italiana

Siena’s Enoteca Italiana is a public organisation which has promoted the quality of Italian wines since the 1970s. It is located in the Fortezza Medicea which Grand Duke Cosimo
I commissioned from Baldassarre Lanci in 1561. The vast catalogue of available wines is continuously updated by the tasting commission and features wines from all over Italy, with a predominance of Tuscan varieties. Siena’s wines are particularly well-represented, starting with those awarded the DOCG appellation: Vernaccia from San Gimignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. No other Italian province boasts so many different, prestigious wines. They accompany Siena’s Tuscan cuisine and express veritable complicity between towns and the surrounding countryside. of choice.

As the poet Mario Luzi wrote “It is simultaneously both reality and a dream”. And so it was for another renowned visitor, Nobel prize winner Albert Camus, who saw Siena in his youth and was later to write in his notes: “…most of all I’d like to go back and hike down the road from Monte San Savino to Siena and pass through that countryside’s vineyards and olive groves which I can still smell. I want to walk over those bluish hills of “tufa” that lead away as far as the eye can see to finally make out Siena on the horizon at sunset with its towers like some perfect Constantinople. I want to arrive at night, penniless and alone, sleep next to some wellspring and be the first to enter Piazza del Campo in the morning. That palm-frond shape seems like a hand offering up the highest achievement of humanity after ancient Greece". After all, that’s why UNESCO declared Siena’s historical centre to be a world heritage site in 1995.

No comments:

Post a Comment