Siena

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Siena

This is our last day in Siena, and I haven’t mentioned the Palio yet. To understand the Palio, you need to know some things, most importantly that Siena is a city of neighborhoods, called Contrade. Families stay in their Contrade typically their whole lives, and children often marry other members of their Contrade; each Contrade has its own symbol, which is located on buildings in that Contrade, and each contrade has its own church. The Il Campo, the central square, is shaped like a semicircle with the flat side on a slight hill. The Palio is a horse race run each year with one entry per Contrade around the outside of Il Campo; they put sand on the stones to give the horses some cushion. Its a whole day affair, including banners, parades, and finally the race. Its quite dangerous.

As you walk around the city you can’t miss the Palio, pictures of it, and the symbols of the Contrade, are everywhere.

Our first stop was the Comune di Siena Archive. The town was run for many years by a council of merchants, so they have detailed accounts going back to the 1200s. Starting in the 1300s, the city began commisioning famous local artists to paint the wood covers for the yearly books, called bicchema. The Archive is a bit hard to find, being across the street from the university and just off the Campo, as well as up two flights of stairs. But, the climb is worth it – the covers are amazing, they’ve got a wonderful display system, and you are among the other bound books of the city. When we get a book of the covers, I’ll scan a few and include them here (no photos allowed, and you’re watched like a hawk while inside).

Here’s the text from a page they handed us on the way out when we asked if there were any books on the book covers:

“The State Archives of Siena, founded in 1858, preserve a multitude of documents relating both to the old Sienese State and to the modem civic offices. There are roughly 62,000 parchments, while the files, envelopes and registers amount to about 140,000. The documents, which can be freely consulted in the study hall, can be reproduced in photostats or on microfilm by the service provided. Connected to. the rooms of the Archives are the museum halls, where you can find precious illuminated manuscripts – such as the so-called “Caleffo dell’ Assunta” – and the collection of the Biccherna’s tablets. This higWy original collection consists of 105 authentic paintings, a copy and a few imitations.

“The paintings are on wood (only one is on canvas); the most antique work dates back to the year 1258, the most recent to the 18th century. Originally the tablets were the covers of account books belonging to the office of the Biccherna, the magistrature responsible for the administration of the public revenue. These registers were held by the Camerlingo – the head of the office – and by the most important officials, the Provveditori (Administrators). In fact, the oldest covers portray the Camerlingo himself intent on his work, or the Administrators’ coats of arms; later on, the paintings became richer and more elaborate and were commissioned to famous artists such as Giovanni di Paolo, Sano di Pietro, Lorenzo di Pietro (called il Vecchietta). The structure of the compositions remains, however, unvaried: the upper part contains the painting, the lower part an inscription with the date, the name of the main components of the Bicchema and their families’ coats of arms. Later on, around the middle of the 15th century, the covers of the registers were no longer painted, but real paintings were commissioned to be hung on the walls of the office when the Camerlingo and the Administrators left their post. The representations were inspired by the most important civic events, religious motives, or episodes of contemporary politics. Like the Bicchema, another important Sienese financial magistrature, called the Gabella, adopted the custom of having the covers of certain account books painted. The Gabella was responsible for the levying of taxes and was directed by a Camerlingo and by officials called Esecutori. The first painting originating from the Gabella Archives goes back to the year 1291 and represents the Executors’ coats of arms; from that date onwards it became quite customary for painted covers and wall paintings to be commissioned, although in a more discontinuous fashion in comparison with the Biccherna. A famous tablet is the one dated 1344 representing “Good Government” and attributed to Ambrogio Lorenzetti; of particular artistic value are the works executed by artists such as Sano di Pietro, Benvenuto di Giovanni, Guidoccio Cozzarelli on commission during the 15th century.

“During the Sienese war (1555-1559) both the Biccherna and the Gabella wished to record the most salient episodes of the conflict (the destruction of the fort built by the Spanish, the siege and then the surrender of Montalcino, the last Sienese stronghold); after the final annexation of Siena to the Duchy of Florence (1559) many pictorial subjects were dedicated to the vicissitudes of the Medici family, to whom the Sienese State had been granted in fee.

“In the Archives Museum there are also some painted book-covers originating from other Sienese magistratures and institutes, such as the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital and the Opera Metropolitana.

“In its entirety the collection constitutes an extremely precious testimony of “minor art” embracing six whole centuries of Sienese history. ”

A cura di Anna Scognamiglio

Then we continued walking down to Santa Maria di Servi.

The church of Santa Maria di Servi has a butt-ugly facade, but some cool things to see inside. The bells were ringing when we got there.

We walked back to the Campo and had lunch, then we walked over to Santa Maria della Scala, which was first built around 1000 as a hostel and eventually became a hospital, only stopping being a hospital in the 1980s. The interior is decorated with wonderful frescos and there are some interesting chapels. No photos were allowed, but we snuck a few anyway.

We stopped at our favorite cafe to have a snack and some Coke Light, bought a few pan fortes to bring home, and some stuff for the room. Aviva was getting a headache so we went back to the room and she napped for an hour or so. And then we’re off for some shopping, as today is our last day in Siena (which is my favorite city in Italy so far).

The wrappers for the pan forte are typically beautiful and medieval-inspired

The wrappers for the pan forte are typically beautiful and medieval-inspired

We shopped for a while and had dinner at a ristorante right by the hotel so we could get back, plan for our train trip to Bologna and pack everything.

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