2005 Letter from Siena: Siena is not far from Florence. That was our next stop. We found the campground with only a little bit of trouble by following the too-small signs through the city. It was very close to the city – but it was difficult to get there. Siena is a gem of a medieval city in the center of a much larger modern city. A bus outside the campground took us in very close to the old city. We’ve been in Siena before, so we wanted to do things we hadn’t done the previous trip, but first we had to walk to the old part of the city, down a hill to the Campo. This is a large open round plaza where the famous Palio is run. We set out – and the first thing we saw was a huge post office. Since there were some cards to mail, we went in. It was not only a post office visit – it was an experience.

We needed three stamps. The post office had a electronic number system. There weren’t that many people there, but there were only three working windows, and every transaction seemed to take a very long time. It must have been half an hour before we were called, although many left before their turn. Ron decided that everyone had to tell their life story before they could buy a stamp. We watched these lengthy transactions until it was our turn. We must have stunned those clients holding the next number, because we were at the window and out of there in a minute. We continued on our walk to the Campo.

During the Palio, which took place earlier in the month, sand is brought into the Campo and horses race around its perimeter. The race is among riders representing different neighborhoods, each with its own colors. Banners of these different colors fly at buildings around the open space. Many of the flags were still flying around the now cleaned and very sunny Campo. The old city hall and an adjoining tower dominate one side of the circular open space. There were a lot of tourists in the open space but the area is so large that it did not appear to be crowded. Except for the cafes and the thin area formed by the shade of the tower. There were many tourists crowded together and seated directly on the pavement in this narrow shadow. If one leaves and returns at a later hour the shadow has moved and so have the tourists. That shaded area attracts seemingly the same number of people as it moves with the sun. (Picture 4 shows a part of the Campo with the shadow that provides shade for tourists.)

Not being willing to stand in line meant we couldn’t do some things, but there were a couple of places we did want to visit. In the old city hall, there is a city museum. Among the treasures there is a 14th century series of murals called "Good Government" and "Bad Government". It is a very beautiful declaration of anti-despotism, painted by a Sienese painter who died shortly thereafter during the Plague. The "Good Government panel showed the city as it was in the 1300’s with an assortment of citizens doing everyday things, a benevolent ruler and angelic council presiding. The city wall is shown at about the middle of the painting, and beyond that was the fertile countryside with farmers doing their thing. The "Bad Government" panel showed people warring, some corpses, some sick people and a tyrant on the throne with his devilish henchmen, the city in ruins, the fields barren. Taken together these murals seem to show that 14th century Italians recognized that many of their rulers were illegitimate warlords, and they resented that and had the idea that things should be better.

Intrepid Traveler
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