We had a four day weekend in Rome for Easter, so a friend and I decided to take a short trip to Siena Friday through Saturday (April 2-3). Siena is a small city in the Tuscany region, about 250 km north of Rome. It was a very relaxing trip and the weather cooperated nicely. We spent a lot of time sitting in Piazza del Campo, the major square in the old town and famous for the twice-annual horse race held there. The irregular semicircular piazza (photo below) slopes down to one point so people gather there and sit and lay down, unlike most piazzas that are flat and have few places to sit. There were hundreds of people there during the day enjoying the sun, but at night activity is mostly limited to the perimeter restaurants, bars and cafes.
On the piazza is the Palazzo Publico, originally a town hall built in around 1300, with the Torre del Mangia campanile. We went up the tower for great views of Siena and the Tuscan countryside in all directions. The Palazzo is now a museum, which we went through too. Most interesting was a temporary exhibit on Bauhaus architecture which included several drawings by Walter Gropius and other Bauhaus and modernist architects, plus a number of architectural models of their works.
We stayed at a campground located outside the old city, which rented small trailer cabins. It was actually quite new and nice – and inexpensive. It was a pretty nice campground with its own restaurant and bar. Two bus routes ran between the city and the campground, but on Saturday we decided to walk back into the city instead. We happened upon Basilica dell’Osservanza, a modest brick church and monastery standing alone in the countryside. Originally built around 1490, it was rebuilt after being almost entirely destroyed in World War II. The exterior brickwork was attractive on its own, with the cupola (roof tip of bell tower) entirely in brick as well. Inside was small and minimal, and still regularly in use. It was refreshing to see. A few other churches we saw in Siena also had more modest interiors.
Architecturally almost all of Siena’s old buildings have brick facades, instead of stucco like in Rome. This was much more attractive, without crumbling, dirty stucco covering the real walls. In more contemporary areas surrounding the old city, the buildings are pretty similar to those in Rome and other cities in Italy. Overall Siena is a very attractive, pleasant city. The surrounding Tuscany landscape was the most beautiful scenery I have seen so far in Italy (though the weather and time of season probably had something to do with it). I really enjoyed walking through the countryside and getting to explore the small, charming city as well. It was a great short break from school and Rome. See all photos here.