Saturday, July 18, 2009
Our first outing was July 10 when we traveled to Siena and San Gimignano. Siena is home to the world's most famous horserace, the Palio, which is run in July and August. It is a walled city which is home to Italy's largest department of communications and some of the country's richest bankers. It was the banking industry that made Siena important and rich. It also is the home of the Basilica of St. Catherine, the city's patron saint, who died at 33 years old. Her head is on display in the basilica. She was the second person in history to be struck with the stigmata of Christ.
According to legend, Siena was founded by the two sons of Remus, as in Romulus and Remus fame--who were called Senius and Ascius. One rode on a black horse and the other on a white one, and this is the tstory behine the Sienese blak and white shield which has been such a strong symbol over the years.
However, it is likely the town had inhabitants before this mystical pair. On a more historical note, it is likely siena was founded by the Etruscans and then became a Roman colony. It flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries and was considered one of the major towns of Europe. Its position on the route from France to Rome meant that the large number of French pilgrims passing through left their mark in the way of the Romanesque architecture, atypical of most Italian or Tuscan towns. Later, however, through continual battles with neighboring Florence and the onset of the Black Death in 1348, Siena lost its hold as one of Italy's greast cities and became a minor provincial town.
Every summer the floors of the Duomo cathedral are uncovered for a short time ony to display a fantastic inlaid marble floor.