Day trip to Siena.

We had an early timed visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence yesterday so no opportunity to blog about our wonderful day in Siena…. unit now.

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(The Pizza del Campo, the low stone pillars in the background (in front of the buildings) mark the edge of a race track)

We were meeting Bill and Christie (thank you Kate! thank you Bill and Christie!) who have been travelling over to Siena from Vermont every second summer to lecture for the past ten years. So they know Siena… Bill had kindly agreed to meet us at the bus stop, have a coffee and tell us a little about Siena and indeed Florence. Denis had met Bill about ten years ago but his memory is not as good as it used to be (!) so he couldn’t recall Bill’s face. He told me this on the bus as it was pulling into the station. But all was not lost, in spite of his memory issues, his google searching skills are excellent and within thirty seconds we had a picture of Bill on the phone and through the bus window!

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(Denis and Bill considering one of the most photographed views in Siena…)

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(… and that view)

We followed Bill around for the next two hours getting a very personal tour of the city (they had only arrived the previous day and Christie was unpacking and would join us for lunch). As luck would have it the Palio would be held on next Monday so we were there in time to see the preparations and we had Bill to explain it all to us.

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(The clay)

The Palio is a horse race around the square in Siena. In the previous week the track is laid with local clay (clay kept each year for this purpose) we saw and walked on this clay. The race has been continuously in existence since the 1500’s. The jockeys ride bare back, as they always have, around a narrow course, cheered on by their particular city ward. They race three circuits of the square. I got the picture below from Wikipedia to show an action shot of the race.

Palio di Siena 2008 2

(The Palio in progress. No saddle. The white surface on the left beside the horses foot is a mattress! The mattresses are tied to walls of the small chapel at the narrowest part of the course so that the horses and jockeys don’t hit it. Also, you can see the clay being thrown up by the horse’s feet. The jockeys colours correspond to the city ward for which he rides. In this picture the race track looks wider than it is!)

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(Entrance to one of the horse houses and….)

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(Denis got a shot of a package being delivered to the horse house – it was hay and it says Hypposan…. for your horse to dream…)

Only ten city  wards get to compete and the lucky ones are picked out of a lottery. The horses and riders are matched with a ward by lottery the day before the race and there is a special horse house (not stable!) in each city ward, where the jockey and horse must stay locked in until the race!

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(The snail fountain)

Even though the race (the first one, there’s second one in August) would not by held until next week the preparations were well underway. Bill brought us to four different wards to see the details. We went to the snail, the eagle, the panther and the tortoise. I suppose it’s a bit like following GAA in Ireland the city wards would be the counties and your allegiance would be to the county you were born in. What’s extra for the Palio is that babies and sometimes adults are baptised at the water fountain of their ward.

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(The tortoise fountain… are they the Wicklow colours or the Tipperary colours? You might be able to see a small snail at the feet of the tortoise?)

Bill and Christie showed us and told us so much and made our visit to Siena very memorable and highly enjoyable. And a bonus, as Siena is on a hill (well, more than one hill) the temperature was cooler. Another bonus, Bill and Christie are coming to Ireland in August and as they showed more than a passing interest in the Rock of Cashel (no, they weren’t being polite!) I’ll be giving them a little tour. Better start airing the beds, Mam!

From Florence with love, Mairead.

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2 Responses to Day trip to Siena.

  1. Fascinating info. I had NO idea of any of that. Seen photos and films of the Horse races but never knew where it was or the story behind it. Not sure if you’re a James Bond fan, but Quantum of Solace begins with this horse race. I have the DVD around here somewhere and will watch it again with my new found knowledge!! Love the reports 🙂

  2. maireadhennessy says:

    It is fascinating isn’t it? Having someone to tell you the stories and the history is fantastic. It changes the whole perspective. Everything you see after that fits together into the big picture – the one that says we’re all more alike than different. Brilliant stuff! Bill and Denis were talking about the James Bond movie and some ancient underground tunnels that bring water from mountains miles away to the city without a river…… but I switched off and took some more pictures!

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