We were determined to make our time in Chianti a true rest, but Siena was only 45 minutes away and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to visit this medieval town where St. Catherine fell in love with Christ. Siena and Florence were great medieval rivals until Siena faded into the background with the Plague of 1348. This means Siena’s walled city and winding streets maintain much of their medieval character.
We listened to Rick Steves’ city walk on his Audio Europe app on the drive over. It helped us know what to look for and where to start. We planned to park in the Il Campo parking garage and enter in the Porta Tufi entrance in the wall. We were briefly scared by the ZTL sign, but the “zona trafica limitada” started after the entrance to the garage so we were spared that hefty fine.
We walked up the hill past a playground with a gorgeous view and followed the signs for the Duomo. We tried asking when daily Mass was, but the tourist information desk said it was only a museum now. It’s not entirely true, but it colored our visit to the Cathedral a bit. The striped pillars gave the interior a unique look. There was a chapel to Our Lady of the Vow(?), where competitors in the Palio, a horse race in the main square between the 17 contrati, or neighborhoods, seek Mary’s favor.
After the Duomo, we needed some food. I found a pizza place on TripAdvisor that turned out to be lame as far as Italian pizza goes and we walked toward the town square, Il Campo, to see its famous Siena color.
Next, we went to the chapel built around St. Catherine of Siena’s cell. The Sienese are rather proprietary about their “hometown girl,” as Rick Steves kept calling her, so I couldn’t take any pictures here or at her relics in the Church of San Domenico. It was neat to see her cell. It’s tiny and there’s a statue of her inside looking a bit pained and full of yearning. I said a prayer before two ladies were kicked out for taking pictures.
We made the Church of San Domenico our last stop. It is sizable, but rather plain on the inside with some odd modernist stained glass above the altar. The chapel with St. Catherine’s head (yes, her head) is the most ornate and is the epitome of relic gothic.
The gift shop had a pleasing amount of Dominican kitsch, very much our brand. I bought a black and white chaplet with the Dominican seal for Chris and Chris bought an icon of St. Dominic for our prayer table.
We decided to call it a day at that point and drove back to Greve. Chris cooked us dinner at home and we watched Paddington together to prepare for London.
Siena wasn’t quite as stunning as I had hoped and it was clear the only thing it had going on was tourism. I’m still glad we went, though, and it makes me want to reread Sigurd Undset’s Catherine of Siena now that we have some perspective on her hometown.