Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bella Siena

Siena. It's difficult to even say it without smiling. Seee-nnnn-aaahhh...the name's as smooth as a creamy gelato on a spring afternoon. When I turned the discussion in my Medieval Art class this week toward Siena, the faces of the two students who have been there lit up like candles, and they nodded vigorously when I said, "It's a neat place, isn't it?"

Isn't it ever. I went to Siena for the first time in October 1999, and to be honest with you, I remember little about that day except that it was a mad rush from sight to sight. I kept a busy pace in my second and most recent visit last May, but somehow everything clicked a bit more. I recommend the "My Name is Duccio" combo-ticket, which saves time waiting in lines at various places (although I was lucky to visit on a slow day) and which might inspire you to go someplace you otherwise wouldn't. I wasn't planning to see the Archaeological Museum, for instance, but it's included in the combo-ticket so I went at the end of the day. Wow! The artifacts (mostly Etruscan, of course) aren't the best quality (hence why I was originally going to abstain), but the evocative display -- underground, with winding 'paths' through the collection and atmospheric lighting -- is worth a stop. Don't-miss the cathedral (stripes! fabulous stripes!) and certainly not the adjacent Duomo museum, home to Duccio's exquisite Maesta altarpiece...or at least big parts of it.

The fresco pictured as my blog-banner is in the Palazzo Pubblico or city hall (aka the Museo Civico, not included in the combo-ticket but a must). It's one-half a wall in the Sala della Pace or Room of Peace--also known as the Sala dei Nove, or Room of the Nine--where in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries the (rotating, elected) Council of the Nine who governed Siena at that time gathered to discuss policies or meet with citizens. Ambrogio Lorenzetti frescoed the room with allegories of Good and Bad Government and depictions of the effects of each on city and country. My blog-banner shows the Effects of Good Government on the City: notice the busy shops, farmers arriving with goods to sell, construction going on, nine dancers (plus a musician) in the street, in general a happy, thriving Tuscan town. My favorite detail is the schoolroom, where the students listen attentively to their teacher. (As I tell my own students, I bet those Sienese did their reading and came to class on time!) The idea behind this and the other frescoes in the room is to provide inspiration to the Nine to make just decisions and avoid policies that would hurt Siena and its people. Hmmm...a lesson to all politicians, isn't it?

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