Friday 1st June: Another day in Siena. This time we planned to get up earlier and beat the crowds to the Duomo, etc. It was lovely walking through Siena with few people about but the plans went awry when we found that nothing opened before 10am. So we filled in time wandering and then headed for the museum which contained many of the original artefacts taken from the Duomo. This was also the entry to the Panorama del Facciatone, the abandoned nave of the extension to the cathedral that was never completed. It is accessed by a tiny entrance leading to steep spiral stairs and the climb is in two parts. After reaching the first narrow level, we decided that the view over Siena was great enough and we did not need to go right to the top.
Coming back to earth, the next visit was to the crypt of the Duomo which contained some remains of frescoes and showed how deep the layers of the church extend. The Baptistery is at the lowermost level at the back of the Duomo and is covered in beautiful frescoes with a baptismal font in bronze panels depicting The Life of the Baptist.
After this full morning, we took ourselves away from all the action to find a restaurant, VaVive, with a huge outdoor terrace that overlooked San Domenico church and the back of the Duomo square. Lunch in this setting was very good and relaxing and we set off again to see Santa Maria della Scala.
This building opposite the Duomo was the city’s main hospital for 900 years up to 1980. Today, it is being converted into a centre for art and culture and its wonderful interiors are open to all. The vast Sala del Pellegrinaio was the main hospital ward and is entirely frescoed with scenes recording the hospitals history and promoting the notion of charity towards the sick and orphaned. These were done in the 1400’s. Downstairs was an oratory dedication to Saint Catherine of the Night as she prayed here and often rested the night in a little side alcove.
One last building had to be visited and that was the Palazzo Pubblico which extends right along the base of the Campo. It is still Siena’s town hall but its main rooms have been converted into the Museo Civico - a series of grand halls frescoed with themes important to the life of a medieval city. All the rooms were dramatic and interesting but the outstanding ones included: a painting covering one end wall by Simone Martini of The Virgin in Majesty done in 1315; the Capella dei Consiglio with an exquisite altar piece and inlaid choir stalls; the Sala della Pace with Lorenzetti’s Allegories of Good and Bad Government frescoes commissioned in 1338 to remind the councillors of their civic duties. Politicians around the world could learn much from these and the ones in the hospital.
After the somewhat disappointing previous day, we really felt that now we could leave Siena having seen the best of the magnificent things it has to offer. So we made for the bus and home to another full dinner at the hotel.