Thursday, February 25, 2010

Siena day two (cont)

So, to give a super general idea what a contrade is (i kept mentioning when talking of the horse races) A Contrade is sort of like a guild that your family belongs too. and a lot of which contrade you belong to depends on where your born (like what sector of Siena). Whether born or brought in, one is baptized (in the contrade's fountain) into the Contrade. We were told that the Contrade is like a family, they take care of you if you get sick, if family dies, when you get old; they look out for you. There are get togethers and out -door picnics where they have rows and rows of tables set up, shade for having drinks, a barbecue sort of set up.
While searching for the Contrade Museum (which really looks like any other building except for a flag out front, and somewhere nearby a statue of that contrade's animal) Each contrade has an animal symbol that means something. The 6 that we tried to see were the Snail(Chiocciola), Eagle(Aquila), Owl (Civetta), Unicorn (Leocorno), Caterpillar (Bruco), and Dragon(Drago). Eagle was closed, and we didn't make it to Dragon.
Thank God,when we were meandering in front of the first museum a guy heard us, and switched from talking italian to English. He is part of a group of students from Massachusetts studying here in Siena! a group of four of them were trying to see all 6 Contrade museums open today as well...and we ended up joining them. They, thankfully, knew their way around the city rather well so we made it to each one speedily and efficiently!!! They also knew more about the contrade's and were able to give us little hints and tips on what we were looking at.
The museums were structured pretty much the same. A church or chapel, each with a patron saint, usually small but beautifully decorated. A museum which held a banners of Palios (those horse races) previously won, outfits worn from centuries past (including suits of armor!) On display were the costumes that people, today, will wear for Palio celebrations. Some winning banners from the 1700s were hung, the colored designs still visible. There are banners leading all the way up to present day. This whole aspect is still very much alive and active there today!
At the Buco (caterpillar) a guide there was a woman moved from San Francisco. She led us through the contrade explaining things in such detail with wonderful descriptions and a sort of story-teller/historian way. It was awesome! (That's where I got all that i have posted on the subject from. We were pretty much in the dark about the symbolism and meaning behind all the things we were seeing).
It started in the chapel...where she told us how the Horse that will run in the Palio is brought into the church (with a rubber mat layed down to keep the hooves from slipping) and is blessed. Everybody gathered in the chapel (and out on the street to) will sing a song in unison..our guide explained how it is beautiful with everyone singing and echoing off the walls of the church with all their voices.
She explained how the Buco is actually a silk worm, since this contrade was originally for the workers in the silk fields that used to be everywhere around here. There are sort of the symbol for being strong and hard working (i think..i can't remember exactly) but are very welcoming.
The time spent there was completely worth it, and we learned SO much!! It truly is a remarkable tradition that is so functioning, alive, and active today. It didn't feel like it was in a wierd way though and seems very much like a honoring of the past and continuing of traditions.

Ate with the other students here in Siena, it was nice chatting and just talking over a cheap, but delicious, calzone. Before we parted they took us to the Piazzo il Campo where there was a wooden hut they said was set up for the festivities going on this month. They are called Fritelle. we shall refer to them as Rice Balls. They are taken from a flat platter of dough, and the edge is scooped off a little ball and dropped into the oil to fry. Once pulled out, they are rolled in just a little bit of sugar and given hot to the next person in line (since there was always a line, sometimes you had to wait for the next batch to be ready)

Off to the Duomo Cathedral next! The outside was so impressive and large, with the different shades of marble, statues, and decoration. Yet the inside was crazy!. The alternating black and white marble continued on the inside. On either side of the church were large and beautiful, intricate stain glass windows. The floor, which was mostly covered in a protective layer of plastic for people to walk on..had areas revealing the designs inlayed in the marble. Telling stories from the Bible (i think) itwas just beautiful, the depictions. The main alter had animal figures holding it up in the dark wood. Above, the ceiling (wayyy above) was colored a navy blue, and bronze stars were placed all over the ceiling, giving the effect of the heavens at night. By the time we left, I had a "crick" in my neck from looking up at everything.
Super cool room off to the side. the library..with song books on display under lovely paintings. Under the glass were these thick books, with just a page on display. Each page had to have been a couple feet high and a food wide. (give or take) There were notes on the pages..and usually an embellished letter, sometimes with a small picture or image depicted in the corner of the page. In vivid colors along with some gold ink as well.

Becky wanted to see the lookout from the first we took a break, walked to that was pretty awesome seeing Siena under the blue sky and sunshine.

Then backtracked over the same MILE (it seemed) back to the Duomo to go to the museum. Actually (because of shortness of time) we kinda blew past the museums to go up the tower.
The tower (i think) is the highest point in all of Siena...and you can see everything from up there! The very very narrow stairs spiraled upwards, with each stair angled towards the center..and the widest part just barely wide enough for my whole foot to rest on. Arrived at the tippy top, feeling the burn (and me thanking the Lord that I run, or else I would have stopped halfway up for a coffee and cake break) and if your wernt breathless from the climb, then one look out of the view would have done it!!!
To quote Jill "I could pitch a tent up here, make a small fire in a transportable stove live up here" (the trips down those stairs would keep me in stunning shape..and i would only descend from my perch above Siena for more food and the bathroom) no shoes, no shirt, no problem!
We could see down into el campo's shell shaped piazza, the tower. We could see down on the domed roof of the Duomo (which gave perspective since I was just IN there looking UP!)
The wind buffeted our clothes and made each unfastened strand of hair fly in every direction (most especially eyes, nose, and mouth it seemed). But we could see the red tiled roofs of Siena, the tops of all those tall buildings. Then beyond it, the land of Tuscany, smooth in some areas, but mostly with little, smoothly sculpted hills. Farther away, some mountains lurked on the horizon... To one side of the tower, it was all blue skies and sunshine, while on the other, the rain clouds rolled in, streaming grey rain behind them.
Shall I stretch out my arms and let my fabulous clothes (that were not worn) stream out behind me in the wind and sing out "I'm flying! (Jack)"? (Titanic..come on..not all bad!) why yes of course I did! ( we wernt moving, but when your high enough; those fine details are irrelevant)
Getting down , we had to get past a group of people. Passed down the bulky backpack, then, clinging to the center post that the stone stairs narrowed to..we each edged past. laughing the whole way while we squeezed past one another.

Off to the Baptistry, with the paintings on the ceiling (again! curse this heavy hair!) depicting God the Father, Jesus and apostles, washing their feet, some patron, The Ascension into Hell, paradise. Behind the alter and were more paintings, of Jesus in Gethsemane and other decorative images.

We also got to see the recently uncovered crypts. (discovered just a few years ago. Though excavation is at standby because it could compromise the foundation of the building). They think that the space was not actually used to hold the dead... The paintings on walls have been exquisitely preserved, because it was unopened for so long and filled with sand too.
you can still see the gold paint outlining the other colors. There was a a scene across a couple walls with detail visible. of Judas betraying Jesus with the kiss, of the crucifixion, and the burial. The others I could not make out...but just those depictions sent prickling shivers up my spine and across my arms. (the same way music feels when a strong, dissonant chord is followed by a soft, sweet resolute-ing cadence).

Everything pretty much closed after that, so we walked around, checking out a few shops (including one of handmade paper and embellishments! with the shop keeper from the states who had moved there with her husband. ) Found a super cheap place to eat. Bought some more Rice balls for the ride back. No,I will not disclose how many I ate!

Back at the convent (getting reading for class done on the bus ;). Tired from two days of being on our feet..and especially the last day with all the tromping around the city. Totally worth it! Learned lots and got to experience Dolce Siena (sweet siena)


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  2. Greetings from the shop in front of the Snail museum, here in Siena. Thank you! Your description: it makes us understand the view "from the outside". :-)

  3. Oh, that is relief to hear! I hope I did not explain something in the wrong way or give a false impression in the blog. (and I am so sorry if I did) I had a wonderful time in Siena, and especially learning about the contrade! Thank you for sharing your very special town :)