(* Memories from Siena)
The idea of starting a blog popped into my mind when I was in Siena this summer, for a cultural experience. I had the opportunity to go to a summer school in order to improve my Italian. Needless to say it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life so far.
(The Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia)
The school I went to (Scuola Dante Alighieri) offered not only language courses but also cultural and cooking classes, not to mention at least three cultural activities per day (museum visits, movies, restaurants or conferences). There was no way of getting bored. Anyone who did, well, that means they didn’t get the whole point of this experience. I actually feel lucky to have had the opportunity to learn so many things in only three weeks…
Before coming to Siena, I had read a few things about its history and some cultural facts. Of course, the images in your mind after reading those things are nothing compared to what you discover once you get there (oh hello, Cross-Cultural Communication course… this reminds me of you!)
For many people, Siena rhymes with “Palio”… undeniably, it is probably the most cherished event for the Sienese people, as it represents everything they’re living for. I didn’t have any kind of clichés about this famous Palio, because (to be honest) I’d never even watched it on TV. Though, I had heard many things about it and what I could remember were “horse race”, “crowded” and “noisy”. Anyway, since a few friends convinced me that I shouldn’t miss this for the world, I decided to book my trip in August, so I can be there in the middle of the Palio and not miss the real deal.
Siena is actually divided into 17 contrade (districts). Basically, a contrada represents everything for a Sienese: what makes their uniqueness, along with their values and beliefs. So, this is why, during the Palio, everyone is cheering for their own contrada… to put it more simply, their team. After understanding what the Palio is really about and how much it means for the Sienese, all the clichés were gone in an instant. Now, of course, many people still criticise this horse race, shouting that it’s against animal rights and that it encourages violence between people. Sadly enough, these people (generally foreigners) have no idea about what this tradition stands for. Of course, their reactions are quite understandable if they only base their opinion on what they see on TV: the three-minute race, with everyone going crazy and shouting… therefore, seen as “useless”.
I wish I could post a decent video but unfortunately, I wasn’t actually in the Piazza del Campo where the race took place. Good old lazy (and careful) me preferred watching the race sitting in a pizzeria (eating the best pizza in the world, but that’s another story). Long story short: the Palio is a breathtaking must-see event. Definitely not just a horse race.
Without further ado (this text is even longer than I’ve planned), here are some samples of my sight-seeings… more to come on Flickr ;-)
(My walk to school, every morning)
(Always a thrill taking pictures of the Duomo peek-a-booing)
(La Contrada della Selva – the Forest District – where I lived. The best one, it goes without saying)
(The winning Contrada of 2012: la Contrada del Valdimontone – Valley of the Ram – or the McDonald’s District, for all the red and yellow)
(The Accademia Musicale Chigiana, displaying the 17 district flags)
(The Duomo, where the winning Contrada’s first ceremony takes place, amongst other events)
So, Siena, thank you for surprising me and taking my breath away every single day. No one could dream of better summer holidays…
Finally, I must thank two special ladies for making my stay in Siena even more fun and adventurous (ok, crazier!). Erin and Ulrike, if you’re reading this, I’m saying it again: a major thank you!!! Erin, thank you for being the best roommate anyone could ever dream of and for the inspiring 1AM conversations! And Ullie, thank you for the weekend trips in “la macchina del sole” singing along Caro Emerald, Jovanotti and Robbie Williams! Who could have thought tanning was so easy when you’re driving in a convertible? And, of course, San Gimignano couldn’t have been as fun without you two!
Enough talking for me, today! More tomorrow… Enjoy!
(All pictures by me, unless hyperlinked)