I slept the sleep of the just last night in the master suite of our palace overlooking the Piazza del Campo. Just below the balcony, workmen operated heavy duty equipment all night long to sweep up the sand from the horse race and pressure wash the piazza. It became clear why the apartment was so cheap this week but I turned up the fan to drown out the noise and slept on.
My plan for this rest day in Siena was to visit several churches and perhaps a palace. Paul suggested I start at the Cathedral before the crowds build up and he came along. The ticket office offered an array of tickets to meet all requirements and budgets but it was clear that the best value was to buy the Acropoli Pass + which included everything including a couple of rooftop excursions for 25 Euro. I’ve made the mistake in the past of trying to save money by only paying for the Cathedral and then deciding to climb the tower and visit the crypt only to find one has paid double the package price.
However I found myself reading and re-reading the price list. Was the 25 Euro ticket just admission or would I be led by a professor of Art history from Siena University? Or would there be, at least, an audio guide? No and No. But there are screens throughout the Cathedral where, for a small fee, you can learn more about it all.
There was a glossy foldout guide costing 3 Euro which Paul mistakenly thought was free and handed it to me. He took a second copy and the assistant demanded 3 Euro so he returned it. In the confusion I received the stolen property and we bolted through the crowds. But I’ll point out at this point that I returned the guide at the end of the day.
Sometimes I hear pilgrims complain or absolutely refuse to pay to enter a Cathedral. They believe they have a Divine right to enter any church and defer the cost of maintaining the building to someone else. But anyone who’s ever hired a local builder to repair a roof will know how expensive building maintenance can be. Charging tourists for admission is sensible. If you want to pray you can easily find a regular church. And the Cathedral will always admit worshippers free of charge but don’t chance your luck if you’re wearing a Lionel Messi t-shirt and a day pack.
And to prove my point, the Cathedral was jam packed with tourists. You couldn’t take a photo of a crucifixion scene without a telephone mounted on a selfie stick getting into the action.
The problem with this Siena Cathedral is that it’s not really a Cathedral but more of an art gallery. Every inch of the place is covered in masterpieces. The ceiling, the floor, the walls, the alter, the pulpit, the chapels… one crucifixion scene after another, the Garden of Gethsemane, angels, saints, Popes. The Slaughter of the Innocents was the final straw for me. My head was swimming and I went out for a gelato.
Honestly there’s nothing better than sitting on my balcony watching the crowds in the square below. For the past few days during the afternoon we’ve been hit by a violent thunderstorm and very heavy rain. It lasts 20 minutes and everything stops. Today we had hail stones as well and I was glad we weren’t walking. The Piazza cleared in seconds.
I returned to the Cathedral to view 10 frescoes of the life of Pope Pious II while I was waiting for our prebooked walk along the roof. It was good but I’m sorry to leave Siena without seeing any proper churches.
The best seat in Siena, mine
Looking towards Piazza del Campo from the Cathedral
The hailstorm clears the Piazza
Up on the roof of the Cathedral
The Slaughter of the Innocents
But it’s certainly impressive