Siena & Pisa
September 2016

More photos of Siena here  and Pisa here

Monday 5th September
Why Siena and Pisa? Well Siena I haven't been to since the early 1990s, and then only for a day, and there's been so much art, learning, reading and travelling since then I feel ashamed not to have yet done the place justice, what with all its early renaissance wonderfulness. Doing justice to Pisa is long overdue for very similar reasons, as I've never seen more than the airport and the railway station. I'm also planning on making them my next two bonus pages to add to The Churches of Florence.

The morning was reassuringly cold, dark and damp as I travelled to Gatwick to catch the 12.25 to Pisa. easyJet's bag drop machines did a bit of crashing, but that little delay was overshadowed by my flight being reported delayed by half an hour. A very busy terminal too, making a queue for coffee and croissant seem a bit too much trouble. The queue for a Pret brie and tomato baguette and mango smoothie for the flight was acceptable though. The delay was blamed on a passenger on the previous flight to Valencia having to be taken off by police, and was a full hour and a half by the time we took off, so I didn't start on my in-flight baguette until well after 2.00.

At Pisa Airport buying a ticket for Siena gets you a train ticket from Pisa Centrale station and a ticket for the good old replacement bus to the station. The train to Empoli was waiting for me on the platform, but the 17.40 to Siena was just leaving Empoli as I got there, so I had to wait for the 18.08. The train to Siena stops everywhere, but when one of the stops is Poggibonsi and one learns that it's pronounced podgy-boncy, one doesn't mind at all. Arriving at Siena in the rain and seeing the crowd waiting for taxis, with no cabs in evidence, I decided to walk. Will I never learn? Still, as I type this in my sweet and quiet room in the Palazzo Ravizza hotel, which overlooks the garden, with a sweeping vista beyond, with various items of clothing and cartography drying out, all that damp trudging is happily forgotten.

day 6th September
I awoke to the somewhat stunning view from my window (see right). A minimal but fresh breakfast was had on the garden terrace overlooking said view. The 'fresh' juice is a bit watery, coffee fine, muesli selection OK, croissants fresh, but nothing else in the pastry line. To the Duomo at 9.30, to discover that the complex doesn't open until 10.30, so I stroll through the Campo to San Cristoforo to begin my church thing, just before a service started.

Back at the Duomo a ticket was bought, an Opa Si (€15), which also includes the Baptistry, the crypt and the Opera museum and lasts for three days with one visit to each place. The Duomo is
somewhat overwhelming on entry, due to all the stripes and there being decorated surfaces all over. Also the crowds and the roped-off areas guiding your route around the pavement panels. Further disappointment on my visit at the scaffolding completely covering the Pisano pulpit. Most of the paintings over the altars can be safely skipped. So it fell to the pale sculpted Altare Piccolomini, the fourth altar on the left, to emerge as the standout. Commissioned in 1491 by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini from Lombard sculptor Andrea Bregno, the statues of Saints Gregory and Paul in the two main niches to the right and Saints Pius and Peter in the niches to left are by Michelangelo, who also started the Saint Francis in the upper left niche, finished by Pietro Torrigiani. (Torrigiani it was, according to Vasari, who busted Michelangelo's nose during a fight in the Brancacci chapel, was banished from Florence, and ended up in England, working for Henrys VII  and VIII, among others.) Michelangelo's work dates to 1501/3 and was halted prematurely by his returning to Florence to carve the David. The sculpted Madonna in the central upper niche is by Jacopo della Quercia. As cake-icing there's a sweet gold-framed Madonna and Child  painting in the centre by Paolo di Giovanni Fei, one of this trip's top new names. Pinturicchio's frescoes over the carving-embellished entrance to the Libreria Piccolomini immediately to the right, and those on the ceiling and walls in the Library itself, are vivid and restored-looking highlights too, said to be the artist's masterpiece, with cases containing open choir books below.

I next explored the Baptistery and the Crypt. The last being
a delightfully ramshackle and random trio of spaces which was  maybe part of an entrance for pilgrims, but when the baptistery was built this under-church was filled with rubble. Containing late-13th-century frescoes - very damaged but vivid - it was found and excavated from 1999 to 2003, but as the rubble was by then holding up the church above a steel structure had to be built to support the marble stairs above.

So I'd visited all but the Opera museum before lunch became necessary. Two cheese and tomato rolls were taken back to eat at the hotel, when I had a thought - the garden terrace. Lovely. A gentle rustling in the bush behind me I took to be a bird, but it turned out to be a passing tortoise. A slice of panforte Nero had been bought too, as I'd been assured it was spicier. The word canella was mentioned, but the strongest flavour for me was chocolate.

To the Opera (works) Museum in the evening. Starting on the top floor, the room to the left has painted panels but nothing memorable. It does lead to the room where you wait to be in the next batch to climb up to the Facciatone - the top of the facade left over when the
massive expansion of the Duomo was abandoned, to get views over the rooftops, and of the side of the Duomo. The other room up here does have some spectacular early stuff, including gems by new names Gregorio di Cecco (see detail right) and Paolo di Giovanni Fei. The next floor down has a room of mostly ecclesiastical silver, but some nice book covers and a painting or two too. Then it's down to the room of Duccio's Maesta, which is dark and displays the back and front on opposite walls, with predella panels and pinnacles on the wall between. I found this display dull and disappointing. The Pietro Lorenzetti Birth of the Virgin here has much more glow. Back on the ground floor is a more dramatic and effective space, with a vista of statues by the famous Pisanos from the facade, leading to Duccio's stained huge circular glass window, found to be his work when dismantled in 1943 to prevent damage. A room off has a better preserved set of apostles by Giovanni Pisano, carved to adorn the columns inside. The 18th century replacements by Giuseppe Mazzuoli were themselves replaced by reproductions of the originals and acquired in 1895 by the Brompton Oratory in London, where they remain.

You leave through the church of San Niccolò in Sasso, now unnervingly converted to a book and gift shop, where I bought two books and a Selva (forest, symbol: rhinoceros) Contrada fridge magnet. The evening stroll resulted in the discovery of this Contrada - its church, a view through a window into its museum and some graffiti (see right) - and then some light rain. So I ended up in the Due Archi near the hotel for a pizza onda (onion, fresh tomato, mozzarella) with an insalata mista and a birra media. Onda is the name of another contrada I discovered (wave, symbol: dolphin). A walk through picturesque evening streets and a not-nice and overpriced gelato (2 scoops: €6.50, Gelateria Brivado - avoid!) before bedtime, with the nice hotel desk woman recommending a better gelateria, pizza restaurant and a veggie place.

day 7th September
After yesterday's queues and centro crowds I decided to leave the Palazzo Pubblico until tomorrow and explore some churches today. I headed East, towards Santa Maria dei Servi. Santa Lucia was open, the enormous Sant'Agostino wasn't, and neither were the three other churches nearby. San Pietro, near the Pinacoteca then effortlessly earned itself the Darkest Church in Ages prize. The Piazza del Mercato behind the Palazzo Comunale was good for photo opportunities in both directions - the Palazzo's back one way and the sweeping vista in the other. The way then took me away from the centre, through streets with few tourists. Santa Maria dei Servi turned out to be a big highlight destination. Finding San Raimondo al Refugio open was a stroke too, as it only opens two days a week, thanks to volunteers. By this time 12.00 had long passed, so finding Santo Spirito, San Giorgio and a couple more little places closed was no surprise. But a pleasant surprise was buying a long cheese salad roll for less than one of the small ones I had yesterday, and a nice coco e limone gelato for much less than yesterday's too. A near perfect cranny-finding and church-exploring morning, then, with a bonus encounter with the botanical gardens cat, and a Twingo too.

To the Pinacoteca after my snooze. It is, as often reported, not the most user-friendly of galleries. But its €4 entry fee is a true bargain for the prime stuff on offer. After my morning church visiting's baroque domination the top floor here, where you begin, was a breath of the fresh stuff, with Room 4's Duccio fest a special treat. It's great to get close to well-lit trecento panels in all their evident rough woodiness. The big Room 8 is a feast of both the Lorenzettis, and Paolo di Giovanni Fei was making good impressions too. As you move into the 14th century the Madonnas and Saints have piled up so you either get exhausted by them or have your appreciation of how things developed firmed up nicely. Sano di Pietro shines in the rooms numbered in the late teens and early twenties. The 16th century just arrives in Room 19, the last on this floor, but the room is dominated by a pair of old arliquiera (reliquary cupboard) doors by Il Vecchietta, complete with wear and locks.

Down a floor the next numbered rooms were closed, but by the first room open Room 29, things are looking much more 16th century, with Beccafumi making big smoky Mannerism, and there's a room of his cartoons for the Duomo pavement. Colours then get brighter and landscapes more natural. The 17th century comes with no easing of the ubiquity of religious themes, nor of the numbers of works taken from Santa Maria della Scala. And then we're done - there's nothing on the ground floor and no shop and so no catalogues or cards to buy.

I had a walk up to San Domenico after, taking in the Fonte Branda (see photo right)  and some spectacular views and climbs. Then a good slice of margarita pizza back by the Pinacoteca, and a much better gelato from the Vecchia Latteria nearby, recommended by my friendly hotel desk woman and the pizza man too. A mighty fine day, then.

day 8th September
The Palazzo Pubblico is on the cards for this morning - a ticket for it and the Santa Maria della Scalla hospital complex can be bought for €13 and used within two days, which gives me tomorrow too if I get knackered. It opens at 10.00 and there was a short queue at that time, so I was soon in and up on the first floor, where the art action starts. But not immediately, as you turn left in the bookshop the first rooms, that loop behind it, are pretty missable. Better to swiftly admire the Risorgimento Room, with its big modern paintings,and then turn left into the room of frescos by Spinello Aretino, which are also political and chest-beating, as is a lot to come, bigging up Pope Alexander. The next room has some nice fresco bits, mostly from elsewhere, and the big room following has a ceiling full of incomprehensible allegories by Beccafumi. Then things improve enormously as the Vestibolo leads to the Cappella dei Signori (where some very annoying and intrusive new age music was playing) and then the stupendous Sala del Mappamondo, with its gorgeous Maesta by Simone Martini. Photos just don't do it justice, even simply for size and sparkle. And for having so much more all around, especially Guidoriccio da Fogliano on his horse opposite, which the board still tells us is also by Simone. But before you've recovered fully the next, smaller, room is the Sala dei Nove, which has the Good and Bad Government frescos by Ambrogio Lorenzetti . After so much study and reading this was a breathtaking Sistine ceiling moment. The little Sala di Pilastri which ends the visit has some nice panels and coffers, but is missing the draws mentioned in my oldish guidebook. Backtracking got me Good and Bad Government to myself for a bit and working back to the entrance was a good opportunity to just admire and appreciate spaces and views without guide book or camera.

I could've left the Santa Maria della Scala hospital complex until tomorrow but I had time. It's a peculiar, confusing and enormous place - a mixture of church and chapel spaces and brick warrens full of emptiness and surprises, it was still functioning as a hospital as late as the late 1990s. You will be given a map, but note that the floor you start on is the fourth, with the Capella del Manton, to the right of the ticket desk, named for the fresco of the Mother of Mercy now in Sagrestia Vecchia.
The remaining fresco decoration here, on the arches and vaults, is 14th century, with a lunette fresco of St Anne and St Joachim at the Golden Gate by Domenico Beccafumi from 1512. Into the passagio, the rooms on the right have changing displays. To the left you enter the Sala del Pellegrinaio with walls covered with frescoes by Domenico di Bartolo and Vecchietta of episodes from the history of Santa Maria della Scala, painted from 1440. The Sagrestia Vecchia is further along to the left. It's also known as the Capella del Sacro Chiodo, because it once housed a nail (chiodo) used for Christ's crucifixion. This may have suggested the subject of Vecchietta's now very fragmentary, but still impressive, frescoes here of 1446-9, which depict the Articles of the Creed - not the easiest of subjects without captions. The 1444 high altarpiece by Domenico di Bartolo here is the fresco panel which depicts the Madonna della Misericordia, which was once sited in the Cappella del Manto just mentioned. The sinopia (underdrawing) of the main panel is displayed nearby. You then pass through the baroque Capella della Madonna, with a typically odd and disturbing Massacre of the Innocents by Matteo di Giovanni, which has smiling children looking at the carnage from windows above. Downstairs on Level 3 a stripy and windowless pair of rooms lead to the baroque and windowless Oratorio di Santa Caterina della Notte with two more rooms beyond, the last of which has a sudden fine polyptych by Taddeo di Bartolo. Also on this floor is an excessively large space (where grain was stored) devoted to Jacopo delle Quercia's Fonte Gaia from the Campo, with masses of eroded bits and plaster reconstructions. There's also a sequence of confusing rooms and crannies full of reliquaries that is weirdly lit and like a rough brick fairground attraction, made all the more unnerving by bits of modern art, and by my being so alone. The next floor down has an oratory, revealed frescos and an archaeological museum down infinite corridors, but by then I was too spooked and confused to do them justice.

In the evening I went to the huge San Niccolò al Carmine just next to my hotel, where there was even a very helpful and personable young woman on hand to answer all my questions - one being about an ostentatiously framed fresco fragment of the Virgin from an Annunciation said to be by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, but probably not, she had to admit.
Then a walk in the sunshine out through the nearby city gate to the cemetery that I can see from my window. It's huge, with every path, field and corner filled with graves. The little photos of the deceased and the evidence of frequent flower-freshening  visits makes it all very Italian. Then some book and coconut-biscuit buying, followed by a slice of pizza and an exhausted early return to my room, to watch the sunset and type up this stuff as my room got dark.

iday 9th September
For my last last day the churches to the north east beckoned. San Francesco (with the San Bernardino diocesan museum) was the big destination, followed by San Domenico, which could be an evening visit if missed. Both are big churches out by the walls, of course, for the mendicant orders. On the map they look oddly close, but in Siena there's the vertical plane to consider too. San Francisco was disappointing, what with the two chapels with Lorenzetti frescoes both being full of scaffolding, so the famous Crucifixion was not to be seen this trip. The place generally doesn't seem to have recovered its serenity after being used as a barracks in the in the 19th century. Not a lot more to see. And the San Bernardino diocesan museum opens in the afternoon only. I photographed a lot of closed churches on the way to San Domenico, or the Catherinian Basilica of Saint Dominic as it's known, due to its connection with her, and to having her head, authenticated and visible behind a grill in the centre of her chapel's carved altarpiece. There's also a display case containing a reliquary with her finger and a box of her very own scourges. But gruesome Catholicness aside, this one has much more going for it in the way of art and atmosphere than San Francesco. More churches were found before lunch including one open, San Pietro, with a very nice rough and old feel inside, with fresco bits too. Lunch was a square of pizza base topped with salad-dressed rocket and goat's cheese, eaten on a grassy patch by the Camellia gate. With a fragola and crema gelato eaten on the trek back, and a cherry tart bought to go with afternoon tea. On the last evening stroll I bought slice of marzipan panforte, got some cash, and ate a last pizza slice and gelato. I also found out that Beccafumi lived a couple of minutes walk from my hotel.



Saturday 10th September
Today to Pisa. The walk from the station to my hotel in Siena Monday evening in the rain is not an experience I'd ever like to repeat. So this morning I decided to lay it's ghost, as it were, by walking to the station. This foolishness is explained by the fact that yesterday I'd ended my morning by the city gate very near the marathon escalator sequence down to the station, and I'd got back to my hotel in no time, as I now know Siena better. And so the trek was shortish, only lightly sweaty, and I found Sant'Andrea, a 'new' church open! The 10.41 Empoli train had just left when I got to the station, so an hour wait loomed, but then I noticed that the 11.18 Florence train stopped at Empoli too. When I got there I waited mere minutes for the connecting train, which was another stopping train, so it was just before 2.00 when I checked into my Pisa hotel, the Grand Hotel Duomo. Having stipulated a quiet room I got one looking out at a wall, rather than the street and the Duomo, but you can't always expect the spectacular, as my old granny used to say. First impressions of Pisa: more varied in the architecture, after Siena's all-brick alley uniformity, so more variety of palazzo design and colour, and much hotter, considering I've not come very far.

After a post-travel rest I had to go and check out the Duomo and that flipping tower of course. So many tourists! And so few resisting the holding-the-tower-up photo cliché. A walk towards the centre took me near Santa Caterina and it's façade drew me in. Wow - what a big bare barn. There's a Roman sarcophagus under the altar table, a tomb and statues of The Annunciation by Nino Pisano, a Fra Bartolomeo Madonna and Child with Saints and a striking and strange Apotheosis of St Thomas Aquinas by Francesco Triani.  Not much light to see the art though. (At this stage I was starting to realise that my finding churches dark this week may have had a little to do with my new glasses with the UV-reacting darkening coating. Duh!)

In search of a guidebook and food I crossed the Arno and in a loggia found ... a CD & record fair! Retro or what? Along the river are some reassuringly handsome palazzi. A heart-warming number of marble-facade churches were encountered too. And did you know that McDonald's now do a tasty veggie burger? Back near my hotel I got a (mediocre apple and vanilla) gelato and wandering while I ate it I found the very pretty Piazza dei Cavalieri and a small bookshop in Piazza Buonamici that, when I asked the nice man, had the good guidebook to Pisa that three bigger shops I'd tried earlier had not - Pisa Itineraries by Luca Bertini. The translation is not always spot on, but the knowledge and enthusiasm are evident.

Sunday 11th September
The Museo Nazionale di San Matteo (this city's repository of old altarpieces and such) opens from 8:30am–1. 30pm today, and is closed tomorrow, so it needs visiting this morning. But first breakfast. Indoors for the first time in days, and in a huge room where there were many empty eight-place tables to choose from. The juice machine was cunningly positioned so I had to ask, and the coffee machine took two of us neophytes to get spurting. More cakish options here - two slicy sponges and a tray of petit fours - but no muesli! Lots of jam choice, but unappetisingly dark charred-looking croissants.

Reading my new guidebook last night confirmed my suspicion that Pisa has more than its share of appealing Romanesque (Pisan-Romanesque even) marble facades. Ceramic dish decoration on the outsides was mentioned too. I've encountered these before, but not investigated. And the San Matteo museum has lots, I read. I was almost the only person visiting, of course. The painted stuff is on the first floor. Some painted Crucifixes start us off, and lead to Room 5 with a nice enough Simone Martini, taken from Santa Caterina, the church I visited yesterday, but four works by Francesco di Triano, a new name, impressed even more. Similarly in Room 7 Cecco di Pietro made a shining impression. Then the Renaissance happens: Massacio (out in the corridor as you enter Room 9), Benozzo Gozzoli, Ghirlandaio ... and fuller captions, in Italian and English. Back downstairs, around the cloister, are doors to the monumental sculpture room and the ceramic dishes, but this last one was closed. Less works here than in the Siena Pinacoteca, but better displayed and in more varied and attractive bricky spaces. Still no catalogue or shop, but you do get a leaflet of 18 highlights.

I then crossed the Arno to find churches, not disturb services and wander quiet and hot Sunday backstreets. I ended up by the promising big San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno, disappointingly totally covered in scaffolding, and then over the river to the striking Cittadella Vecchia, part of Pisa's old arsenale complex, now a bleak zone of dilapidation and rubbish. Pisa doesn't seem to do panini (or panforte) as profusely as Siena, and so in my need for air-conditioned rest I grabbed a bag of ginger flavoured crisps and a bottle of San Benedetto from a local supermarket and made for my room. The evening stroll saw me finding where to get my Duomo complex ticket tomorrow, ticking off some more church exteriors, eating a lovely gelato of stracciapera (pear with choc bits) and plum flavours, from a place called Rufus, in the big Piazza Martiri della Liberta and getting a good takeaway falafel panino and eating it in a smaller piazza.

Monday 12th September
This morning's odd breakfast lack, as I'd gone for the fresh pineapple because of the sad lack of muesli, was yoghurt. Madness! My last full day so...the Duomo. The Duomo, Baptistery, Camposanto, and Sinopie Museum are all included in the Opa Pisa Pass for €8.00. (The Duomo is free but getting the pass means you don’t have to get a timed ticket.) I was somewhat gutted to learn that the Opera del Duomo museum was closed for restoration, and has been since 2014. The Duomo itself doesn't open until 11.00 so I thought I'd build up to it.

The Baptistery sure is big (see right) the biggest in Italy we're told. Quite plain inside, a bit stripy, and the dome disappointingly undecorated. The Pisano pulpit a bit too roped off and hard to get close to. The acoustics are amazing, as demonstrated by an attendant at intervals. Then into the Camposanto. Why didn't anyone tell me how wonderful it is? I knew how wonderful it once was - Ruskin never lies - but all the tales of the allied bombing and the almost totally destroyed frescos had so lowered my expectations, I suppose, that I was well primed to be very pleasantly surprised and totally wowed. Also impressed at how much fresco fineness is to be seen still. (The ones on the wall as you enter are much the less faded.) And the range of monuments and Roman sarcophagi, and the space: like a cloister only much more so. A treat, with one particular monument an instantly fallen-for fave (see detail right). (I found out later that she's Astronomy, on the tomb of astronomer Ottaviano Mossotti, by Giovanni Duprè.) But the Triumph of Death fresco room was closed with the excuse of more restoration and then reinstallation. The Duomo itself was rammed inside, but not as crowded as outside, where the annoying hoards sitting on the steps almost blocked one's entry. The people inside were mostly white-hairs though. The Cimabue apse mosaic was being restored behind a wall of sxaffolding and the organ was being tested, but not with tunes, just annoying repeated tones. The arcading between the apse and aisles does indeed have a Moorish feel, which the gilded ceiling spoils. Weaving around the crowds and parties I got a look at the Pisano pulpit, but beyond the crossing was all blocked off, and it was noticeable that puzzlingly the platform of ceiling scaffolding doesn't seem to actually reach the apse mosaic. The Sinopie Museum has a huge display of a large number of unusually big sinopie. Unfortunately the display runs around and over the back of ticket office, which makes for a certain lack of peace and quiet.

Some more churches were followed by a mozzarella and tomato panino eaten, along with a bag of lime and pepper crisps, in the Piazza Martiri della Liberta.

The evening stroll took in some bits of city wall and gates and eventually took me over the Arno to the Giardino Scotto, which has picturesquely crumbling towers and stretches of wall, archaeological discoveries and, like most Italian parks, is mostly like unto an unkempt and dusty wilderness.

day 13th September
At breakfast there was yoghurt, in pots, but no pineapple. The croissants were not dark, but were filled with apricot jam. This morning there's time for a final wander, to try and find a few churches open, as my flight's not until 4.15, and I don't have to vacate my room until 12.00. Generally Pisa is turning out to be a closed-churches disappointment, with some moderately mouth-watering descriptions in guide books leading to many closed doors. I was lucky with my first visit to Santa Caterina on my first evening, it seems, so I even went back there this morning knowing it would be open, and to check out the Nino Pisano Annunciation statue pair I'd missed in the dark. Then to San Michele for a longer visit, with some guidebook info and no service going on. Over the river San Sepolcro I find closed, but with a poster promising that San Martino will be open. It's not, and neither is Santa Cristina. The cute and spikey Santa Maria della Spina is open though, bit it's an empty, if pretty, space inside. And stripy of course. Back over the river I thought I'd give San Nicola one last chance, and found an open door! A pleasant aisleless space with, on the right in the first chapel, which is bare but with a decorated ceiling, a lovely small Madonna and Child by Francesco Traini. Also a couple of altarpieces by Giovanni Bilivert. In the chapel to the left of the high altar is a Crucifix by Giovanni Pisano and in the fourth chapel on the left side has a statue of the Madonna and Child by Nino Pisano, behind glass. The second chapel on the left has a detailed little diorama of the church's environs in olden times.

And then it was ten to twelve. Back to the hotel to check out, with nothing like the fondness of farewell of the Siena one, and walk to the airport. I know: another possible mistake, but where else is an airport so near its city centre that this is even possible? In less than an hour? A bit pedestrian-unfriendly as you get near the airport, though. No sign of anyone at the easyJet desk, but there is now more seating on the upper food court level. After a bit of a read I went back downstairs to easyJet's usual gate confusion. After security I bought some water and a slice of the nastiest and most tepid pizza I'd tasted in a long time, dumping half of it. I noticed later that the date was the 13th and my seat on the plane was in row 13. Another flight delay, train cancellations at Gatwick, temperatures in London freakishly as warm as it'd been in Pisa...boy was I glad to get home.

In conclusion Old guidebooks speak of the churches in Siena being rarely open, and not much has changed in that regard. Pisa was even worse, not least because of the scaffolding all around San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno and San Francesco. Siena was the place most likely to be revisited soonest, due to its superior artists and architectural variety, Pisa less so, as no art in churches stood out, but the Camposanto is a new favourite place.


Trip reading

Mary Hoffman City of Stars

I long ago read (and reviewed) the first and third in Mary H’s Stravaganza series, they having been set in alternative versions of Venice and Florence respectively. I loved the first one unreservedly and my only reservation about the second was due to its being a bit girlier than the first. This one is set in a version of 16th century Siena called Remora, with the present-day time-traveller this time a girl called Georgia, who suffers a bearable stepfather but has an insufferable stepbrother. We begin in horse-race-mad Remora, where a winged foal is born, whilst in Islington Georgia saves her money to buy a terracotta figure of winged horse. Period political shenanigans both shady and romantic ensue, mostly between the Stravagante (time travellers) and their enemies the di Chimici, the Medici of this alternative Tuscany. And as things become less black and white between the factions you're safely hooked. This one's good to read in Siena, especially if you're becoming interested in the contrade - the differences in the naming and number of the parishes don't hinder as the importance and evidence of the divisions are common to the real and and fictional Sienas, with much murky politicking and corruption in common.

Luca Bertini
Pisa Itineraries
The translation is not always spot on, but the knowledge and enthusiasm are evident. Arranged around walks - the Duomo complex, west of centre, east of centre and two lungarni (river banks), the walls, the museums. But there's no index, so to find a church, say, you need to find it on the walk's map and track it in the text for the walk. And the arrows on a couple of maps give the wrong direction. But still - the best city guide I found.

Blue Guides now do e-chapters from their larger guides. So I got ones that included Siena and Pisa, taken from Alta Macadam's Tuscany guide. They are more useable for guide purposes than previously as you can jump to a different page, for a map maybe, and then flip back at the touch of a button. The maps are separate images too, and you can  zoom in easily, by 'squeezing'. All very instinctive, and much easier than lugging a big book, which might well also include very many places that you're not planning on visiting.

Catalogue corner
Neither Siena's Pinacoteca nor the Museo Nazionale di
San Matteo in Pisa had a shop, or catalogues or postcards.

Marilena Caciorgna
Siena - Cathedral, Crypt, Baptistery


Not-quite A4 tall, this is a handsome big guide to the Siena Duomo's  major elements (so minus the Museo dell'Opera). Lots of exceptionally good photos - views, works, details - some full page. It's coverage is comprehensive and the text very readable. It even has a section about the recently-found 'Crypt', which you won't find much else about in English.
Barbara Tavolari
Museo dell'Opera di Siena - Paintings
More handbook-sized than the above, my copy of this (bought shrink-wrapped) begins on page 17 in the midst of pages devoted to the stained glass windows attributed to Duccio (which aren't paintings, you'll notice). My copy's first complete entry is number 4, devoted to Duccio's Maesta. There are 52 works dealt with, in chronological order, with full, detailed and informative, catalogue entries and excellent photos for each. The 13th-15th centuries have the highlights, and take up the first 26 entries. The last 26 are from the less fruitful 16th and 17th centuries, plus the preparatory paintings for the triangular mosaics on the Duomo facade from the 19th. These latter century's works all get only one photo and shorter paragraphs.

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