On Wednesday, 21st, we took a bus tour from Florence through the Tuscan countryside south of the city to nearby Siena, on the way visiting the villages of Monteriggioni and San Gimignano and having a wine tasting lunch.
San Gimignano is a small, picturesque, walled town with a castle on top of the hill. This was a typical bus tour flying visit with just an hour scheduled. San Gimignano was famous for it’s tower houses, most of which are gone, but the height of the tower indicated the wealth of the family concerned. There were some 72 towers once, now down to just 13 remaining. The village was apparently founded by the Etruscans, rather than the Romans. Our guide told us the Etruscans built on hill tops but the Romans favoured rivers!
Moneriggioni is a large castle with a village inside it. It was built by the Sienese in the 13 century as a defence against the Florentine Medici and was reputed to be impregnable, until 1554. The Medicis laid siege to the castle and in typically Medici style deployed their powerful and exceptionally large ‘Seige Wallet‘. They simply bribed someone to leave the castle gates unlocked – and then Monteriggioni wasn’t so impregnable after all!
After leaving Monteriggioni we were taken to a local vineyard for lunch and a wine tasting; the almost obligatory attempt to flog very expensive wine and obscenely expensive Balsamic Vinegar to a bus load of tourists. The vinegar was really good, the price not so much and we were introduced to various varieties of Chianti, but I am afraid it was lost on Valeria and I; we liked the red but not the white so much ….. Philistines!
Siena was our final, and longest, stop. Legend has it that the city was founded by the sons of Remus, co founder of Rome. This is supposedly why Siena and Rome use the wolf suckling two children as their ‘badge’; apparently both the stories about the founder and the badge are just myths.
The high lights of the visit were the main square, the Piazza del Campo. They hold a horse race around the square twice a year and scenes from ‘Quantum of Solace’ were filmed there.
The real attraction though is the Cathedral; The Duomo di Siena. It is magnificently decorated. We were told by our guide that the interior of the Duomo was more impressive than that of Florence’s much larger version; having now seen both we can confirm she was right. It is magnificent, the Reading Room doubly so, and photographs simply can’t do it justice.
It was a full day and nice to get out to see a bit of the surrounding area. Tuscany, or the bit we saw from the bus windows is very picturesque and the villages and towns are quaint. Siena probably has more to offer than our 3 hours there afforded us, but if nothing else the Duomo was well worth the visit!