(2006) Siena (founded in 90 BC!) was a booming city of 100,000 people before the Black Death (bubonic plague) hit in 1348 and slashed the population to 30,000. The city never recovered, and exploring the center city offers a glimpse of life 700 years ago.
Our first stop was the Duomo (started in 1150) with its striking black and white marble strips, inside and out. Then it was on to the city's heart, the breathtaking Piazza del Campo, one of "Europe's loveliest squares." What a great place for people watching. The Palazzo Pubblico and it's adjoining Torre del Mangia (33 stories tall) dominate the Piazza. We climbed to the top of the tower for amazing vistas (403 steps!).
After that workout, we had a fabulous lunch al fresco at one of the restaurants on the Piazza. A street entertainer kept us laughing as he played tricks on innocent passerbyers. That is definitely one of the most memorable lunches of my life!
We spent two nights at Castello di Spannocchia, located about 12 miles outside of Siena. It is part of the Tenuta di Spannocchia, a centuries-old agricultural estate in the rolling hills of Tuscany. The Tenuta is an organic farm and forest and is part of the nature reserve Riserva Naturale Alto Merse. The history of the estate dates back to the 12th century, when a group of monks settled at Santa Lucia, an hermitage located on the banks of the Rosia river at the base of what is now the Spannocchia property.
The farm is owned by the Spannocchia Foundation, based in the United States, and is an educational center for students, scholars, researchers, artists, and others committed to preserving cultural history and the environment for future generations. They are also committed to supporting sustainable development in rural areas through international collaboration and education. We enjoyed the fruits (along with vegetables and meats) of their sustainable agriculture with family-styled meals each evening.
While we were visiting, art students from Oklahoma State University were painting in the art studio and outside in the picturesque setting.