Postcard From Italy No. 3–A Cathedral and a Nap in Siena

 Notes from travels earlier this summer…

You may recall from Postcard No. 1, (here) or Postcard No. 2, (here) that my dear husband is happy to travel in Italy #aslongaswedon’thavetogotoanychurches.

Siena Cathedral

Nothing against churches, he is just more interested in wars and things. Of course the church with its money and power had a lot to do with those wars,  but that does not sway His Grace into fascination with this mosaic or that sculpture, if you follow me. Fair enough.

Siena Cathedral, gargoyles and all

Nor does it keep Her Grace from going anyway. I was determined to get to Siena and by dern see that cathedral.

Look down!

Siena Cathedral – floor mosaic

I talked HG into by saying it would be interesting to see Siena without the craziness of the Palio going on. Besides he could nap in the car.

Look up!

Siena Cathedral – dome

Ooh, down again. This is Futura (I think), in a precarious balance…

Siena Cathedral – floor mosaic

Speaking of the Palio, all eyes will be on Siena this weekend as the centuries-old world’s wildest horse race runs for the second time this summer,  on August 16. The first running is always July 2. Found this great article in  The Daily Telegraph, by Lee Marshall, on the Palio, with great photos as well. I am dying to see it.

Look up! 

Siena Cathedral – the Piccolomini library of illuminated manuscripts – ceiling

Same room,  different view. The Piccolomini Library, from my Instagram.

Siena Cathedral – Piccolomini library

So many extraordinary elements in the Siena Cathedral, but this trip I was especially impressed by the floor tiles and mosaics. Georgio Vasari himself declared the floor of the Siena Cathedral “the largest and most magnificent ever made.” From August 18 to October 27 it will is to be completely revealed, which rarely happens.

Down again.

Siena Cathedral – Piccolomini library – tile floor

Magpie that I am, I was  enthralled by the wall covered in beautiful metal hearts, or ex-votos, thank offerings for answered prayers, or as fulfillment of vows. The winner of the Palio posts one every year, our guide says. 

Siena Cathedral – Sacred Hearts

If I raced in the Palio, I would post a heart for just surviving the damn thing, now I’ve learned a little about it. They ride bareback, for Pete’s sake. Every set of photos I looked at  (I became slightly obsessed) showed a horrible crash and some degree of carnage.  Like Nascar but with Italians and horses. Here is a YouTube of last year’s race. (Slide your cursor to the 11:55 minute mark. That’s when the actual race starts. Before that is milling around.)

No wonder there are so many hearts. Aren’t they beautiful?

Siena Cathedral – sacred hearts

 Just beyond the wall of hearts is the entrance to the Chigi Chapelwith its altarpiece of solid lapis. Heavens to Betsy.

Siena Cathedral – Chigi Chapel – lapis lazuli altarpiece

And heavens to Bernini, too. His statue of Mary Magdalene has an almost other-worldly quality about it. You see millions of statues, and then you see this, and you think, this is why Bernini was Bernini. His soul is in that marble.

Siena Cathedral – Chigi Chapel – Mary Magdalene by Bernini

Meanwhile His Grace is having a nice snooze in la machinna. This outing was on the second day of our trip–the worst for jet lag. To be fair I’d had a head start in Europe by a week or so.

Siena Cathedral – dome of the Chigi Chapel

Hard to believe all this under one–granted very large–cathedral roof. And this is just a glimpse. But enough. The poor guide was a bit distraught by my whistlestop-tour-ways, but the eyes begin to glaze after a while… And there is the sleeping Grace to wake…

One last glance… Stripes were big even in the 14th century. But those Italians have always set the trend…

Siena Cathedral

Upon waking HG we stroll to the city center to see where the famous hell-bent-for-leather horse races take place, and HG regales me with his tales of attending, which include but are not confined to parades and pageantry galore, gambling shenanigans and Sicilian jockeys, weeping widows, and mauling crowds. I can’t wait.

Siena is also home to the University of Siena, with its prestigious schools of medicine and law. We encountered some blue-kerchiefed prospective students along the way, perhaps discussing the merits of dropping water balloons from this ponte.

Young sightseers in Siena
Siena – Civita

But alas, this is as close we came to the Palio this year–a photo in a shop window.

Siena – Palio photo in shop window

Then it’s back to Florence. Ciao for now. xo Frances



  1. Oh, Frances, you have shared one of my favorite places in the world. I love cathedrals and especially this one in Siena. Thank you for sharing this beauty–happy way to wake up this morning.

  2. Beautiful photos………..beautiful place.ALthough, I lived in Florence for three years I never did see the PALIO!Perhaps, that means a trip back………….I left my heart over there.

  3. Frances, wonderful photos, incredible artistry. I might require neck support…and I loved the video of the Palio. I want to learn Italian, based on her model, it might come in handy some day. Thank you for sharing the beauty. XO P

  4. Frances..thank you for posting all the shots. The one of the dome, and that blue color, is spectacular. And funny to use the word spectacular cause I think it is Latin roots.

    I will always stop in a church on trips. You get a real sense of the community…makes a trip a sort of pilgrimage.

    1. Thanks, Garland – I especially liked that one too. And you’re right about spectacular, from the Latin spectaculum, meaning “a sight, show.” But don’t be impressed, I looked it up. 😉 Frances

  5. I visited Sienna and the Palio fever just before my big 5-0 bday in Florence and it was indeed a site to be seen! Amazing patriotism, neighborhood dinners, parades, vintage scarves, robust horses, proud jockeys and crashes leaving me to wonder how they ever survive this year after year! Crazy and wonderful at the same time. Perfectly suited to HG. 🙂

  6. Frances dear,
    I just loved those magnificent photos, especially the close up of all the details that really sing out to me … I think people often don’t realize the beauty in all the details and just see it as a whole as on a postcard … I also take these whimsy shots and by the hundreds which makes my husband and the tour guide rolling their eyes !!! 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing, and can’t wait for the Bee Cottage Book … any chance you could comes to the California Club in Los Angeles for a book signing ???
    Hearts love, Joanie

    1. Thank you, Joanie, and how right you are… And thanks for your kind words about coming book. Heck yeah I would love to come to the California Club when the time comes! Best to you, Frances

  7. These are fabulous! I particularly enjoyed the tile work in Piccolomini library, and of course the incredible natural light streaming through the windows. Incredible! Thank you for sharing the beauty.

    1. Thank you, Lisa! Amazing about that library and the treasures it holds – with not one bit of protection from the heat, humidity, sunlight, nothing, and yet there is a sign saying not to talk because it could harm the manuscripts. Made our guide apoplectic – but was also funny. xo F

  8. Frances,loved the Palio race,what fun,maybe I have seen it now.Would love to go back and see the chapel one more time,your pictures were wonderful and made it come alive for me.Thanks so much.xoxoxMW

  9. Great to see the cathedral through your beautiful photos, as I never got there in person! Il Palio is indeed incredible( hear my Italian accent? I loved the YouTube!)… Those Italians are crazy! Bernini is my all time fav…what a master! Thanks Frances!

  10. Saw the Palio race on a TV in a Siena shop window! The The Cathedral always steals the show. And how about the stunning black and white stone facades? Magnifico, loved seeing your photos. Thanks for the tour.
    XO, Linda

    1. Thanks, Linda! Yes the black and white is so great? And chic, I dare say, if a church can be chic. Wonder if the Palio is televised anywhere in US? Hmmm. Xox F

  11. What a gorgeous, gorgeous cathedral! Will definitely have to check that one out. (Although, my husband also says if you’ve seen one cathedral you’ve seen them all!) We’re looking forward to taking the little one on his first European outing in a couple of years. Loved looking at these gorgeous photos! It was like a little mini vacation!

    1. Yes it is worth a trip in itself, Kristy. Park husband in cafe with latest crime novel while you tour 😉 Thank you for writing, good to hear from you, xo, Frances

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *