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  • HI, I'M RICK STEVES, BACK WITH MORE OF THE BEST OF EUROPE.

  • THIS TIME, WE EXPLORE SIENA AND ASSISI,

  • PLUS THE COUNTRYSIDE IN BETWEEN.

  • IF YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH ITALY,

  • GOOD CHANCE IT WILL BE RIGHT HERE.

  • IN MANY WAYS THE HEART OF THIS COUNTRY

  • IS THE REGION OF TUSCANY.

  • IT'S HERE WHERE THE RUSTIC SOUL

  • AND RURAL MYSTIQUE OF THIS COUNTRY COMBINE

  • TO SEDUCE TRAVELERS INTO TOSSING THEIR ITINERARIES

  • AND SETTLING IN.

  • IN SIENA, WE'LL CLIMB THE HIGHEST TOWER,

  • SAVOR LOCAL CUISINE,

  • AND GET TO KNOW A FAMILY.

  • AND THEN, FOR A TASTE OF TUSCANY,

  • WE'LL EXPLORE TINY HILL TOWNS,

  • SLEEP RUSTIC, BUT CLASSY, IN A COUNTRY FARM,

  • AND SAMPLE SOME GREAT WINE.

  • IN ASSISI, WE'LL JOIN PILGRIMS AT THE BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS.

  • ITALY PACKS 55 MILLION PEOPLE

  • INTO AN AREA ABOUT THE SIZE OF ARIZONA.

  • WE'LL START IN SIENA,

  • VISIT HIGHLIGHTS OF TUSCANY,

  • BEFORE FINISHING IN ASSISI.

  • SIENA SEEMS TO BE EVERY ITALY CONNOISSEUR'S FAVORITE TOWN.

  • IN THE 1300s, IT WAS A MAJOR MILITARY POWER,

  • IN A CLASS WITH FLORENCE, VENICE AND GENOA.

  • WITH A POPULATION OF 60,000 PEOPLE,

  • IT WAS ONE OF EUROPE'S LARGEST CITIES.

  • BUT WEAKENED BY A DEVASTATING PLAGUE

  • AND CONQUERED BY ITS BITTER RIVAL FLORENCE,

  • SIENA HAS BEEN A BACKWATER FOR FIVE CENTURIES.

  • SIENA'S LOSS BECAME OUR SIGHT-SEEING GAIN,

  • AS ITS POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC IRRELEVANCE

  • PRESERVED ITS PURELY GOTHIC IDENTITY.

  • SIENA'S GREAT CENTRAL PIAZZA, IL CAMPO,

  • IS LIKE A PEOPLE-FRIENDLY STAGE SET.

  • ITS GENTLY TILTED FLOOR FANS OUT FROM THE TOWER.

  • SPRAWLING BEFORE THE CITY HALL BACKDROP,

  • IT OFFERS THE PERFECT INVITATION TO LOITER.

  • THE SIENESE LOUNGE COMFORTABLY ON THIS SQUARE

  • AS IF IT'S THEIR COMMUNITY LIVING ROOM.

  • TWO TIMES EACH SUMMER, SIENA HOLDS THE PALIO,

  • A WILD BAREBACK HORSE RACE AROUND THIS SQUARE.

  • NEIGHBORHOODS COMPETE, HURLING THEMSELVES WITH MEDIEVAL ABANDON

  • INTO A FESTIVAL WHICH CLIMAXES IN THIS 90-SECOND ROMP.

  • IT'S STANDING ROOM ONLY AS 40,000 PEOPLE,

  • MOSTLY LOCALS, PACK THIS SQUARE.

  • BUT TODAY, IT'S QUIET.

  • AND AT THE FOUNTAIN OF JOY,

  • PIGEONS POLITELY WAIT THEIR TURN TO SLURP A DRINK.

  • WHILE MOST ITALIAN CITIES HAVE A CHURCH ON THEIR MAIN SQUARE,

  • SIENA GATHERS AROUND ITS CITY HALL.

  • IT WAS AN AUTONOMOUS REPUBLIC,

  • AND THIS WAS ITS DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE,

  • THE TALLEST SECULAR MEDIEVAL TOWER IN ITALY.

  • 300 STEPS TAKE YOU 100 YARDS HIGH.

  • THE REWARD:

  • ONE OF ITALY'S FINEST VIEWS.

  • THE DOMINANT COLOR:

  • SIENNA.

  • INSIDE THE CITY HALL, IN THE ROOM OF PEACE,

  • THE TOWN COUNCIL MET UNDER INSTRUCTIVE FRESCOES

  • SHOWING THE EFFECTS OF GOOD AND BAD GOVERNMENT.

  • BAD GOVERNMENT, A DICTATORSHIP COUNSELED BY GREED AND TYRANNY,

  • BRINGS A DREARY CITY WITHOUT SPIRIT

  • AND VIOLENCE IN THE STREETS.

  • BUT A GOOD GOVERNMENT, WITH WISE AND VIRTUOUS COUNCIL,

  • RESULTS IN A UTOPIAN REPUBLIC WHERE THE SHOPPING'S BRISK,

  • PROFESSORS TEACH ATTENTIVE STUDENTS,

  • CONSTRUCTION IS BOOMING

  • AND WOMEN DANCE FREELY IN THE STREETS.

  • THE MESSAGE?

  • A COMMUNITY RULED BY A JUST GOVERNMENT ENJOYS PEACE,

  • PROSPERITY, AND A GREAT PLACE IN WHICH TO RAISE YOUR KIDS.

  • IN THE NEARBY HOSPITAL OF SANTA MARIA della SCALA,

  • A SERIES OF IDEALIZED FRESCOES ILLUSTRATES HOW FAR

  • SECULAR SOCIETY HAD COME IN SIENA BY THE 1440s.

  • THE CITY RAN THIS HOSPITAL

  • IN A WAY THAT SEEMED TO TAKE OVER

  • THE CHURCH'S TRADITIONAL SOCIAL ROLE.

  • IT TOOK IN ORPHANS AND RAISED THEM,

  • FROM WET NURSE

  • THROUGH HOMEWORK

  • TO A CIVIL WEDDING.

  • AND THIS WEDDING IS NOT ARRANGED,

  • AS THIS MAN WOULD HAVE LIKED.

  • IT'S BASED ON LOVE.

  • SIENESE SOCIETY PROVIDED WELFARE --

  • BREAD TO NEEDY PEOPLE --

  • THROUGH THIS HOSPITAL RATHER THAN THE CHURCH.

  • NOTE THE LOAVES ARE CLEVERLY STAMPED TO PREVENT RESALE.

  • THE HOSPITAL WAS RUN BY DOCTORS AND SECULAR NURSES.

  • IN A SLAP TO CHURCH AUTHORITIES,

  • THE WELL-FED MONK LOOKS BORED

  • AS HE HARDLY HEARS A DYING PATIENT'S CONFESSION.

  • WE'RE STAYING AT ALBERGO BERNINI IN THE OLD TOWN CENTER,

  • WITH THE MAGIC OF SIENA RIGHT OUT OUR WINDOW.

  • THE ROOMS ARE HOMEY AND COMFORTABLE,

  • BREAKFAST ON THE TERRACE COMES WITH A SPECTACULAR VIEW,

  • AND A FRIENDLY FAMILY MEMBER AT THE DESK

  • IS ALWAYS READY TO HELP YOU WITH TRAVEL QUESTIONS.

  • AND IN A LITTLE FAMILY-RUN PLACE LIKE THIS,

  • SERENDIPITY IS ALMOST A CERTAINTY,

  • AND YOU FEEL LIKE PART OF A SIENESE FAMILY.

  • Rick: BRAVO!

  • SIENA'S DUOMO, OR CATHEDRAL,

  • IS AS OVER THE TOP AS GOTHIC GETS.

  • THE STRIPED PAJAMA FACADE

  • IS PILED WITH STATUES AND ORNAMENTATION.

  • ITS INTERIOR IS DECORATED FROM TOP TO BOTTOM.

  • THE HEADS OF 172 POPES PEER DOWN ON ALL THOSE WHO ENTER.

  • THE CHURCH IS FILLED WITH GREAT ART.

  • NICOLA PISANO'S WONDERFUL PULPIT

  • WAS CARVED OUT OF MARBLE IN 1268.

  • IT'S CROWDED WITH DELICATE GOTHIC STORYTELLING,

  • SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF CHRIST AND THE LAST JUDGMENT.

  • THIS TOMB, DEDICATED TO A SIENESE POPE,

  • INCLUDES A MINOR MICHELANGELO.

  • BUT THE MOST EXCITING STATUARY HIDES HERE, IN A SIDE CHAPEL,

  • WHERE YOU'LL UNDERSTAND WHY

  • LORENZO BERNINI IS CONSIDERED THE GREATEST BAROQUE SCULPTOR.

  • MARY MAGDALENE IS IN SPIRITUAL ECSTASY.

  • AND ST. JEROME CARESSES THE CRUCIFIX

  • LIKE A VIOLINIST LOST IN BEAUTIFUL MUSIC.

  • NEXT DOOR, THE CATHEDRAL MUSEUM

  • HOLDS MANY OF THE CHURCH'S MOST PRECIOUS ORIGINALS.

  • DUCCIO'S ENTHRONED VIRGIN,

  • PAINTED FOR THE CATHEDRAL'S HIGH ALTAR,

  • IS THE MOST CAPTIVATING PIECE OF ART IN ALL SIENA.

  • IT'S FROM AROUND 1300, LONG BEFORE THE RENAISSANCE,

  • WHEN THE ARTIST'S MISSION WAS TO TELL A BIBLE STORY,

  • EMPHASIZING EASY-TO-READ SYMBOLISM

  • AND SERENE BEAUTY OVER REALISM.

  • THE FLIP SIDE OF THIS TWO-SIDED ALTARPIECE HAS 26 PANELS,

  • THE ARTISTIC EQUIVALENT OF PAGES.

  • IT SHOWS SCENES FROM THE PASSION OF CHRIST,

  • THE LAST DAYS THAT LED UP TO HIS CRUCIFIXION.

  • IN THIS PANEL, JESUS WASHES THE FEET OF THE APOSTLES.

  • AND HERE, JUDAS KISSES JESUS,

  • IDENTIFYING HIM TO HIS ROMAN CAPTORS.

  • AND THE CATHEDRAL MUSEUM COMES WITH A SURPRISE:

  • A COMMANDING VIEW.

  • FROM THIS HILLTOP, SIENA UNFOLDS IN ALL DIRECTIONS.

  • CONSIDER THIS:

  • WHEN FLORENCE BEGAN BUILDING ITS GRAND CATHEDRAL,

  • THE RIVAL REPUBLIC OF SIENA RESPONDED WITH A PLAN

  • TO BUILD THE BIGGEST CHURCH IN ALL CHRISTENDOM.

  • ITS EXISTING CATHEDRAL WOULD BE USED ONLY AS A TRANSEPT,

  • OR WING, OFF THE NEW NAVE, OR MAIN BUILDING.

  • I'M SITTING ATOP WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN

  • THE FRONT OF THAT CHURCH.

  • THESE TOWERING MARBLE ARCHES

  • HINT AT THE IMMENSITY OF THE PROJECT.

  • BUT THESE ARCHES WERE AS FAR AS SIENA GOT

  • BEFORE CONSTRUCTION PROBLEMS AND A PLAGUE SCUTTLED THE PROJECT.

  • WERE IT COMPLETED, THIS SQUARE WOULD HAVE BEEN THE NAVE.

  • HIDING BEHIND ALL THESE GREAT SIGHTS

  • ARE INTRIGUING BACK STREETS.

  • HERE YOU'LL GET AWAY FROM THE CROWDS

  • AND FIND YOURSELF ALL ALONE

  • WITH THE MEDIEVAL MAGIC OF SIENA:

  • STEEP LANES AND MYSTERIOUS BYWAYS

  • THAT HAVE CHANGED LITTLE OVER THE CENTURIES.

  • AND ALL OVER TOWN,

  • SHOPS TEMPT YOU WITH SIENESE SPECIALTIES:

  • GOURMET PASTA,

  • VINTAGE CHIANTI,

  • WILD BOAR PROSCIUTTO,

  • EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL,

  • AND PANFORTE.

  • SIENA'S CLAIM TO CALORIC FAME,

  • PANFORTE IS A CHEWY LOCAL DELICACY

  • THAT IMPRESSES EVEN FRUITCAKE HATERS.

  • HERE WE ARE. HUNGRY?

  • ALRIGHT.

  • THIS IS PANFORTE.