Fourteen Months Abroad – Siena, Italy

April 2.-We expected to go to Florence from Rome but at the last moment, just as we were retiring for the night, decided to come here. It was raining when we left Rome (at 9:30) and continued to rain through the day. We had been over the ground before as far as Chinsi.

After leaving that place we felt much interested in the scenery. We went through a rich farming region with immense vineyards. There were large farm houses and barns, some high up on the hills, and large bushes filled with white blossoms. The low ground was flooded by recent rains and the many streams were muddy. Our conductor and others wore cloaks with hoods, in the rain. Green umbrellas were carried. The scenery changed as we approached the hill region. There were beautiful mountain ranges with in-numerable peaks, and curious-looking mounds with deep channels which appeared to be clay mounds. Howells, in his book on Tuscan cities, speaks of the peculiar character of the volcanic landscape in this region. He alludes to the “heaps of clay such as mighty geysers might have cast up.” A lady tells me they are the result of volcanic action a long time ago.

We arrived here at Pension Chiusarelli about six o’clock last evening. We were told it would be cold in Siena, but we find the air delightful and bracing. No one in the pension speaks English except the guests.

As I stood in the station in Rome waiting for the train which was to carry me away from the Eternal City forever I took a last look at the piece of Servian wall built in the time of the kings, perhaps 500 years before Christ. We feel glad that we came to Siena although it did give me a pang to leave Rome. If I were young and could feel that sometime in the future we might again see Rome and Florence and Venice it would be different. These are the places I should most desire to see, perhaps, but it would be delightful to see everything again. Knowing that in all probability we shall never cross the ocean again I have a feeling of sadness when I leave these places—a feeling of regret which almost amounts to pain.

We walked out today, both in the morning and in the afternoon. We met Mrs. Karmine on both occasions. She was much surprised to see us, as we did not expect to visit Siena so soon. This morning we walked on Via Cavour the main street. We were a long time finding the postoffice. This afternoon Mrs. K. conducted us to some of the principal points of interest, including the cathedral and palaces and the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. We looked with surprise at this beautiful piazza, so different from any we had seen. It is large, a half circle in form, slopes a little toward the center, and has somewhat the shape of an ancient theatre.

April 3.-As L. has not yet regained his normal strength we thought best to avoid the Easter services in Rome. We are told they are very like the Christmas services which we attended there and found exhausting. So we have come to Siena and will not lose Easter altogether as there will be services here. Today (Palm Sunday) I have already at-tended two. We met Mrs. K. in the cathedral this morning. As we were leaving the building she called our attention to the very fine pavement which is of marble, and decorated with graffito-representations of Biblical and classical scenes chiefly. Some of these are engraved on white marble, the outlines being black. In the colored marbles, which are more recent, the work of the engraver is so elaborate that the pictures have the appearance of beautiful mosaics. This remarkable floor is usually covered with wax-cloth.

Siena is an archbishop’s see. At an early service this morning the archbishop blessed the palms and olive branches which were distributed among the people. Soon after we entered the cathedral a procession of men robed in black and white passed from the high altar to the pulpit, carrying dried palm branches with long, elaborately braided handles like the most elegant basket work. The people place these blessed palm branches over the heads of their beds until the next Palm Sunday and expect a special blessing during the year. The archbishop held in his hand one of these palm branches, as did other men who were with him. Some of the priests went to the archbishop and were blessed. At such times his palm branch was held for him. Olive branches were distributed to the people as they passed out after the service. In Rome green palm leaves are used for decoration on Palm Sunday. A man in San Remo supplies them. Many beautiful things are made here of dried palm leaves and of the straw.

This afternoon I was alone in the church of S. Domenico. At the ringing of a bell a procession of men and boys entered. A man carried a cross on which were fastened a hammer, a spear, a stick which held a sponge, and a pair of pincers. On either side of him a small boy carried a lighted candle. Most of the boys were dressed in white, some in black and white. They stopped with this cross be-fore fourteen pictures illustrating the last scenes in the life of Christ, kneeling, chanting and singing before each picture. This service is called “The Stations of the Cross.” There was preaching afterwards which I could not under-stand and did not stay to hear.

April 4.-This afternoon we walked to the station. We met curious-looking oxen. I put my hand on them and took hold of their monstrous horns. This afternoon we first walked to the Lizza which is the Public Park and the promenade here, and then to one side of the Fort (Forte Santa Barbera) where the soldiers were having games and drills. We watched them for awhile and then, instead of returning the way we came, descended by a steep, rude path into what resembles an amphitheatre or terraced bowl. The window from our room looks down into it. It is large and is a combination of vineyard, orchard and kitchen garden. Cherry, peach and other trees are in blossom there; olive trees are there also and under our window is a fig tree which does not yet show leaves. In Naples fig trees were clothing them-selves with leaves.

This deep terraced basin with a fresh green hedge around it has grass in places which adds to its beauty. L. calls it “a gem of a view.” On the bank as we went down there were numerous wild flowers which we enjoyed. I brought home a bouquet of them. We do not know the names of all but there are quantities of the star of Bethlehem, daisies, buttercups, harebells and calendulas. The pink and white daisies are thick in the grass—we were obliged to walk upon them this afternoon. There are a few dandelions, the first we have seen since leaving home. They grow and blossom with the pink daisies in the grass about the Garibaldi monument. These daisies were also about the Garibaldi monument in Rome.

Siena is picturesquely situated on three small hills, 1,330 feet above the sea level. Most of the streets are narrow and crooked, a few of them too steep for vehicles. I have seen no sidewalks. It is a strange sight to see the principal business street (Via Cavour) full of men and women, all walking. The stores are dark, some of them having no windows at all, others with one small window in the ceiling or roof. The street arches are interesting and ornamental. Public conveyances are scarce. The remains of Etruscan walls show what an ancient city Siena is. Founded as a Roman colony in the time of Julius Caesar it bore the name of Sena or Sena Julia. The city contains many palaces and handsome churches. Beggars are few. The people are pre-possessing in appearance.

Strawberry vines are in blossom, and many vegetables, some of which are strange to us.

April 5.—”Siena is one of the most interesting cities in the world.”

We have been out walking this morning. We visited a photograph store and other stores, bought a photo of the celebrated pulpit in the cathedral, postais with views, and two tiny copper pitchers. Howells says of the wonderful cathedral (which we have twice visited) that “if in America we had a tithe of that lavish loveliness in one structure the richness of that one would impoverish the effect of all the other buildings on the continent.” And yet he says “this is only a mere fragment of what was meant to be the Cathedral of Siena.” At the time of the plague “a hundred noble families were extinguished. Three-fourths of the families of Italy perished. The work on this cathedral was suspended and when it was resumed the plan was restricted to its present dimensions.”

This afternoon we again walked about this attractive mountain city. First we went past St. Catherine’s home down a steep, narrow street to a very ancient fountain called Fontebranda, at the foot of the hill of S. Domenico. This celebrated fountain, covered with a colonnade of three arches, was mentioned as early as 1081. It has three very long and broad pools—the fountain, the bathing pool, and the washing pool. At the last named place we saw about thirty women washing, on the four sides of the pool under the portico, each with a scrubbing brush and soap, using the sloping sides for rubbing boards. It was a surprising sight–those rows of women washing in that great “pond of soap suds,” as L. calls it. They seemed a jolly, talkative set and told us that washing was done there every day. They wash their clothes in this cold water, then do them up in large bundles to carry home, although we saw several counterpanes, trimmed with broad lace, drying there. I think a hundred or more might wash there. They jabbered away to us and we could hardly understand a word ; they even followed us to the door, laughing and talking.

All around in the buildings in that region we saw hides hanging up, for there are the tanneries, as the strong smell indicates. On one of the streets leading up from there (Via Benincasa) still live the dyers and fullers. In one of these homes lived St. Catherine’s father, a dyer by occupation. L. and I are charmed with Siena, which is different from any other city we have visited. We went through one of the city gates where we could see a good bit of the city wall and the steep road leading down into the country.

L. just said, as he stands looking out of our window, “Oh, what a picture this is! A great garden amphitheatre and much more.”

April 6.—Today we selected photographs in the morning and in the afternoon visited the cathedral again to hear the music but did not stay for the Miserere. The church was cold. The cold churches and cold art galleries have been very great drawbacks to us all the while, not only here but wherever we have been on the Continent.

April 7.-A delightful carriage ride of an hour and a half gave us much pleasure this morning. The air was very clear. We saw the wall which entirely surrounds the city, with Fort St. Barbera at one corner. We rode to three of the gates and noticed the immense bolts that fasten them. At one point as we rode along the wall was very, very high. I was pleased to meet one of the basket wagons, full of calves and drawn by oxen. We have a photo of one of these wagons, full of people. We also saw three pure white stags decorated with red bands and tassels. They were being led and did not behave very well.

After lunch we walked to the top of the outer wall of the Fort St. Barbera and, as the air was clear, had a magnificent view of the surrounding country with the snow-capped mountains on the north and all about us a grand panorama of the Tuscan hills and valleys. We gathered wild flowers and saw large patches of wild tulips, but to my regret there were no blossoms. The grass was carpeted with lovely pink daisies. We returned home to rest and at five o’clock went again to the cathedral. This time we heard the Miserere, which was beautifully rendered. L. much enjoyed it. At its close, when the last candle was extinguished, there was a sudden and startling noise which was indescribable and we knew not from whence it came or what produced it. We sprang to our feet. Mrs. K., who is a Catholic and who was with us, said in a solemn, awe-struck tone, “Christ is dead!” This was the conclusion of the Miserere. Then a procession formed in which the archbishop (in purple cap, and robe which was held up for him as he walked) was conspicuous. One of the chapels was lighted ; before this they stopped, then passed out.

While we three stood on the steps of the cathedral admiring its wonderful facade I saw what I was most anxious to see in Florence, a procession of the Misericordia carrying a sick man into the hospital, They were dressed wholly in black, with heads and faces covered except the eyes. It is essentially the same dress they wear in Florence. A black cloth covered the bier, or what held the sick man, which was so far open that we could see the man.

April 8.—L. has taken cold again. In the morning I remained at home with him and this afternoon went alone to the cathedral and heard another Miserere. The procession marched to the chapel. All knelt before a crucifix. At the close of the exercises a dignitary took the monstrance, which contains the Host or sacrament, and with that gave the benediction. Then he carried it to the archbishop who kissed it. Other bishops and priests kissed it and the service was over. I am told that yesterday afternoon during the service the archbishop washed the feet of some of the men ; we were there too late to see it.

Many of the women here, both old and young, wear leghorn hats with broad brims, some of them trimmed quite becomingly. These straw hats are made in different towns in Tuscany. The poorer classes can afford to wear them. I suppose with us they would be a luxury.

April 9.—L. and I went to the market this morning, and again through the remarkable Piazza Vittorio Emanuele on which stands Palazzo Pubblico. Adjoining is the famous tower begun in 1325 and completed in 1345. W. D. Howells says of it: “When once you have seen this tower, all other towers, obelisks, and columns are tame, vulgar and earth-rooted; that seems to quit the ground, to be not a monument but a flight.”

The market was not much but from that point we had a grand view of the country outside the wall and in the long distance which L. and I both enjoyed. Many peasants were in from the country this morning.

All about Siena is the she-wolf with the twins—its ancient coat-of-arms. We saw them also in Rome, but not so frequently.

This afternoon I went with Miss Wiley, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the house of St. Catherine of Siena, who was undoubtedly a most remarkable person. Her house (now a church) contains frescoes of scenes in her life, her visions, her visit to the Pope and her marriage to Christ. We saw her bedroom and the window out of which she threw her bread to feed the poor. We saw also the hard pillow (now protected by glass) on which her head rested. We have seen the chapel belonging to the church of S. Domenico where there are frescoes in which she is the subject. In this church, which is near our pension, she had her visions. It was very cold there.

L. walked alone to the Fort-wall just before sunset.

April 10.—We attended the Easter services in the cathedral this morning. Throughout the services during the past week the organ has been covered—there has been only orchestral music. Today the organ was uncovered and used, the paintings which have been covered were unveiled, the archbishops and cardinals, dressed in flowery robes, wore mitres on their heads. Bells were ringing—for the first time in two days. The music has been sad but today it was joyful. “Christ is risen.” As we entered, the archbishop was being dressed under a canopy—a sort of throne.

This wonderful cathedral, Italian Gothic in style, stands on the highest ground in Siena. The present building, begun early in the thirteenth century, has a splendid facade of colored marbles in red, black and white. A column on each side of the entrance is crowned with the she-wolf of Siena. The stained glass windows, the church stalls, the immense amount of very fine carving, the frescoes, the oil paintings, the high altar, the extraordinary pulpit, the columns and arches, “the continuous rows of busts of Popes over the arches,” the remarkable pavement (in which today we particularly looked at the picture of the slaying of the Babes of Bethlehem) all make a marvelous interior. The beautiful pulpit is of white marble, eight sided and sup-ported by nine pillars, some of which rest upon marble lions and cubs. This large pulpit is occupied by the readers, by the choir and by the orchestra of stringed instruments.

There are a few roses in bloom in the pension yard, yet the latitude is about the same as that of Cleveland. It is interesting to remember that Rome and Boston have about the same latitude—42 degrees. We saw forsythias in bloom some days ago. Double white ten weeks stock was on our table today. L. and I found the fragrant blossoms in our napkins. Many trees and flowers are in bloom and the birds sing—though not much.

Afternoon.—I have been to call upon Mrs. K. in her pension. From a balcony leading out of her room we looked down upon flowers. Large, high bunches of pink peonies were just beginning to open their blossoms. Pure white, double stock, red stock and pansies were in bloom. Mrs. K. came home with me, by a roundabout way outside the city wall. The views of the surrounding country and villas were fine. Beautiful wall flowers were blossoming on a high wall to which they were clinging. How I wanted them !

We are locked in every night by the gates, just as we were in Bologna. Some of the walls are very high. We went through arches and city gates and finally reached the Lizza, where there was a great crowd of people and a brass band playing fine music. Then we went on to the church of S. Domenico where there was preaching. The paintings had been uncovered. In the chapels we saw frescoes by Sodoma,. in which St. Catherine is a prominent figure, and paintings of the Madonna which are lovely; in one she is being crowned by angels. These were painted by an artist who is said to have been the Fra Angelico of Siena.

Mrs. K. and I passed the house where some young men wasted a large sum of money in riotous living and then killed themselves afterwards. Dante condemned them, as a marble tablet on the house testifies. L. has been there since to see it. Baedeker does not allude to it.

We have been twice today into the Waldensian church close by. An Italian preached this morning. This after-noon the English clergyman, who boards here, officiated.

wore a white gown trimmed with red. The altar was decorated with white flowers which filled the church with perfume.

April 11.—Mrs. K. called this morning. We walked to the Lizza and sat there and talked. This afternoon I have been with L. for another walk. We noticed the grape vines which are starting, and the oleanders. The latter are hardy here. We looked at the paintings in the church of St. Domenico and afterwards walked to the business part of the city, but found the stores closed. Then to the Piazza del Campo, which Dante immortalized in his Purgatorio. This Piazza, now Vittorio Emanuele, which I have already de-scribed, is picturesquely situated in the center of the town just where the three hills on which Siena stands unite. Horse races are now held there. Palaces enclose the Piazza ; Palazzo Pubblico has, in the interior, frescoes by Siena artists. As we were leaving we looked admiringly at the fountain opposite the Palazzo Pubblico, and noticed also the handsome Loggia.