Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Florence 2012 Journal: Siena


On the 9th of November we visited Siena.

The Palazzo Publico is situated in the Piazza del Campo: a shell shaped Piazza with 9 fragments. These fragments represent each of the 9 contrade (districts) of Siena that were present during its contruction in 1297. Its original purpose was to seat the house of 9, the mayor and the house of justice. It is built on a hill with a 30 metre decline from the north side to the south side of the palace and thus the ground is acknowledged to be insecure. Therefore the bottom of the building is made in stone, while the upper part is far lighter and built with bricks to keep the delicate ground underneath from collapsing. Opposite the Palazzo is the fountain that is used to water the horses during the biannual horse race held there.

It was paid for by one of the two major parties at the time: the Guelphs. They supported the Papacy unlike the other party, the Ghibellines, who supported the merchants. We know this because of the flat dentals (tourettes that look like teeth - pictured above) used on the building. The Guelphs were known to build flat ones whilst rounded dentals are attributed to the Ghibellines.

The right side of the palace (with the tower) is where the seat of the Mayor is, the middle is used for the government (originally the House of 9) and to the right is where the seat of justice is located. The tower, ‘Torre del Mangia’ is the latest addition built in 1338-48. The name means ‘Tower of the Eater’ and derives from the character of its first Guardian - Giovanni di Balduccio.  Infamously known for ‘eating’ all of that he earned!

Inside you can find the Fresco by Simone Martini in the Sala del Mappamondo (the World Map Room). It is slightly damaged due to water infiltration from the lodger located above, the salt content of the wall and the humidity from below. There is also evidence of the blue background peeling off but this is because the Lapis Lazuli (blue pigment) was applied in secco and therefore is likely to peel. It was completed in 1315 and had to be restored only 6 years later because of the problems mentioned beforehand.  The room in which it is located is called as it is because opposite the Maesta used to be a large rotating map of the world. The ability to rotate it has resulted in circular marks left behind on the wall.

The following room has a panoramic fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti depicting the ‘Good and Bad Government‘. It shows the strife caused by the previous ‘bad government’ then evolves into a harmonious depiction of the Sienese countryside under the new ‘Good Government’.

Siena’s cathedral was completed in the 13th century and was rebuilt on an earlier site. There were plans to extend it ambitiously. However, the Black Death in the 1340’s meant that the work had to be put on hold. Once the Plague had passed on, the Sienese realised that there were fatal errors in what had already been built and that the insecure ground (as mentioned earlier) would not be able to support the structure. Therefore, work was never resumed and all that can be seen now are the outer walls of what was to become the new nave (See Left), to the right of the front façade.

The main Façade of the Cathedral took nearly 100 years to complete. It is said to have been created in two stages - the first stage of its construction was completed up to the Lunettes and the second was from the Lunettes upwards. The first stage began in the 1280’s and stopped abruptly in 1317. The majority of the work done was completed according to Giovanni Pisano’s (Nicola’s son) plans. The second stage was not completed until the least 1360-70’s and was fairly in keeping with Pisano’s plans. However, the new architect Giovanni di Cecco had to modify Pisano’s plans somewhat in order to accommodate for the OPA’s desire for the façade to be raised.

Therefore, the Cathedral is a combination of Sienese Romanesque (that looked towards Classical Antiguity) and the French Gothic style (Di Cecco’s influence). For example, the columns at either side begin in the traditional Romanesque style only to transform into Pinnacles as they reach the height of the façade, a typical  feature in Gothic architecture. Another thing to note are the black and white stripes not only seen on/inside of the Cathedral but throughout Siena too, they are the official colours of Siena.

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