Siena (High Medieval)
I can’t imagine a greater contrast to the austere medieval Abbey of Sant’Antimo than the gingerbread, birthday cake, glitzy, high-Gothic Duomo of Siena that began construction in the twelfth century. Its west façade alone is a rampage of arches and triangles, portals, columns, spires, gargoyles, sculptures of saints, alternating stripes of green and pink marble, mosaics and gold. The interior? Fogetaboudit. Every square inch of wall and ceiling—not to mention the 56 magnificent marble panels of the inlaid floor—is carved, frescoed, polychromed or gilded. It’s a visual orgy. While Sant’Antimo inspires calm and introspection, the Duomo razzle-dazzles in a freewheeling flaunting of the wealth of its merchants and bankers, who, without restraint, competed with rival Florence.
While the Duomo is overwhelming, even gaudy at first glance, its individual works—from the marble pulpit, to the choir stalls, to a couple of Donatello’s sculptures—looked at one at a time, are for the most part quiet masterpieces.
To complete your amazement by Sienese grandiosity, do visit Il Campo. It is the world’s most welcoming town square: fan-shaped and concave, it practically cuddles you. It is flanked by the graceful Torre di Manga, a mere 286-feet high that you should climb to give you a complete understanding of the layout of—after Venice—Italy’s most romantic city.