the best italian hill town

Siena

It was tricky to find this fortified hill town…but we knew it was securing the valley, so we drove higher and higher until we couldn’t find parking, then we knew we must have arrived.

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Siena boasts the oldest bank in the world, and its original owners, the Spannocchia family, continue to own and farm the Estate at which we presently reside. This is an old town if old means anything in Europe; and this is a long-established family.

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The facades of the buildings seem sad and foreboding, also known as Gothic; a contrast to the San Gimignano medieval town we visited yesterday.

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Siena was a thriving merchant and textile town that housed a school of Gothic painting and a building boom, until the Black Death of 1348 when its population was decimated.

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Siena would no longer be competition for nearby Firenze (aka Florence) and it wouldn’t have enough money to overhaul its Gothic façade. Still, it’s Piazza del Campo so stunning, so large, that it still hosts horse races once a year and is touted to be one of the most stunning piazza in all of Italy.

San Gimignano

San Gimignano, the Town of Towers. This is a medieval fairy-tale city full of towers to climb and alleys to explore. This is quintessential small-town charm. Before ascending the highest tower, which each of us did (though Zach had to be coaxed), we listened to the harpist play his melodies. Could there be a more idyllic Italian experience?

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Pinocchio was filmed here, so naturally we purchased tiny wooden, red and green Pinocchios, for the children’s Christmas decoration collection. Other than merchandise, I would not have known of his presence.

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With every hill town is a Duomo. By this point, even Jim and I must have vested interest or previous historical knowledge to purchase biglietto for museums. We have viewed enough Renaissance, Baroque, and Byzantine art to get us credit for a first year University Arts degree.

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Our feet are not accustomed to walking upward on stone pathways, so we rested them by paying the extra fee for a tavolo (table vs. coffee bar). Cappuccino, Americano, torta di albicocca (apricot tart), and quatro solo gelato…cioccolata, crema, limone, and fragola...these were our tickets to people watching and soaking up the atmosfera.

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Which town is more beautiful? Which one should one choose to visit? These are two towns of dozens. Each owns a unique stamp on Italy’s history.

Sitting leisurely in front of the grand fireplace in this Casa di Loma last night (our home for the week), it dawned on me that much like comparing towns, one can’t compare one person to another. Thanks to a Facebook story, compliments of Julie, I was reminded that each flower is aesthetic, perfumed, unrivaled. One flower is not better than another; all pretty, fragrant, found in different locations; intended for different purposes. But each is meaningful, whether acknowledged or not, beautiful whether noticed by many or few. Each of our lives, as each of these towns, has equal value. We should be who we were meant to be, so we can shine for our originally intended purposes.

“Divina natura dedit agros, ars humana aedificavit urbes”. Tibullus

(The divine nature produced the fields, human skill has built cities).

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