Siena & Sensuality

When I heard that there was going to be a political art exhibit opening in Siena, I wanted to hop on a train that very second. Although I had to wait a few days before its premiere, the wait was completely worth it.

I am not sure which one of my senses was most intrigued when I first arrived in Siena after a three-hour train ride from Rome. Was it the sight of the winding brick roads, the smell of fresh flowers, or maybe the taste of the creamy gelato?

While walking down a small alleyway, I was stunned as it opened up into the enormous Piazza del Campo. During the summer, this piazza is used as a racetrack for horseracing. For every other season, it is a main nesting ground for locals and tourists alike, with several outdoor restaurants, cafes and gelaterias (ice cream shops) with something to please the taste buds and appetites of patrons.

Once I was finished consuming some tiny tortellini filled with Gorgonzola and sipping on my cappuccino, I decided to take a siesta. I took note as to what the locals were doing, and soon after followed suit- casually just lying down on the stones of the Campo while basking in the sun’s rays of that brilliant Saturday afternoon.

In the same piazza, an enormous bell tower, Torre del Mangia, rises out of Palazzo Pubblico and functions as the city’s town hall. It is very hard to miss, comprised of 20 stories and 375 steps to the top. Past visitors have insisted that the view from the summit is breathtaking, but the tour is not given on Saturday afternoons; most likely due to the Italians’ mid-afternoon siesta, which causes even the busiest streets in Italy seem like ghost towns.

After that disappointment wore off, I decided to set out to find something just as exciting.

Completely by accident, I stumbled upon the city’s Duomo (cathedral). The frescos, sculptures, and the finely detailed walls and cathedral ceilings brought upon a sense of awe beginning the second I stepped inside. The fine architecture that was structured by hundreds of artisans can be seen within every inch of this holy space. Each column that cascades from the ceilings to the floors is comprised of intermittent black and white stripes of marble. The illuminated sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna creates a sense of peace and reverence throughout. Although this cathedral still houses regular mass, it also serves as a museum to display its marvelous composition and history. The mere entrance fee of three Euro does not seem to prepare its visitors for the grandeur that lies inside.

Along with the Duomo, Siena holds a tremendous amount of history within its city limits, so it seems only right to house an art gallery like Papesse, which was hosting the political art exhibit I was looking forward to seeing.

Soon afterwards, I went to the political art exhibit, “System Error: War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” which is being held until May at the famous Papesse art house in downtown Siena. Forty international artists are showcasing their works on various types of mediums; all focused around one central theme: war. The viewpoints of the artists are displayed through photography, film, canvas, and cartoons and even in t-shirt form.

The artists are able to stray from the popularity of criticizing the current war on Iraq. Many artists brought to light the underlying struggles several countries are facing today, such as the crises in Rwanda, Israel and Palestine. These artists are not relying on their opinions alone-the pieces are fact-forward and well researched.

One of the featured artists was New York’s own, Emily Jacir, who had been inspired by a story in which a woman’s boyfriend was killed in Rome at the height of the Munich conflict. Jacir used this woman’s story to create an abstract arrangement of art to tell the tragic story of a lost love in the midst of an international struggle. The descriptions next to each piece of art depicted different events, some general and some personal. Yet, they all opened my eyes and touched me emotionally.

Although short, my eight-hour visit to Siena enabled me to observe the attractiveness of the city and its exquisite architecture. Being an American in Europe, the art gallery at Papesse has helped me become a more conscious human being. It was refreshing to see how others view world issues. To me, Siena is in a class by itself.