When I spend time in Italy, one of my favorite things to do is people watch. I love to observe the locals in action. They are similar and yet different from my culture here in the states. Although I remain almost always an observer, there have been times where I got pulled into the action.
On a recent visit to Puglia, the southern region down in the “heel of the boot” which is Italy, I found a piazza with large groups of men sitting and visiting with each other. There was no woman in sight, only the men. As we stood back to watch them, I noticed a couple of “young buckaroos” waving me over with big smiles. Shocked at first, I just smiled back with a brief wave. But as you can see, I gave in to their wishes and joined them for a moment. They sat me down in a chair and posed for photos. I don’t recall the last time I laughed so hard with these charming, fun-loving gentlemen. Each one of them was neatly dressed and groomed. I admire this special emphasis on dress and cleanliness among the Italians.
Enjoy the photos below of this entertaining evening in the piazza…
The green door in the background is the entrance to the Puglia Wine School, where I spent the evening tasting some of Puglia’s delicious wines.
Later that evening, I looked out the window from the upper floor of the wine school. All was quiet on the piazza. The men had folded up their chairs and vanished into the night.
The evening gave me an interesting and unforgettable window into the lives and culture of the people of southern Italy. Not only do they highly value community, they know how to relax and enjoy themselves with each other. In a world of people who often seclude themselves, I found this to be refreshing. The Italian people truly know the importance of camaraderie. Bella cosa far nienta~Idleness is a beautiful thing.
Sunday afternoon in Rome is a bustle of activity. Families, friends, tourists, and every conceivable group of people can be found roaming the cobbled streets and piazzas in search of good food, shopping, museums, fountains, or just enjoying the presence of good company. In the rush of activity I found it so easy to miss my surroundings and the intriguing sites that Rome has to offer.
Last September, as the days began to stretch into October, I found myself rambling away from the old familiar piazzas and landmarks. The bustling crowds had enveloped me and, like a river, taken me away with them in their enthusiastic and lively banter. It was all nice, but I needed a refresher. Moving away from the crowds was the perfect solution to really see some of the easily missed charms of Rome.
Outside restaurant menus flourished everywhere with a list of mouth-watering meals, often accompanied by photos. This pizzeria offered gluten-free pasta which was the first I had seen it advertised here. The outdoor seating and ambience of the ancient surroundings was very charming. Combined with a delicious plate of pesto pasta and a good local red wine, it was the perfect recipe for a leisurely meal that could easily have lasted late into the afternoon.
A turn down this momentarily vacant street was a nice break from the maddening crowds. Hemmed in by cars and tall buildings, I could see greenery on the rooftops and beyond to distant hills. Voices from open windows that I passed brought up visions of sumptuous Sunday repasts leisurely shared with families and friends.
Geraniums, flowers and vines embellished this doorway in the most attractive manner, the results of a generous green thumb. What a burst of pleasure it offered to those passing by with its ambrosial display of vibrant whites, purples, reds and greens. Someone cared enough to bring life and color into a stone and stucco environment. Even a small bird house was attached to the wall with a little bird perched on it. It was all very captivating.
Before long I had found the Quirinal Palace, known also as the Presidential Palace, elegantly placed on the highest of the seven hills of Rome. Pope Gregory XIII had it built as a summer residence for the papacy in 1573. After the unification of Italy in 1870 it became the royal residence and later the Presidents palace.
In the middle of the Piazza del Quirinale is an ancient obelisk next to the Dioscuri fountain. Nearby are 18 foot sculptures of Castor and Pollux, Roman replicas of the Greek originals from the fifth century BC.
This palace guard was very serious but a good sport when I asked to take his photo. The guards are very watchful and appear to be quite aware of their surroundings.
My afternoon had been greatly enriched and I was ready to get back into the mainstream. Rome, I discovered, has many faces, more than I had previously thought. A verse written by Mark Twain came to mind just then. I challenged it….
“What is there in Rome for me to see that others have not seen before me? What is there for me to touch that others have not touched? What is there for me to feel, to learn, to hear, to know, that shall thrill me before it pass to others? What can I discover? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.” From Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad
What did I discover? Many things, wonderful things, all of it ready to share their wonderful stories if one just stops to listen.
Orvieto is a pleasure garden for those with an eye for architectural beauty. From the Gothic facade of the Cathedral to the intoxicating views from the ancient walls surrounding the hilltop town, a linger here is good for the soul.
Orvieto Cathedral – 14th century Roman Catholic Basilica
Sunlight illuminates the three-gabled golden facade of the Orvieto Cathedral, adding dimension to the large bas-reliefs and statues with the symbols (Lion, Angel, Ox, Eagle) of the four Evangelists stationed across the front. Built around 1325 by Tuscan architect Lorenzo Maitani, it is considered one to the great masterpieces of the middle ages.
Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambiodesigned this cathedral, which was begun in 1290. It took nearly three centuries to finish the construction. Orvieto’s pride and joy is beautifully well-preserved.
There is an old medieval wall that surrounds Orvieto. Located on a flat butte which is made up of volcanic tuffa stone, the town has been in existence since the Etruscans. In fact, Orvieto has a maze of underground rooms and tunnels that the ancient Etruscans carved out of the tufa rock. Tours are available through Select Italy and well worth the time.
Cobbled streets winding up and down between tall brick buildings and occasional palatial villas add an appeal all its own. Bargains were to be found at a busy clothing and produce market held on the piazza.
Brick walls were refreshingly cool to touch in the heat of the afternoon. Potted plants like this Camila are commonly spotted around the town. It was very quiet away from the piazza.
The views surrounding Orvieto are some of the most picturesque I have ever seen. I followed the old medieval wall all around the town and taken photos from every side.
This pathway led outside the walls and down through some of the countryside. Lush variegated greenery rose up around me as I walked through the welcomed shade. A soft breeze swayed the trees gently bringing with it a warm earthy fragrance.
Orvieto can’t be beat for a lovely walk through medieval architecture, artisan shops and family-run restaurants. To see the sites of Orvieto in a day, Select Italy offers a full day tour of the Cathedral, the underground Orvieto, a historical stroll through the town and a visit to a local winery.
“Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy.” Samuel Johnson
Like seals on a rock, people lounge across the floor of the Piazza del Campo. The bricks of the scallop-shaped piazza are still warm, adding to the sensation of sitting on the beach. Pure bliss is lazing in the sun, soaking up its last rays of the day, steeped in good conversation. The only thing missing is the ocean. What’s not to love?
The late afternoon sunlight is ebbing away as shadows begin to creep across the Piazza. Children in sandals scamper after pigeons. People stroll through, a dog leash in one hand and gelato in the other. Friends and lovers sit together enjoying each others company. Siena’s social zone picks up its pace.
Along the edge of the piazza is the promenade with many cafes and restaurants. There is a myriad of tables and chairs for diners and coffee drinkers set out in groups. Street musicians play their music while an entertainer in a red hat teases passersby to the delight of the crowd. The Campo truly is the physical and cultural heart of the city.
Our new friend, Carlos, runs the Ristorante Fonte Gaia. There he is in his white shirt and vest. One morning we helped him set out chairs before opening shop, and since then he has treated us to complimentary cappuccino and treats! What a sweetie…..see what can happen when you rub elbows with the locals?
The red-brick fan of the piazza radiates out from the facade of the Palazzo Pubblico. Spoke-like paving patterns were commissioned in 1349 by Siena’s then ruling committee, the Council of Nine, to symbolize power and the folds of the Madonna’s Cloak. Since then, it has remained the site for most of Siena’s public events, such as bullfights, executions, festivals, and the famous Palio.
Once the site of a Roman Forum and later the central market place, the Campo is surrounded by buildings that haven’t changed since medieval times. The facade of the Palazzo Pubblico, built in 1288, concave’s inward to accommodate the curve of the Campo. Originally the town hall, today it still houses the town administration.
The Torre del Mangia (tower) was built to rival the tower of the neighboring town of Florence. When the Torre del Mangia was built around 1325, it was the tallest structure in Italy at over 290 ft.
The entire urban center is extremely well-preserved.
The Palio, a breakneck, bareback 90 second horserace, occurs twice a year. Originating from medieval times to represent each of the 17 Contrade of Siena (neighborhoods), it still remains highly competitive. Siena’s pride and joy, it draws a huge crowd every year. During this time, the Campo is transformed into a racetrack and turns into a dynamic swirl of activity.
Seated on a tiny balcony outside a third story pub with the best view of the Campo….
Watch out for James Bond! He could be jumping out a window and scrambling across the awnings at any moment. He has done this in the Campo before, you know! Remember the movie “Quantum of Solace?”
Well done, James.
Sadly, it’s my last night in Siena….I stand with all my senses working overtime. I don’t want to ever forget the magic of this place. I am polarized between two worlds, the medieval architecture and atmosphere so rare to find, and the culmination of modern-day Italy evidenced by the tourists. The sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feel of this medieval city soak into my being, flooding my mind with colorful memories. Siena will remain with me always.
Ristorante Fonte Gaia, Piazza II Campo 121, 53100, Siena,Italy, Phone: 39 0577 281628