The Light in the Piazza

Siena awakens when the tourists awaken. And they all roll downhill through curving, steep and narrow streets  to what may be the most interesting and engaging public space (wiki: Piazza del Campo) you have ever seen. I have no doubt that every City Planning and Architecture or Social Studies university course in the whole world must mention Siena at least once, and probably devote hours or days to it.

Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy

Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy

About three times the size of a baseball infield whose fan-like shape it resembles, one end  (think of Home Plate) is tilted downward towards the foot of a smooth slope, paved and patterned with ceramic-like bricks. This is the 12th Century heart of 21st Century Siena. The wide end is lined with sidewalk cafes that offer satisfying people-watching for not unreasonable prices. The other, lower end, is lined with public buildings and emphasized with a gracefully proportioned tower that looks like a punctuation mark.

The rings of Siena’s narrow, curbless, cobbled and tiled streets outside the plaza follow the curve of the fan.  I doubt that the sun ever shines directly into more than a few feet of any street. Even then, briefly. As a result, the open plazas are sudden bowls of sunshine. The Piazzo del Campo, in particular, is especially dramatic.

The innermost of the half-concentric rings is pierced at various points with sharply descending arched tunnels.  As you make your way down the steps or ramps and pass through, your slight claustrophobia is  suddenly and powerfully relieved by the broad, open  expanse of the amphitheater in front of and to either side of you. Here’s another view, courtesy of the WikiPedia page.

Plaza cel Campo, Sienna, Italy – click to enlarge

Today’s soft, intermitent rain was hardly a discouragement. The photographer enjoys reflective slate surfaces and flat lighting. It’s quite correctly called “portrait lighting.” Alas, a few minutes after arrival, that bit of romance gave way to sunshine.  Only here can the arrival of sunshine be considered a loss.

Click on any photo enlarge it. There’s more text below the photos.

In case you wonder why the name “Siena” is familiar, look in your box of Crayola Crayons.  The fired bricks of the plaza’s pavement gave the world the color you now call, “Burnt Siena.”