Words & Photographs by Miguel Neves
I knew nothing of Sienna before I visited and had no real idea what I would find. I was simply looking for a quiet place where I could roam the streets with my camera.
The early morning was intensely foggy; a grey mass off clouds hovered in front of me, making it hard to discern the cityscape from the horizon. As I got closer to a viewpoint overlooking Siena, the mist shyly gave way to shapes in the distance. As these took form - mostly resembling a stack of dominos amassing in the firmament - I found myself in a state of silent euphoria that compelled me to pick my camera and start shooting.
The fog started to dissipate and the ochre hue of the city’s buildings began to appear, creating an eerie noir ambience. The Torre del Mangia appeared as a faded beacon in the horizon, severed by the low clouds but nonetheless tempting me to enter the maze and explore further.
The charm of Sienna grew as I descended a long alleyway. The narrow streets surrounded by facades made of stone overwhelmed me with their importance. I could only wonder what stories these walls had to tell, and how many generations had walked here witnessing the evolution of a place rich in medieval ambiance and just the right amount of Italian Renaissance flair.
I was beginning to learn about the city’s culture as I talked to a few people I met. Getting to learn about Palio, the horse race held every year in Piazza Il Campo, where each contrada (a barrio or district) compete for the title of grand champion of the city. I immediately remembered my own hometown, Lisbon, where a similar competition is held in the main avenue by every neighbourhood in the city. It’s these details and similarities that help me relate to places and establish connections in my travels.
The silence and emptiness slowly gave way to the modest chatter of street-cleaners and shop owners preparing for another day of commerce. I started to feel Sienna’s Italian-ness rising as the people took to the streets, warming up the rough stone walls and brightening the alleyways with the songful energy of their chatter.
Sienna might not have the glamour or world-famous galleries of its sister city Florence, but it has another thing that might be more important - something that surprises me whenever I travel and can make or break a trip. A trait that you cannot find a museum or fine dining restaurant and that you can only absorb by walking around observing the people, finding yourself in unfamiliar places and and stopping to simply gaze at an arched window or fresh produce outside a store. And that is called character.