On our last trip to Northern Italy we made it as far south as Florence, missing the Tuscan countryside and Siena. With summer crowds gone, lingering warm weather, and Chianti crush in full swing, we thought early October would be the perfect time to explore this area of Italy. I'm not a Chianti expert, but the key and sometimes only varietal is Sangiovese. These clusters are eeking out the last of the Tuscan sun, as they are to be harvested in a matter of days!
After harvest these grapes may or may not be blended with others. Once certain alcohol level and age requirements are met, these fruits of the vine will be Chianti or Chianti Classico. Chianti is often served in a rounded bottle and covered with straw - like below.
We stayed in a Tuscan villa outside of Siena's old city limits, but close enough that we could walk into town. Siena is home to one of the most amazing and ornately decorated Duomos. I found the mosaic floor to be the most impressive and we were lucky that all were uncovered for us to view. The amazing mosaics cover nearly the entire floor of the main cathedral and depict some amazing scenes. The floor is only uncovered for a few weeks out of the year, usually at the end of summer or early fall.
I love European towns with rich histories where evidence of happenings and traditions from thousands of years ago still exist. Like the Palio Horse Race of Siena that has happened since Medieval Times. Siena is comprised of 17 contrada, or city wards. Each neighborhood spans a few streets and have existed since the Middle Ages. While the contrada were originally formed for security, protection, and administrative purposes thousands of years ago, today tradition and deep nostalgic emotion keep the neighborhoods and their rivalries alive. This rivalry culminates in the Palio Horse Race, where ten neighborhoods are chosen to race their horse in the city's main piazza - Piazza del Campo. I highly recommend checking out the many video clips of the race which are all over the net.
On the evening we were in town, the center of the Piazza played host to a dinner for hundreds and in commemoration of this year's winner - the contrada represented by the mascot of the Owl. It was a huge event, especially since this was the Owl's first win in 30 years! Other mascots include a porcupine, snail, eagle, and my personal favorite the she-wolf (Lupa).
Siena is named after Senius, the son Remus. One of my favorite stories from mythology is the story of Romulus and Remus. Remus, and his brother Romulus (of which Rome was named after), were twin brothers born to the God of War, Mars, and the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silva. As a Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silva was to remain celibate, and claimed that Mars had seduced her, and thus the twins were conceived. When her uncle, Amulius, heard of this he ordered the death of the baby twins. He had overthrown her father, who was King, and Amulius feared that sons of Rhea Silva might challenge his throne.
A servant was ordered by Amulius to kill Romulus and Remus, but could not and instead sent them down the Tiber river. A she-wolf, who had lost her own cubs, suckled Romulus and Remus and kept them alive. Figures of Lupa nursing Romulus and Remus are found all over town and is the emblem of Siena.
A bit more on some of the food we had in Chianti region in a few days time.