The brightly coloured prints lure me into the shop. The handmade postcards, cards and scrolls hark back to a past era. The artisan kindly allows me to have a peek in his studio, where I see how he works. He carries on the age-old tradition of illumination, which originated in medieval monasteries where monks copied and illustrated books by hand. I buy a few cards to keep as mementos.
Walking along narrow winding streets, we finally manage to find the Duomo –cathedral-, not an easy feat when following unreliable street signs.
I look at the lines at the ticket kiosks. Is there a time of the year when there are not any crowds in Italy, I wonder? Four euros grant us access to the cathedral only, not including the museums. Fine by me, my brain is unable to absorb any more information and visual stimuli.
The interior of the cathedral is awesome in the true sense of the word. The black and white columns seem to soar towards heaven. Actually, it’s the ceiling, and a magnificent one at that. The mosaic floor deserves special attention too: scenes of the Bible, allegories and the like are represented using the graffito technique and marble intarsia (inlaid pieces of marble that make a figure). Many mosaics are covered for most of the year and a few are on display, cordoned off to prevent wear.
Unlike the floor, we are worn out already with looking up at the ceilings, the works of art on the walls and the mosaics on the floor. We stop for lunch at the Taverna del Capitano (Via del Capitano 6/8). It’s housed in an ancient building and its stone vaulted ceilings, however pretty, do nothing to dampen the din. The pasta was very good, though.
The backdrop of many a film scene, the Piazza del Campo is where the annual Palio is held, in July and in August. It is a horse race and festival that dates back to at least the 13th century. Each jockey represents one of the seventeen contrade (districts). We saw a small group of young men practicing their flag-throwing skills in the street. They seem to be very serious about the festival.
There are quite a few people at the Piazza del Campo snapping pictures, eating ice-cream, even napping on the cobbled semicircular piazza. The piazza is surrounded by elegant buildings which saw their prime before the Black Death descended upon the city. I wonder what the city’s elders would think if they saw tourists strewn about the place. Would these inert bodies remind them of the times of the plague? Who knows. The city’s elders are long gone but their legacy is still here for us to enjoy.