Surrounded by Sienese “Storia”

Mary Kelso
February 21, 2013

My past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activities and classes! My first two weeks in Siena were devoted to intensive Italian classes and orientation activites organized by IES that introduced us to this place where we will be living for 4 months! We toured the “Bottini,” underground tunnels that used to be the source of water for the whole city–the entrance to the tunnel is through a door in the wall of an old brick library! We visited the headquarters of one of the contradas. For those of you who don’t know, Siena is split in to 17 parts, called contradas. Twice every summer the contradas complete in a traditional, medieval, extremely competitive  horse race. The Palio defines the city–Siena is either preparing for the race, having the race, or celebrating after the race. As our program director put it, Sienese people belong first to their contrada, then to their family, and then to their country! The race runs around il campo, and due to the sharp corners jockeys are often thrown off their horses but it doesn’t matter…the horse continues to run and may even win! The victory horse gets to sit at the head of the table during the contrada’s victory feast which takes place in the streets. Although I will not be in Siena long enough to experience the Palio this year, I know that someday I must come back and be a part of this amazing tradition. Another day we went wine-tasting at a Chiante vineyard and learned about all the steps in the delicate process of making the perfect Tuscan wine. The countryside is so picturesque with its rolling hills, terracotta and brick casas, vineyards, and Italian Cypress trees.

After 5 weeks at home, celebrating Christmas and relaxing, followed by 2 weeks exploring Siena to my heart’s content, I have to admit it was not easy to adjust to actually doing work! But it is called “study” abroad for a reason, and I’m excited for my classes and all that I will learn about the wonderful culture and history of Italy that will enrich my experience here as well as my worldview. I’m taking 5 classes that each meet twice a week for two hours each time (no classes on Fridays!): Italian, Presence of the Past (a required course about the culture, art, and history of Siena), Family and Gender in Medieval and Early Europe, Renaissance Art and Patronage: Comparing Siena and Florence, and The Grand Tour of Tuscany in Literature. My professors are all Italian and my class sizes range from 8 to 21. I get to go on a field trip every week in Renaissance Art and in Presence of the Past–so far we have toured the Duomo, visited City Hall, looked at she-wolf statues around the city, and climbed the Duomo’s unfinished facade! Each day I feel like I get to know Siena better every day and I am realizing how lucky I am to be living in a place with such a rich, visible, history!

Ciao ciao!


Only in Italy can you buy pasta out of a vending machine!

Some of the outfits the jockeys used to wear in the Palio that are on display in a contrada museum. Notice how slender Sienese men used to be!

A label underground in the “Bottini” explaining what house the water was going to and how much they were allowed.

still can’t believe I get to wake up every morning in such a beautiful place! This picture was taken from a bench next to San Domenico church, where I was enjoying the view as I walked from the city center back to my house.

view of il campo, Siena, and the rolling Tuscan hills! One great thing about Siena is that it is large enough to have a plethora of things to do both day and night, yet you can get from the historic city center to the countryside in a walk that is twenty minutes or less!

Enjoying the view while my professor explains the architecture of the Duomo that is behind me…what a cool way to view the lecture topic! We were actually standing on a wall that was to be the “new” Duomo facade, until construction stopped, presumably for three reasons: the black plague, inability to construct a stable roof, and because completion of the duomo would have created a cathedral larger than St. Peter’s!

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Mary Kelso

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Ciao! I&rsquo;m Mary and I&rsquo;m blessed to spend the semester in Siena, Italy. I&rsquo;m a junior double major in Psychology and English at Hope College in the charming West Michigan town of Holland. I grew up in the woods of Michigan&rsquo;s Upper Peninsula and love to go on adventures, have deep conversations, drink unnecessary amounts of chai tea, play the piano, become totally engrossed in books, and most of all&mdash;learn. I am very excited to be immersed in the Italian culture and beautiful language, learn to cook, and have the experience of a lifetime! I can&rsquo;t wait to share my journey with you!</span></p>

2013 Spring
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