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narrativa e di portafoglio

narrative and portfolio of Ian Siegel

Currently working with a group on our final post for our project at Santa Maria della Pieta, our last stop in Rome before taking off for Siena on the 25th. That post is still under construction but should be finalized in the next couple of days.

My posts will be few and possibly a little far between; I’m having major problems getting connected to the internet in our new location.

Sunday morning we woke up, packed our bags, and jumped into a bus to cross the Tuscan hillside and settle again in Siena, our destination for the next four weeks. Along the way we made two stops, one at the church of San Biagio and one at Pienza.

San Biagio is an “ideal church,” meaning that its floor plan forms a Greek cross (perfect plus sign +) versus a Latin cross with an elongated west nave (†). The reason for this variation on the church plan is that the Greek cross fits snugly within a circle or a square, two geometries that were deemed “perfect” during antiquity, and then later during the Renaissance measurements of man (in da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the extent of his limbs form a circle inscribed in a square). The Renaissance—when San Biago had been built—was a rediscovery and reconsideration of humanity: whereas during age of the Gothic cathedrals God was a stronger being than the human and was far more distant, the Renaissance placed man as the measure of all things—God included. To conform a church to a Greek cross meant to fit God into man’s proportions—a bold statement, but perfectly in line with the attitude of the time.

Our next stop was in Pienza, a small town overlooking the hills of Tuscany, but was important in that it was one of the first towns that had been planned rather than left to grow organically. The town square, located on the town’s main axis, was organized such that the church and state (Palazzo Piccolomini) meet at a right angle. If we hadn’t known that this was one of the first examples of urban planning, it would have been just another cute Tuscan town, but understanding how groundbreaking it must have been that it became a formula for city planning from that moment—that made it worth the stop.

The Tuscan hillside from just outside Pienza

Oh, and Pienza had some pretty excellent gelato.


My first impression was a sort of love for the streets because they don’t have sidewalks. No place in America is like this—even Rome, except for some of the side streets near the Pantheon—where the street belongs as much to the pedestrian as it does to the vehicle. Many people made comments along the lines of “This is what I expected Rome to be like.” It’s what I’ve only seen in van Gogh paintings (even though his city street scenes were often French. Whatever.)

The view over Siena from my dorm room window

We unpacked bags and set out to find dinner—and found ourselves in the most beautiful and compelling urban space I’ve ever experienced. Il Campo.

The entire town square, semi-circular in shape (often described as the shape of a clamshell) slopes gently downward toward a center point in front of City Hall, which constitutes the flat side of the space. Even the flat side curves gently, which we think greatly contributes to the success of the space, in the way that it interacts with the amphitheater-like slope. I was a little bit surprised at the size of Il Campo; sometimes it feels “too small,” especially considering in three weeks the entire city plus quite a tourist population will pack into the Campo to watch the annual Palio horse race. However, it also seems like if it were to get any bigger, it wouldn’t work; it would begin to seem sprawling and desolate if it covered much more ground. It’s just right. Goldilocks would approve.

Since we’ve been here, my favorite little architectural morsel has been the Sienese arch, a rounded arch within a pointed arch, which behaves structurally the same way as the relieving arches in the Baths of Caracalla. And what’s beautiful about the Sienese arch–they’re all over this city.


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