On a wet and miserable day we travelled out from Florence
to its former rival, Siena
. Until the black plague of the 14th century, Florence and Siena competed in every arena, both being enormously wealthy and spending that wealth through the creation of art. Unlike Florence, however, Siena never fully recovered from the plague, locking the city in the mould of Gothic art and architecture. We picked a good day to spend in Siena, as the Duomo of Florence, while beautiful on the outside, is surprisingly drab inside. The inside of the Duomo of Siena (built 1215), by constrast, was a feast for the senses. The floor of the cathedral is a series of 56 intricate marble panels but the most spectacular part for me was the Libreria Piccolomini. This library was built to house the books of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II). The large volumes are laid out, each a metre high with perfect gold-embossed calligraphy on each calf-skin page, and the walls and ceiling of the room is covered in the most beautiful frescos by Bernardino Pinturicchio (painted 1502-1507, probably on designs by Raphael), which look as fresh and vibrant as if they were painted today.