Siena is another one of Tuscany's Etruscan cities. When it was first settled (c. 900–400 BC), it was inhabited by the "Saina" tribe, which is how it derived its name. In the 12th century, Sienna's Duomo - Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - was built in the Italian Romanesque-Gothic style and remains one of the highlights of the city (see photo above).
We began our afternoon in Siena with a visit to the Duomo. Its facade is extremely intricate and stunningly beautiful and, since it was a nice day, we spent a good long while walking around the outside of the church and checking out all of the interesting architectural details (I love the gargoyles on these ancient churches). After a walk through the inside of the church, we headed over to the Piazza del Campo (photo left), the city center. Not only is this where the "commune," or government center is located, but this is the site of the outdoor market and many popular sporting events (most notably, the traditional, medieval horse race known as the Palio, which happens twice a year). All of the roads in Siena come together in this piazza, so it is truly is the center of life here.
In addition to its Duomo and Piazza del Campo, Siena is also known for its pastries. Yes, pastries. There are many, many sweets shops in Siena, but the most famous one seems to be a lovely "pasticcerie" called Nannini. This shop was opened in 1911 by the Nannini family and is known for its coffee bar and traditional Italian cakes and cookies. One of the cookies Nannini is most famous for is called Cantucci, and these seem to be a staple dessert in most Tuscan homes. It is a hard, biscotti-like cookie with almonds (made in both chocolate and vanilla).
Cantucci have been served after almost every meal that we've eaten in Tuscany. They are,traditionally, dipped into a sweet dessert wine called Vin Santo (which translates to "holy wine") and several of our hosts served homemade Vin Santo. It seems that almost every family has at least a small vineyard and this is one of the wines that is unique to this region.
It is no wonder that Vin Santo is so often served with Cantucci - the rich, sweet wine is the perfect complement to a plain cookie, such as the hard, almond Cantucci biscuit.
Naturally, when we visited Nannini, I picked up a few bags of Cantucci to bring back home. I know I won't be able to completely recreate the experience of my sunny afternoon in Siena, or of the Nannini pasticcerie, or of the many wonderful meals I've had here in Tuscany, but I'll certainly keep trying!
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