How I Stopped Worrying About Taking Pictures and Learned to Love Siena, Italy

After leaving Florence in December, I was really looking forward to making a pitstop in nearby Siena before continuing on to Rome. I had seen many photos of Siena that were just dripping with drama—like this one of the Piazza del Campo from high above. One photo in particular of the cathedral’s interior was so awe-inspiring it actually made me change my original travel plans from Orvieto to Siena. Naturally, as an amateur photographer, I couldn’t wait to get “my” shots of the city and reproduce some views I had seen online or in books. However, on the bus between Florence and Siena, the fog grew thicker and thicker until I could barely see even a few dozen yards in front of me. I panicked.

Siena, Italy
Siena Cathedral

I was so excited to take “amazing” pictures of Siena, but those plans appeared to have been shot down by the reigning fog. I paid the big €€€ to hike up the Palazzo Pubblico’s Mangia Tower in the hopes that the fog hadn’t hidden away the entire city…yet when I arrived at the summit, I emerged in the middle of a cloud. I could literally see nothing from the bell tower except for a few wary pigeons hanging out on the bricks. So. Very. Frustrating. Back on the ground, I could see that the “crow’s nest” part of the bell tower was completely covered by fog—no dramatic sunlit pictures for me, I guess.

Piazza del Campo and the Palazzo Pubblico

By the time I made it up to the cathedral’s lookout point, I realized there was no point in being angry about the fog any longer. There was no way I was going to be able to gaze across the well-preserved medieval city from the cathedral museum’s façade, so instead of getting annoyed with the photo-ruining fog, I embraced it. After all, traveling is more than just snapping your picture and moving on with life. It’s about appreciating the moment and soaking in the location: eyes wandering over exquisite architecture and cityscapes, nose picking up on busy kitchens, ears listening to singsong Italian, and mind imagining this very spot half a millennium ago.

The cathedral’s never-completed expansion nave

And even though the fog put a hamper on my grand photography schemes, I was still able to comprehend the scale of Siena’s cathedral. During the Middle Ages, the city-state of Siena competed with nearby Florence. The rival cities both enjoy grand marble cathedrals today, but when the plan for Florence’s shiny, new Gothic cathedral was unveiled, Siena felt like it had to Keep Up With the Joneses and began work on expanding the city’s existing church.

However, it wasn’t a mere let’s-make-the-nave-a-little-longer project; this plan involved keeping the present building intact while rotating the whole orientation of the church from a north-south axis to an east-west one. The larger nave to be constructed would have intersected at the dome, relegating the already-massive central nave of the church to mere transepts (“arms” of the cross shape). However, the Plague was a, uh, minor problem in medieval times, and destroyed the willpower to continue work on the church, which has been left as-is today.

Streets of Siena

In the end, I got to take some fun, moody pictures of this beautiful city. The fog lightened up as the day went on, and the sun even came out as I hopped on the bus to leave town. But I think I was able to actually enjoy the city a tiny bit more without the burden of feeling like I “had” to hunt down the perfect photo of this or that square or church.

What was your favorite photo from this post? Do you ever stress out over photographing places when the weather doesn’t cooperate? Comment below!

Siena, December 22nd, 2013

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