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Why Prince William and Kate should visit Siena

Updated on April 7, 2013
The reliquary-St Catherine of Siena - Basillica San Domenico
The reliquary-St Catherine of Siena - Basillica San Domenico | Source
shopping in Siena
shopping in Siena | Source
wandering in siena
wandering in siena | Source
piazza del campo - square
piazza del campo - square | Source
Piazza del Campo - Historic Square
Piazza del Campo - Historic Square | Source
A good hiding place for a horse?
A good hiding place for a horse? | Source
Piazza del Campo - transformed - for the race.
Piazza del Campo - transformed - for the race. | Source



St Catherine's Day

If ever Prince William and his wife Kate decide to visit Siena they will inevitably give a thumb’s-up greeting to the city’s San Domenico Church.

For when the royal couple, Wills and Kate (Catherine Middleton), married in 2011, they chose April 29th - St Catherine’s Day. This was a tribute and honour to Kate’s namesake St Catherine of Siena who is entombed in the wonderful old church.

Well, parts of her are, anyway.

I have to wonder how much the royal couple know of St Catherine.

Siena is a medieval city in the region of Tuscany, northern Italy. The historic centre is a declared UNESCO world heritage site, famous for history, art, museums, a most colourful horse race and St Catherine.

The head and right thumb of St Catherine

Be warned. A browse through the vast Basilica San Domenico can be confronting.

Screened, behind an ornate glass reliquary, gazing directly at you, is the dismembered, mummified head of Saint Catherine herself (1347-1380).

That’s not all. Her right thumb positively glows in a smaller case not far away.

St Catherine was a visionary, dedicating her life to prayer and worship. She is said to have received the stigmata, she levitated and she refused to eat or drink anything - except for the blessed Sacrament.

When St Catherine died in Rome, her followers in her hometown of Siena naturally wanted her body to be brought home. When this was denied they did what they could.

Unable to smuggle her whole body out of the Rome they took her head and her thumb in a bag. According to the story, as they were leaving, the guards stopped them - prayers were sent to St Catherine to protect and help them.

The guards looked in the bag and saw – not the head but hundreds of rose petals. When they returned to Siena the head had re-materialized. A miracle?

To this day the head and thumb are on view and much revered.

The Palio

Siena has another unusual attraction. The Palio is known world wide as a unique horse race. This is held twice a year - July 2 and August 16. The race is held around the around the historic, world heritage city square, the Piazza del Campo.

Preparations for this legendary race are ongoing all year, every year. Individual districts, known as contrada, spend every spare euro and more, in the hope of winning this most prestigious race.

The horses are pampered, groomed, trained, and until the big day, hidden away in secret places all over the city.

Tradition also demands that each horse receives a benediction in a church before the race.

The night before the race each contrada organises a banquet. Thousands of people eat sumptuous food on tables all around the square.

The lavish food and celebrations are a rehearsal – an anticipation of victory for the horse of their district.

On the big day the Piazza del Campo is prepared with a thick layer of dirt. A colourful pageant precedes the race, flag wavers in medieval costumes, a charge of sword wielding horse riders gallop around the square.

The jockeys are resplendent in costume and ride bareback. It’s not unusual for a jockey to fall and the winning horse to be unmounted.

Siena – one beautiful city to visit

Built on three hills, Siena is surely one of the most beautiful cities in the Tuscany region of Italy. The huge shell-shaped square, the Piazza del Campo, is at the heart of winding streets, steep steps, medieval buildings and Gothic architecture

There’s much to see in this historic city. The cathedral, churches, museums, the town hall, the Mangia tower - you can walk up the tower's 500 or so steps for some great views of the piazza and surrounding town.

Seek, and you’ll find masterpieces of frescoes and art. And visit the trattorias for magnificent Italian food and coffee.

Using Siena as a base you’ll discover something fascinating wherever you roam. The Chianti area is dotted with olive trees, vineyards, and historic towns rich in history. This is a great base for a Tuscan experience.

Finding St Catherine

And should William and Kate ever decide to pursue her namesake, while St Catherine’s head and thumb are on view in Siena, her body is in Rome, and her foot is said to be in a reliquary in Venice.

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    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 3 years ago from australia

      suzettenaples - most happy you found Sienna as wonderful as I do. The head and thumb of St Catherine are much revered, she is remembered with so much love and affection. It is indeed a city with religious history, culture and style. I appreciate your comments. Thank you.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I have always thought Kate and Wills should visit Siena too. I have visited this city several times as my mother is named for St. Catherine also. I didn't know the horrid story of her body being in two different cities or what they went through to get it out of the city. Horrid! But, it is a gorgeous city with great religious history and culture of its own.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      GwennyOh - glad you agree - Siena is not only worth visiting but a good base for other places in Tuscany. Thanks for stopping by -

    • GwennyOh profile image

      GwennyOh 4 years ago from LaLa Land

      I believe that your observation is right travmaj. William and Kate should go to Siena. I would like to go too!

      Touring vineyards and such the like sounds like loads of fun as well.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Most welcome Michelle - and thank you for visitng Siena and Catherine

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Coming in to visit this beautiful city with you again and share!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Oh dear - it has been a long winter your way. Here in Victoria, chilly mornings and evenings. Autumn leaves turning and falling, - winter descending. Ah well, nice warm fires and books to read...

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Spring stopped in long enough for me to get some planting done. The temps dipped the last few days but I'm hoping they pick up again. How is it your way?

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hi phoenix - thanks for exploring Siena with me. Glad you approve and hope you visit Italy one day soon. Hope you are warming up in UK...

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      This place sounds so wonderful. I love exploring new places and learning about their history. This sounds like my kind of holiday. I do so want to visit Italy.

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hello Kay - great to have you here - I hope a visit to Tuscany eventuates. Yes, I also hope Kate has a kinder fate - Catherine's story is a bit confronting to say the least - but much revered in Siena.

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      Kay Readdy 4 years ago

      This is a most intriguing story. Makes me want to pack my bags right now and head for Tuscany. I hope a kinder fate awaits the royal Catherine!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      ignugent thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments - Siena is beautiful

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Michelle - I'm delighted you enjoyed a quick visit to Siena - it is indeed fascinating. Thank you one again..

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      ignugent17 4 years ago

      Beautiful place. Thanks for sharing the information. :-)

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Absolutely intriguing! Fascinating place to visit and thank you for sharing the legend of St. Catherine. Wonderful, and sharing!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Hey Valley - good to hear from you - I recall when the wedding was announced so was the tribute to St Catherine of Siena. I doubt if Wills and Kate have seen her head and thumb in the Church - it took me by surprise. (photo's were not allowed and I was respectful - well people were watching.) They seem to be copyrighted on google. Fascinating story, so is the horse race and Siena has so much more to offer. Good to see you Valley, thumbs up from your favourite travel writer!!

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      kidscraft - hello and thanks for your valuable comments. As you know Siena is a most beautiful city and, like you, I'd love to visit again. I was jolted for sure when I saw the head and thumb of St Catherine - it was so unexpected. An unusual story to say the least!. Thanks again

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      riviera rose - thank you for comments and votes - most appreciated. I hope you find a chance to visit Siena soon - know you'll enjoy...

    • travmaj profile image
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      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Martin - glad you enjoyes - always glad when you tag along.

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      Valleypoet 4 years ago

      Siena is without doubt one of the most fascinating places I have had the good fortune to visit. I didn't however know about the story of St Catherine....I wonder if Wills and Kate did have her in mind?...no doubt it would be a 'thumbs up' if they did visit ( good to see your great sense of humour subtly dropped in there Maj LOL). When I was there I did learn about the bi-annual horse race around the Piazza del Campo....I was told that throughout the rest of the year Siena is such a serene and peaceful place, but everything changes dramatically for those two days.

      Thank you Maj for an interesting ( and educational) hub about one of Europe's amazing destinations...you are my favourite travel writer here on hubpages!!:-))

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Thank you for this interesting article! I did visit Siena about 20 years ago and the central square has a fascinating shape! There is also a cathedral with black and white pillars. But I didn't know about the story of St-Catherine! Most fascinating.... and you never know.... William and Kate might go there one day!

      I wouldn't mind going back myself!

    • Riviera Rose profile image

      Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France

      Fascinating hub on a city I'd love to visit. Voted up and beautiful.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Great tour. Thank you for letting me tag along.