Siena and its surroundings are a real “reserve” for art and craftsmanship.
Still today, walking through the streets of the city, along the route formed by Via Stalloreggi, Via di Città, Banchi di Sopra, Via Montanini and in the branches of Via della Sapienza and Banchi di Sotto. There some then in the streets around the Duomo: Via dei Fusari and Via dei Pellegrini, and near the Church of San Francesco in Vicolo degli Orbachi) you can find ancient shops and workshops where weavers, potters, blacksmiths, leather workers and sculptors work with the passion and craftsmanship of the past, using techniques passed down for generations.
Keeping alive these ancient crafts today is not easy, and only those who love Siena, its traditions and its art are able to meet this challenge successfully. But through the narrow streets of the city there are still many artisans to discover: the textile workshops, where wool colored with natural dyes are hand woven like five hundred years ago, to achieve an irregular fabric of great value.
Then there is the blacksmith's shop, where he “beats” the iron with ancient techniques and tools. The forging for example is made by heating the iron in the forge, until it becomes incandescent, at this point it is ready to be molded with the hammer on the anvil. Copper is instead worked through the overhang with the “bulini” (small steel chisels); in high demand are the coat-of-arms of the Contrade in relief.
The art workshops where there are artisans capable of reproducing paintings by famous Sienese artists who lived between 1200 and 1500 with original techniques; until not long ago these paintings were considered “fake”, today they received the proper recognition. A technique still used by some of these artisans – artists, is the egg tempera, which is realized like Cennino Cennini describes it in his “Libro dell’arte” (Book of Art) of 1350: the natural pigments are diluted equally with an egg yolk, a teaspoon of vinegar and one of water, they are then stretched on wooden tables prepared with a leaf background in pure gold. With this ancient method the colors last for years. It is also interesting to know how some colors used by the painters in the Middle Ages were made: the ultramarine blue was obtained by grinding the lapis lazuli stone, the bone white with the bones of animals, the red was made from the resin of a palm tree and called dragon blood.
There are many gold workshops where the skilled artisans emboss and chisel gold and silver.
Campane di Santa Lucia (Bells of Santa Lucia)
The old restored kilns continue to work together with the new and modern ovens, keeping alive the tradition of pottery items such as pitchers, vase holders, lamps, ashtrays decorated with warm and golden colors of the Sienese hills or painted with the colors of the city: white and black.
The Bells of Santa Lucia are very typical and characteristic of Siena: terracotta good luck charms hand painted with the colors of the Contrade of the Palio di Siena. Traditionally they are bought in Pian dei Mantellini for Santa Lucia, an all-Sienese holiday celebrated on the 13th of December, and donated to the children to push away the demons of winter from them.
Also linked to the Palio di Siena are the Barberi: an ancient game of the children of Siena for which you use little balls painted with the colors of the Contrade: the Sienese children have fun still nowadays with these simple wooden objects that evoke not only an ancient game, but the passions and the history of a people.
Tradition and innovation are linked also to the skill with which the women of the Contrade embroider and restore the flags. It is tradition, in fact, that throughout the year, young girls and old ladies get together in their own Contrada to restore the old flags. An ancient art that can only be learned by watching and that, today, is also performed in some workshops of the city where you can buy silk embroidered flags, small masterpieces of great artistic value, symbols of the festival.