The Torre (tower) del Mangia, in the Piazza Del Campo
It was inspiring, ludicrous, dizzying - it was 400 stone spiral steps in a space only as wide as your shoulders. Up.
It was like this too in the Duomo in Florence. They let you know before you enter, it's 400+ steps. 400 steps in a spiral stone tower built for small medieval bodies, 500 years ago. People were smaller, and comfort was not paramount. These truths conflict with everything about modern American expectations. Fortunately, Bear and I are not very big, but we can get claustrophobic. As we neared the top of the Duomo, and the stairs got hilariously steep, we likened ourselves to Ren and Stimpy getting the "Space Madness."
One of the comforting features in both the Duomo in Florence and the tower in Siena,was the presence of wall writing, or to be more plain, graffiiti. When you enter the stairwell, the first thing you see is a sign reading "No Writing On The Walls" in 5 different languages - and in little more than 5 steps up, the novel of graffiti begins, in all 5 languages. Not so much in Seina, but in Florence, the wall words are endless, a continuum of dialogue overwriting, and overwriting, and overwriting itself for centuries, like the inner monologue of the place itself. The breath of the building, captured in scrawl.
The path of the steps curves along the dome, and tiny words fade right with it. (inside the Duomo, Florence)
The tower in Siena, however, was more plain. There may have been several centuries of faded graffiti, people never change, but the stairwell itself was much much tighter. My dad, at 6'3" could not have fit. I'm not sure anyone over 5'9" could've made it without some serious Space Madness.
There was a mid-point, which was inspiring enough - we could've stopped here...
(The dome and tower of the basillica of Siena)
But we spiraled, breathed, stopped, panted, we burned in the thighs and the calves, and we collapsed at the landing under a gray-green bell.
At first we didn't want to stand up. Then we did, and all was open sky, and tumbling country.
... and brown roofs, and rounded avenues, but I thought the greatest sight could only be heard - the floating levity of human life below. Rising in little whisps, blustering veils of chatter from stories down, the cutting ring of a shriek, tides of talking bells rising on the warm currents with the pigeons, and spiriting away like the ghost of frankincense on the breath of prayers.
Our world was below us. We were somewhere else.