A simple pages and pictures ensemble
to show you some of the unknow resources
of the gorgeous Chianti

Welcome to Siena

North-east of Siena, the southern part of the Chianti Classico wine area, or coming south from the Meleto Castle or the Brolio Castle there are several little villages and castles who can be visited in a half day tour: The Castello di San SanoCastello di Lucignano, the Certosa di Pontignano and the Castle of Fagnano  


San Domenico Church

Santa Caterina da Siena Church

Gothic Palazzo Pubblico

The Dome




Siena: Medieval Siena is often seen as the female counterfoil to Renaissance Florence. At her heart lies the magnificent shell-like piazza, Il Campo, scene of the famous bareback horse race, Il Palio, which whips the town into a frenzy twice a year. One day is not long enough to appreciate all that the tiny walled city has to offer. Must-sees include the humbug-striped Cathedral decried by Ruskin as 'a piece of costly confectionery' and the majestic Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) topped by the soaring Torre del Mangia. Named after the medieval bell-ringer, the tower should be climbed for magnificent views of the city and hills beyond. Inside the town hall is the Museo Civico where tourists flock to see Simone Martini's Guidoriccio - the famous Sienese captain and standard-bearer of the city, and Lorenzetti's Effects of Good and Bad Government - a vivid allegory painted against the backdrop of fourteenth-century Siena. The city's best-loved work, Duccio's Maesta, lies in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. The devotional picture of the Madonna, enthroned among saints and angels, once graced the Cathedral altar, her blue robes setting off the church's starry vaults. No visit is complete without a wander through Siena's cool, warren-like streets which wind around Il Campo, like arteries feeding the city's pulsating heart. Visitors can drop into one of the city's pasticceria for a slice of Sienese panforte or mingle with the students seeping up the sun in the Campo over a slice of freshly baked pizza.

From Florence, Siena is best reached by bus. No cars are allowed in the city and the Siena's train station is on a branch line, making it necessary to change. Coaches depart from the station on Via Santa Caterina every hour. The journey takes approximately one hour. The tourist office is located at Piazza del Campo 56 (tel: (0577) 280 551; fax: (0577) 270 676; e-mail:; web site:


Siena, the capital city of Siena province in the Tuscany region of north central Italy, is situated about 55 km (35 mi) south of Florence in the heart of a region known for its marble quarries and Chianti wine. Siena has a population of 57,745 (1990 est.). The city produces wine, fertilizer, and chemicals. Siena has largely retained the appearance of a large, prosperous medieval city and for this reason is a popular tourist center. Among the city's most notable landmarks are the 13th- and 14th-century Gothic Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic-Romanesque cathedral, and the 14th-century Gothic Baptistery of San Giovanni. Many medieval and Renaissance palaces also survive. The University of Siena dates from the 13th century. Founded by Etruscans and later ruled by Rome and the Lombards, Siena became a free commune in the 12th century. In the 13th century it became a flourishing banking center rivaling Florence. The 13th- to 14th-century Sienese school of painting, which produced artists such as DUCCIO DI BUONINSEGNA, ended when the Black Plague began (1348). Emperor Charles V halted Siena's four centuries of republican autonomy in 1555. In 1569 the city came under the Medici dukes of Tuscany, and Siena thereafter shared the history of Tuscany, joining united Italy in 1860.

WERE IT THE BEST of alI possible worlds and time capable

Iof being poured and stopped as by a faucet, the approach to Siena should be threefold, once by car or bus, once by train, once by a magical ceiling-dissolving balloon, each approach landing in an appealing symptom of the Siena syndrome. One of the western gates to the city welcomes cars with a Latin inscription that trans- lates roughly as "Wider than ber gates does SieDa open ber heart" and Siena is courteous and hospitable--except in tobacconists' shops, where, understandably, selling ODe envelope and one sheet of paper, one stamp, one pack of ten cigarettes, oDe box of matches, through long hours, makes a soured lite.

The heart narrows in the tristezza of mid-September to spring, when Siena folds ber arms and broods through the gray, damp days. It broadens when the hotels rehire last summer's help, the restaurants sharpen their décor and the Palio costumes afe taken out of the contrada closets far resplendoring. Though there afe only two Palios run regularly and, occasionally, an extra third far a foreign dignitary or a pope, the Palio season is stretched to its greatest possible length, beginning in the spring, when the elabora- tions of the contrada churches afe regilded, the chords on last

.. year's drums replaced, the house of the borse freshly whitewashed and last year's pinups covered by a fresh photo of Pope John XXIII, to continue in a spiraI of frenzy that splutters and dies in the last glass of wine drunk at the last contrada dinner in October.

If you come by train, your seat companion might be a gentle- man reading Orlando Furioso, the equivalent of The Canterbury Tales, perfectly reasonable however far the intellectualism of Siena. Out of the train and into a taxi and another confrontation with the Sienese sense of being unique, apart. The driver almost sideswipes another car, a norm of Italian driving. He says, "Did you notice that license? One guess. A Florentine, of course. Dreadful people, pretentious, verbose, show-ofls. Romans afe almost as bado The Milanese? Not too bad, but they're vulgar, materialistico The local people, from Grosseto, Piombino and the Tuscan towns and villages, afe good, fine people, but toward the south, and worse continuing southward, they afe monsters."

"But," one counters, "Florence is not exactly,in the south." "True," he says, "they afe the cancet of the north."

Many centuries ago, Siena rivaled Florence and continues to think so, after old defeats in battle and consequent losses of terri- tory and lives and in spite of the Medici shields on many walls. Although Florence is in Tuscany, the cradle of Italian literary speech, the Florentines bave hideous, grunting accents, say the Sienese, while theirs is pure, exquisite. This sentiment is often spoken in something like Arabic-Italian; all "c" sounds afe lacking or slightly aspirated, so that casa becomes hasa, a coppa of gelato brightens to hoppa, although cultivated Sienese speech is as musi- cal as they say it is. You will probably hear that Giotto copied from Duccio, that FIorentine painting is a decayed imitation of the Sienese, and so on. Don't argue; it is impolite and useless to fight one of the endearing faults of a delightful people.

The third mode of travel, the magic balloon, might take you first into a room of the university where a class in Italian for foreigners is in session. No one is ever called upon to recite, only volunteers answer; a rule to preserve the tace of those unprepared far a public display of linguistic fumbling. Siena sensibilità at its most sensi- tive. The balloon drops you next through the upper ftoors of the Palazzo Pubblico before the murals of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, which

depict early-fourteenth-century Good Government, the dream, the illusion of Siena, an ideai (it includes a few rough spots, usually overlooked) that exists firmly as reality in the minds of some of the elderly courtier-inte11ectuals; it is a significant symbol to them that the Bad Government panels afe practica11y extinguished while the Good remain clear, lovely and almost entire, a mystical stamp of verity.

The light must bave its dark and the honey its blood; Siena inflicted injuries and the oppression of conquest on surrounding towns. She was a mighty power, as ruthless as she could afford to be, the home of warriors and bankers to the papacy, of medieval wheelers and dealers who could turo loyalties on and off with lightning speed, and yet she was an extraordinarily 10ng-lived free commune. The essence of the be11igerence, the intense rivalry, the fanfares and battle colors, the marching, the drums and war chariots, the splendors of Renaissance costumes, the unseen but never quite secret deals and counterdeals and the commune spirit remain in the Palios and the passions they trigger.

The Palio is actua11y a long silk banner, currentty a painting of the Assumption of the Virgin (for the August 16 Tace) in a timid late-cubist manner. To possess this, to hang it in a contrada church or museum, a short, brutal and crooked Tace is run. To be in Siena only on a Palio day is to see it in orgasm and consequentty at least a bit deceptive. See it belare, see it after, although between the hithering and thithering mounting like a dancing madness, the spiraling hysteria of a Children's Crusade (medieval a11usions come easily in SieDa), it is possible, with enough resolution, to explore the city.

It may not clarify the frenzy altogether, but it should help to fo11ow the Good Government muraI with a visit to the house- museum of the contrada Torre, on the via Salicotto behind the P-alazzo Pubblico. As you might know, ~~§da is, sociolo~:~IL and emotion~~ expanded familv with a11 that means- in _a cWmFe'~n1y meaningful unit is the family. The members of a ciJntrada may not alI be crazy aboute~her, but making the best of proximity, interdependence, joint traditions and the finan- cial responsibility and team effort required by the Palio produces an abstract affection that works better, in the long TUO, than lave.

They bave no wish to escape each other and often take vacations to:g~ther, and when ODe Sienese introduces himself to another he will'desigìlate bis contrada as if it were p~rt ~f bis Dame. ~uring

~the'waxing; exploding and reluctantly wanmg lime of the PalIo the contrada, traditionally an almost autonomous townlet within the

;:cjty, is controlled by a capo, who is in complete charge of all Palio activities, including judgment of turbulent disputes concerning who is to be taxed how much to make up the millions of lire spent and far what purpose.

The Palio race is a development of ancient games harking back to the Romans-some say to the Etruscans-through changes that echoed courtly games, such as bucolic imitations of jousting, the goading of buffaloes, which suggests early bullfighting, and long hazardous races through the city.

Torre, one of the prosperous contrade, has a varied and largish museum, attractively arranged to keep great memories vivid: its first win in 1599; the summer, two hundred years ago, when it won both Palios; the great silver platters won as awards for the skill, beauty and fine comportment of its group. In the section set apart far matters of borse and jockey, the silver-studded trappings and the evolutions of the jockey's costume and equipment: the spiked iron maces they once used (the knives sometimes used later afe not in evidence) and the hard helmet since replaced by a less conspicuous protective cap. Surrounded by the ftourish of banners -about one hundred and fifty of them-the shine of metal on fifty carefully preserved drums, the coats of armar and the velvets and furs, two local boys, quite young, afe brought in by the keeper of the house to demonstrate the use of the drums and ftags. Their work is profoundly serious, adept, unhurried, priestly. These boys practice every night-drummers beginning as early as six, the ftag boys at ten or eleven-in total, obsessed dedication, as Spanish and Mexican boys practice veronicas with a rag cape.

The !!!!!!:trada church ~as its own specialized characteristics. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the first changes in neigh- borhood churches, which led to the present Palio-adapted struc- tures. There afe no stairs, or very few, and no side aisJes; the organ is placed high in the back, the altar is shallow and there afe no choir stalls; in short, a box with churchly trappings, arranged to

allow maximum space and no impediments to borse, jockey and ;~ contrada crowd. The priest is of the church but primarily of the '" contrada, and it is he who appears in Siena's newspapers at the side of the borse, under the heading, "Ritorna Vincitor." Except far baptisms, also frequently performed at the contrada fountain, the church is rarely used at other times of the year; it belongs to the Palio.

At 10:30 A.M. on August 13 the Piazza del Campo explodes with colors of balloons, pinwheels, scarves and banners, a daz:?iing flash of sunlight on stained glass, as one passes the low arches along the via di Città. The dispossessed pigeons wheel nervously, the boys wear their contrada shirts and cockades, the girls bave draped their contrada scarves on their hips, Carmen fashion, babies wave their neighborhood flags, below the windows of the Palazzo Pubblico hang the banners of all the contrade. Big cameras far television and newspapers and little cameras that will return to Osaka, Dijon and Paterson afe trained on the crowd gathered to watch one of the several pre-race tryouts. The police in ~'. pristine white begin their slow, inexorable march to clear the track I of walkers and arguers. ~i1

Drums roll, and precisely at Il: 00 a shot is fired and the horses afe led out of the Palazzo by two white-gloved policemen. As they walk to the starting line, one notices that numbers afe painted on the horses' rumps, since the jockeys, like conductors of orchestras, do not wear their silks for rehearsals. They look rather like waiters of rural trattorie, in their white jackets bound in black braid and black-buttoned, as they lead their horses around the ring, bowing and waving in response to the applause, after they bave run the casual-to-listless race that determines which ten Palio horses will be chosen of a field of eighteen. It is an easy beginning; only the young bother to shout "Dai, dai," urging the unheeding jockeys and especially themselves to excitement and the sore throats and husky voices they will carry about for a week as a badge of passion and fidelity. A half hour later, these boys wi11 follow the jockey and borse to the contrada stable to walk the borse under its totem of porcupine or rhinoceros or panther, the boldest ofIering expert advice. "He's thirsty, give him some water." "No, not yet.

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'4I~~t;"h~:;;èo(jl off first." Neither hor~e nor handlers pay ~uch ~ft~ttehtiort~lbut the boys bave stepped roto the awesome terram of ~]";;kfiow-h()w'andinside information to be unfolded and elaborated

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!+:';;;.,~fth~ JdiÌ1rter table.


".i~i'That afternoon, sometime between lunch and the late afternoon :ttyout, new signs appear: a hand-Iettered poster at the side of a

contrada seat advertises a dinner on the night belare the Palio, 2,200 lire far adults, 1,000 lire far children, tickets available at Luigi's bar, Mario's tabacco shop, and Guido's grocery stare. ODe of the local newspapers advertises its enormous colored Palio supplement, an exhaustive iconography of jockeys and horses. . Only a Sienese could wade through alI of il, and always with intense interest and high emotion, carried along streams of self- deception, although he knows-but this is no lime to admit it- that the races afe fixed. (He insists that there afe always the possibilities of accident, bis out in discussions with uninspired, non- Sienese minds.) On the Piazze Gramsci and Matteotti, other elements of Sienese life try to make themselves felt, if only as faint reminders. The Communist newspaper, Unità, chooses this week far its festa: games far children, many eating stands, a popular entertainer, dancing and a soccer match between Yugoslav and Italian lady athletes, a busy program that manages not to interfere with Palio schedules. The church advertises special masses and their meaning in the Palio, reminding alI that the Palio is a reli- gious banner and it does celebrate Assumption Day. The city administration feebly hopes that someone will apply far the jobs it advertises. Nothing but cafés function normally; everyone is out, wandering, arguing, in a group symbiosis of mutuai excitation.

The Duomo is as overwhelming1y full of too much to see as otfier greai caihedrals, and like many of them (except the un- rivaled peak, Saint Peter's in Rome), dedicated equally to the greater glory of the Virgin Mary and rivalry with some other cathedral. Pisa has Nicola and Giovanni Pisano? We hire them far SieDa. Rome has Bernini? Let's bring him to work bere. Dona- tello? Michelangelo? Get them out of Florence. Nothing but the best and, if possible, better and bigger. Not the most altruistic way to build and filI a church, this competitive drive has produced magnificent collections of church art, however.

The Duomo complex is best seen from the side of the church of San Domenico, where its compact gray and white presence appears large and calm, a Lorenzetti Virtue who expresses the non-Palio mood and conduct of the city. This indirect approach continues through the tortuous streets devoted to Saint Catherine and the Goose (page 16), into the via di Città, then the via de astoro. AtJove, rlre-exuavagant height of the double-arched Facciatone (big façade), a blind giant that was meant to be the façade of a cathedral grand enough to rival that of Florence. The Black Plague of 1348, financial reverses and the perilous weakness of the dis- proportionately slender colurnns-among other reasons-called a halt to the building and left a unique, evocative piazza.

The prehistory of the church probably followed the usual pat- tern: ~~ple on a he~t, very likely Etruscan; later, Roman, replaced by a small Christian church. The gite might thus be considered the care, the oldest part, of SieDa, the oldest houses those that slope away from the ecclesiastical prominence. The ecclesiastical center was to bave been linked, as a symbol of accord between church and civic powers, with the Campo by a long, legai stairway continuing from the step~ that now drop to the baptistry, another fantasy of grandeur that faded with other city planning. The on1y present evidence of balanced lay and church influence is the fact that the Mangia tower of the government and the campanile of the Cathedral afe carefully of the same height.

Other than by sheer size and pride framed in winged space, and its accretion of mosaics and detail in the strie of Orvieto (page 130), the Duomo façade attracts as a combination of Gothic imposed on Romanesque; a peaceable low, wide movement pulling against the surging vertical, and since this is Italy, the spiritual soaring quickly arrested. The lower Romanesque section of rounded arches, in recessed, carved bands topped by the animaI symbols of the Evangelists, is reminiscent of churches in Puglia (page 294) and far good reason. It was the work of Giovanni Pisano, whose father, Nicola, was originally "di Puglia" and may easily bave been among the numerous artists in the Pugljese courts of that extraordinary, pre-Renaissance "Renaissance" prince, Frederick II. From that long distance, via Pisa, come the OrientaI abstractions and the practice of enlivening monochrome stone with bands of contrasto The French Gothic was introduced by restless


1{fti~i$:andcraftsmen, the bees who carried the pollen of innova- "'{ioii:~from one region to another; bere, particularly, a group of :Cisibrcian monks who directed the building of the later (four- teenth-century) sections of the Duomo. Although the façade seems perfectly balanced at first glance, a slower look reveals two pink blocks, probably tram the first church, on the left side, not re- peated on the right, and one end pier narxower than the other, testimony of various ideas, hands and patchings that affected the church in its long time of building, beginning in the late twelfth century.

The conflict between Gothic flight and flat, squared space is noticeable again in the interior as numerous iron bars, probably meant far a ceiling or a broad rail to contain the foreign-inspired urge toward uncomfortable height. There was a change of mind or taste, obviously, and the clusters of pillars, talI and fiercely rigid in their alternations of black and white, stretch up and up, into distant starry vaults. The famous incised and inlaid marble floor is also a product of centuries (from the fourteenth into the six- teenth). The choicest sections afe kept covered except far the period between August 15 and September 15 (roughly) but there is always visible an ampIe stretch to exemplify the early and straightforward, the later concentrations on virtuosity, the stilI later whirlwinds of distortion in the excessive lights and darks of mannerism.

Above the biblical figures and pagan sibyls and the shields of SieDa afe riches of other masterworks: the incredible pulpit cre- ated by the Pisanos, father and san, and Arnolfo di Cambio; the handsome Piccolomini altar with a figure, in a niche, believed to be the work of the young Michelangelo, and several figures by Bernini; a tomb figure and a wonderfully shaggy John the Baptist by Donatello; the inlaid woodwork in the choir stalls, finely worked even under the seats, the ultimate of art far art's sake; the Piccolomini library and its sleek, infinitely charming frescoes of Pinturicchio bound in bravura perspectives and bands of Pompeian ornamento

The splendors of the church reach their climax in the Museo dell'Opera at the side of the Facciatone, where there is a room devoted to the Duccio Maestà and the smaller panels that sur-


rounded it and were attached to its reverse side. It was originally hung in a centraI area of the Duomo, belare the altar, but the expansion of the Duomo made its position impractical and it was retired far a period to be rehung as two panels, back and front. A later expansion caused the paintings to be removed and dis- carded--cut up, sold, stolen. A few of the panels seem irrevocably galle; a few remain in England and the United States. After a stubborn, difficult task of searching out, authenticating, buying back and restoring, the almost complete set-some forty-odd of sixty-hang in the hushed, mellow illumination of an air-con- trolled room. If you bave seen the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua (page 268), these will seem a repetition in miniature of the life of Jesus and Mary, and there afe superfici al resemblances. Siena's pride as womb of language and art-the pride that causes marble quotations tram Dante to speak tram many streets in the city, sometimes a bit out of context, sometimes implying a lave far the city that Dante did not always feel-insists that Duccio was Giotto's predecessor, an indisputable fact. But the Scrovegni frescoes were painted a few years belare the Maestà, and furthermore there is hardly any way of claiming a "prede- cessor" between two men so close in age who both drew tram a varied, rich world of church art; who both made brilliant, arresting places in a long line of continuity, Duccio to bring the traditional Byzantine-Gothic to its richest, warmest culmination, Giotto to deftect it to paths that ran toward the Renaissance.

In spite of bis conservatism, irresistible waves of art develop- ment and bis own genius urged Duccio away tram the frozen accustomed. Although bis figures afe often in the spellbinding, remote and unfteshly mode of bis time, there is more often a weight and amplitude of body beneath the drapery, a sense of portraiture, a canny, subtle relationship of line, colar and gesture that lie far beyond the borders of that time. The traditional ele- ments, the steady and expected, act as nice foils far the departures. As it does in much early church painting, a development of action may appear in one painting like penny-machine movies, ground out of a series of strips: a figure is shown asleep (a masterly passage), then awakened and then departing, alI in one panel. The customary lines of gold that marked unearthly drapery shining of

heaven stilI appear, for in~tance, on the robes of tbe Christ figure after the Resurrection. The Crucifixion maintains the conventional golden background of the Byzantine, or "Greek," style, but the weight of the hanging bodies, the distortion in the shoulder of the tbief on tbe left, almost pulled out of its socket by tbe abnormal stretch from tbe waist, tbe plumb-line drop of the sagging head, the spiny, angled group of men, tbe long lamenting line of sorrowing women afe painting outside of periods and strictures of styles.

The only non-Duccio painting that shares the velvet atmo- sphere is a diflerent sort of enchantment, a Nativity of Mary by the occasionalIy more interesting older brother of Ambrogio, Pietro Lorenzetti. It is a work of 1342, tbirty years after tbe Maestà, and a telling example of the strides taken by Sienese painting in the first hall of the fourteenth century, the advances in perspective, tbe readiness for naturalism. In spite of halos on the main personages, and the majestic size of Sto Anne, the painting is a solid accouche- ment scene blending and contrasting a wealth of decorative detail in a manner tbat oddly suggests Vuillard, some five to six centuries later.

Below the Duccio and Lorenzetti wonders and above, tbere afe a number of objects wortb a respectful look: in tbe sculpture galIery, a few of tbe monumental and expressive figures of Gio- vanni Pisano, executed at the end of tbe thirteentb century to stand on the ledges of the cathedral, then taken out O

~e weather that was consuming them and replaced by copies. otice tbe tensed

turo of tbe head and the controlled anxiety in the ace of a figure referred to as "Maria, daughter of Moses.") Up the stairs, past various church ornaments and a splendid, alert head, into a room of ceremonial objects-needlework in gold thread, an example of tbe golden rose that was the gift of popes to kings, a sinuous polychrome angel, a silver arm designed as a reliquary for the arm of San Giovanni, and a large gold and crystal casket adorned with many exquisite crystal and gold pears, apples, leaves, acorns and flowers coquettishly arranged around a skulI and bones.

On the floor above the necrophile daintiness, the plainer Ma- donna of the Big Eyes, she who had the pIace of honor before Duccio's Maestà was hung in the Duomo, and several rooms beyond tbere is a sign in several languages that leads out to tbe

Facciatone. The view gives on the massive churches of Santa Maria dei Servi and San Francesco and, closer by, the enmeshed pattems of overlapping tiles, little green lizards crawling aver and under the brown, red, tan and gray ceramic wavelets. On a neighboring roof a woman loads a clothesline behind the oma- ments of a fourteenth-century palazzo, and directly below is the car-strewn piazza bom of miscalculation . lune.

Going back toward the via di Cit n lei into the via del,

, -

Poggio and wind wrt rt, greeting the old lady who always fills ODe Wìii~ and the brown hound who guards a balcony. This obscure path leads to a magnificent archway near the Baptistry, a dis- appointment in spite of the fact that its font is the work of many gifted hands, including Donatello's.

Head far the via Diacceto, which acts as a high arched bridge aver lower streets that rush down, along with daredevil motor- cyclists, to the neighborhood of Saint Catherine and the Fonte Branda under the cliff that is the church of San Domenico. Con- tinue on toward the Piazza Indipendenza and into the arches, single, double, photogenically medieval, of the via della Galluzza. At its left the steep vicolo del Costaccino makes its run far the many-fingered hand of the Fonte Branda-San Domenico complex. This meshwork of narrow streets inhabited by carpenters, basket- makers and laundries doesn't seem to be too poor, although the presence of a busy street fountain indicates very modest housing. As the street climbs, however, to change its Dame to Costa Sant' Antonio, it takes on the hostile glower of poverty, spent at its meeting with via della Sapienza. Here ODe can turo right far the Etruscan Museum at Number 3 or, at Number 5, the Biblioteca Comunale, which occasionally arranges exhibitions of its treasures -Dante illustrated by Botticelli, some of the prolix and argu- mentative correspondence of Saint Catherine, ancient books illus- trated by Sienese painters.


With each successive tryout-two a day-the mobs in the Campo become louder and thicker, the prices of tight seats more expensive, more luxurious banners of red and old rose trimmed with gold adoro the piazza. The riders bave changed to their white clownlike costumes and stiff jockey caps. The screaming is louder



To Chianti

Let's cut a track: (Where do you want to go)
Start point (To the first page-Index)
Introduction (To the Introduction)
Who am I (Presentation)
The Chianti Region (Secret and famous treasure)
Excursions (My excursions on the land)
Accomodations (Where you can stay)