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Posts Tagged ‘shakespeare’

My Secret Siena, Part 2

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Juliet by Anne FortierHere is Part 2 of Anne Fortier’s blog entry on the beautiful city of Siena and its role in her novel, Juliet, now available in paperback.

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The Palio horserace is a grand celebration of Siena history

The Palio horserace is a grand celebration of Siena history


As far as I know, there are no family feuds raging in modern-day Siena. At least none as bloody as the proto-Shakespearean rivalry between the Tolomeis and the Salimbenis, which lasted for almost a century and only definitively ended with the Bubonic Plague in 1348. More than six hundred years have passed since that era of deadly neighbour wars . . . or have they?

Those who have dared to visit Siena during the mad, hot days of the Palio horserace might well argue that the ferocity of this recurring event is a window into the feuds of the past. Nowadays, neighbourhood associations have replaced the old noble families, but the spirit of tradition remains. The neighbourhoods, or contrade, spend months plotting and planning their participation in the Palio, not to mention guessing and second-guessing the plans of others, and quite frankly, it sometimes seems as if the pain and anxiety of it all far outweigh the pleasure.

Each neighbourhood has its own flag, but only tourists have the luxury of picking-and-choosing their colors of allegiance.

Each neighbourhood has its own flag, but only tourists have the luxury of picking-and-choosing their colors of allegiance.

Within the ancient city walls of Siena there are no fewer than seventeen such contrade, each with their own magistrates and coat-of-arms, and each passionately fond of their own little neck of the town. They all have their allies and their rivals, and children are brought up to suspect and loathe the enemy unconditionally. Why? If those same children were to ask why, say, “people from the Unicorn stink like sewage”, the answer would simply be: “Because that’s the way it has always been.” In other words, no one knows exactly how these old rivalries began, but for every Palio and every new skirmish on the race track or among the spectators, the loathing grows stronger.

Goose flags mark the Fontebranda fountain as Goose territory. Therefore, the rivals from the Tower per definition loathe this Siena landmark.

Goose flags mark the Fontebranda fountain as Goose territory. Therefore, the rivals from the Tower per definition loathe this Siena landmark.


The members of the Goose contrada, for example, would not be caught dead in the streets of the Tower, nor would a young man of the Eagle ever dream of dating a girl from the Panther. If he did, he might soon find himself in an agonizing re-enactment of Romeo and Juliet.

Part of the charm of Siena is that the whole town is a contradiction, and proudly so. Rivalry and emotional turmoil brew right beneath the calm, conservative surface, and when the pent-up emotion finally erupts, foreigners are wise to keep a distance. Historical records prove that the people of Siena have always been quick to act and take political matters into their own hands; the origins of the contrade, in fact, were military companies that were poised to take to the streets within minutes in order to maintain the peace.

The quiet courtyard of Palazzo Marescotti seems to exist outside of time

The quiet courtyard of Palazzo Marescotti seems to exist outside of time


During the days of the Palio, with thousands of enthusiastic contrada-members roaring through the streets, a tranquil place is hard to come by. Perhaps this is why I fell in love with the inner courtyard of Palazzo Chigi-Saracini, or, as it was known during the Middle Ages, Palazzo Marescotti. If the richness of Siena culture seems overwhelming, this small stone oasis can be a charming refuge. Only steps away from the race track in Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Marescotti has a quiet dignity of its own, and from the moment I first saw it I knew it would come to play a central part in my life, or, more specifically, in my book.

This was where I first felt the presence of Romeo, and began to imagine what life would have been like for a young man during the Middle Ages. Not that different, perhaps, than it is now. It would have been a life full of choices and challenges, a life requiring great responsibility. Not so for Juliet. Her path would have been determined by the wishes of male family members, and she would not have been free to learn from her own experiences. Had this medieval Juliet had the freedom and opportunities young women take for granted today, her life would have been less likely to end in tragedy. Or maybe that is wishful thinking. But then . . . isn’t that what fiction writing is all about?

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Read an excerpt of Juliet on Scribd

My Secret Siena, Part 1

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Juliet by Anne FortierAnne Fortier is the author of the novel Juliet, available now in paperback.

Check back next week to read more on Anne’s experience in the beautiful city of Siena and how it made its way into her writing in Part 2 of this entry!

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It is only too easy to lose oneself in the magic of Siena
It is only too easy to lose oneself in the magic of Siena

It all started when I fell in love. Not with Shakespeare or some suave Romeo next door, but with the utterly irresistible Tuscan town of Siena. With its medieval architecture and stubborn disregard for most things modern, it is quite simply the perfect escape for romantic dreamers like me, and I had not been in Siena for many hours before I was desperate to set a novel there.

I can still see myself meandering through the Medieval maze that is Siena, aching to unravel its hidden mysteries. I even filled a small bottle with water from the ancient fountain called Fontebranda in a romantic – and probably highly unhygienic – attempt at capturing the magic of the place and bringing it home with me.

Plot hound that I am, I tracked down one of the bloodiest chapters in Siena history, namely the ancient feud between the Tolomei and the Salimbeni families – two households, as the Bard would have it, both alike in dignity, albeit in fair Siena, where we lay our scene…

Palazzo Salimbeni, still today as intriguing as it is forbidding
Palazzo Salimbeni, still today as intriguing as it is forbidding

So fierce was the feud between the Salimbenis and the Tolomeis that they would set fire to each other’s houses and murder mere children in their beds, back in the Middle Ages. Amazingly, their palazzos are still there, standing proudly along the main pedestrian thoroughfare in Siena, little over a hundred steps apart. And although the ancient families have long since moved away, the memory of their bloody rivalry remains.

Perhaps this rich and complex history was what inspired the Italian writer, Masuccio Salernitano, to invent the story of Romeo and Juliet in 1476, and to set it in Siena. This early version is largely forgotten today, and many people think it is my invention. Well, it is not. The famous love-tragedy was already over a hundred years old by the time it landed on Shakespeare’s desk. I’m sorry. As much as I like the film SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, I can safely promise you it didn’t happen that way.

In the Siena underground, you lose all sense of time. The past, it seems, is merely asleep...
In the Siena underground, you lose all sense of time.
The past, it seems, is merely asleep…

Readers also often ask me whether it is really true there is such a vast labyrinth of caves in the Siena underground. The answer is yes, and because these caves were originally an aqueduct leading water into public fountains and private houses, Siena is full of mysterious basements with gaping holes leading… where exactly? Obviously, in JULIET, I could not resist the temptation to send the heroine down into this secret world, and I don’t think it is a plot-spoiler to say that she stumbles upon a lot more than just water.

One of the subterranean bone piles from the Black Death in 1348
One of the subterranean bone piles from the Black Death in 1348

Part of my inspiration for setting the original story of Romeo and Juliet in the year 1340 is that this was the era of the Bubonic Plague, which left its grizzly mark on Siena – a mark that is still there, if you know where to look. Why the plague? You might wonder. But the answer lies within Shakespeare’s play. “A plague!” says Mercutio to Romeo and Tybalt, just before he dies. “A plague on your houses!” It was impossible not to make this famous curse a driving force in JULIET.

Similarly, my inspiration for the elusive treasure that has remained hidden for over six hundred years (and which shall remain unnamed, don’t worry!) came from Shakespeare’s tragedy as well. Interestingly enough, even people who claim they know the play forwards and backwards confess to me they never thought much about this particular object before. And so for me, part of the fun of writing JULIET has been to “reinvent” the play in fun and surprising ways, and to fuse Shakespeare’s poetic fiction with the reality of Siena, past and present.

Win a copy of Anne Fortier’s Juliet!

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

JulietAnne FortierJuliet is one of those rare novels that has it all: lush prose, tightly intertwined parallel narratives, intrigue, and historical detail all set against a backdrop of looming danger. Fortier casts a new light on one of history’s greatest stories of passion.” —Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

When Julie Jacobs inherits a mysterious key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she learns she’s descended from 14th-century Giulietta Tolomei, whose love for a young man named Romeo inspired Shakespeare’s infamous play. Soon Julie begins to fear that the notorious curse laid upon the feuding families—“A plague on both your houses!”—is still at work and that she is destined to be its next target.

Available in paperback on July 26th.

Read an excerpt on Scribd

Buy the book

Buy the eBook

***This giveaway is now closed. Winners will be notified by September 1st.***

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