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English silver-screen actress Emily Mortimer tells Dani Shapiro why family tradition keeps her coming back to Siena’s Piazza del Campo.

Published on Apr 20, 2011

When I was growing up, we always traveled to a rambling farmhouse in Tuscany. My dad [John Mortimer] was obsessed with Italy—in fact, he wrote a book called Summer’s Lease inspired by renting the house all those years. But within a few days of being there, we’d all be going a little stir-crazy, and we’d need to make an excursion to Siena, about 20 minutes away. Everyone would go, and we’d park in the nearby football stadium since driving is not allowed in the city center. In more recent years, even when my dad was in a wheelchair, he always insisted on a pilgrimage to see the Renaissance fresco of an equestrian painted by Simone Martini in the town hall, or Palazzo Pubblico, in Siena’s main square.

Off we’d go, walking down quiet narrow streets with tall buildings on either side, until suddenly we were in this incredible setting—not a square, exactly, but a large, sloping, asymmetrical expanse with the Palazzo Pubblico on one side and a row of cafés on the other, where you can have an exorbitantly expensive Campari and orange juice. My family has visited the Piazza del Campo for generations, and I have such strong memories of my father there. The place remains beautiful and unchanged; it’s always filled with hundreds of pigeons. I have photographs of myself as a child feeding those pigeons, and now I also have photos of my young son, Sam, feeding them. The piazza has been meaningful to me all through my life.”


Must-Eat in Siena
“Homemade Malfatti pasta at Osteria Le Logge (33 Via del Porrione; +39 0577 48013).”

Tuscan Villa Rentals
“Try Communicart (+39 055 233 6920;, an agency that represents 40 estates around Siena.”

Another Italian Art Gem
“Sardinia’s Museo Nivola (Orani; exhibits Abstract Expressionist sculptures by my husband’s grandfather Costantino Nivola.”

Most Romantic Destination
“Essaouira, Morocco, looks like the French Riviera in the 19th century. Stay at Villa Maroc (10 Rue Abdellah Ben Yassine; +212 524 47-31-47;”

A Taste of Russia
“I lived in Moscow and love Russian dumplings with sour cream. The best are at Tatiana (3152 Brighton Sixth St.; +718 891 5151), on New York City’s Brighton Beach.”


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