Siena's Gothic Cathedral

Art Tuscany

Discover one of the most beautiful architectural treasures of Tuscany

Siena's Gothic Cathedral, Duomo di Siena in Italian, is one of the most beautiful treasures of art of Tuscany.

Where is Siena Cathedral?
The cathedral sits proudly in Siena, a beautiful medieval city in the heart of Tuscany. A quaint but stunning location, it is perhaps best recognised for its central piazza, Il Campo, that hosts the world ­renowned Palio run: a horse race run around the piazza two times every summer (you might have seen it in James Bond Quantum of Solace!).
However, just above this piazza, you'll find a sight even more awe­inspiring. In Piazza del Duomo, this dramatic cathedral rises high above the city, commanding the undivided attention of all whom come into its presence.
A collaborative effort (designed by Giovanni Pisano, Giovanni di Agostino, Giovanni di Cecco and Camaino di Crescentino), this incredible building stands over an existing church that in turn was built over a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva.
When was it built?
Construction begun in 1200 with the main sections in place by 1215. However, throughout the next 100 years work would continue to be carried out on the structure of the building: the impressive dome, for example, was crafted between 1259 and 1264, with the lower section of the facade created between 1284 and 1296.
The upper half of the facade wasn't added until the 14 power for the city. It was around this time that plans had been put into place to expand the cathedral into a great church that would even beat the grandeur of St Peter's in Rome. In 1339 work went underway to form a new nave of the Duomo's right transept. But in 1348, the black death struck killing 4/5 of Siena's population. The giant cathedral was never completed, yet a half built wall remained on the side. The wall remains there today surviving as a monument to the ambition and previous wealth of the city.
Why do I need to see the Cathedral?
Siena Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Gothic Italian architecture... it's beauty holds no barriers! Those visiting from Florence will find it to be a huge surprise in comparison: whilst the Florence Cathedral has a jaw­dropping exterior with an undeniably impressive cupola on the inside, the rest of the interior is sparse when put up against that of Siena's.
In this Cathedral, you struggle to know where to look! It has a white and greenish­black (white and black being the symbolic colours of Siena) marble in alternating lines theme running throughout, laying out across all surfaces and winding around the vast columns within. The architecture is detailed to the extreme, with intricate designs that have to be seen to be believed.
Once inside, take a look up! Lined across the ceiling are the busts of past religious men of Siena, peering down at you, each one totally unique in its appearance. Cast your eye across every individual bust and the tale by which their faces tell.
Now you've looked up... it's time to look down! The floors of Siena Cathedral are perhaps the most magical of all. Pavements decorated with the exquisite art of mosaics tell various stories, each as enthralling as the next (you can even buy specific guides to tell you more about every panel). These stunning marble panels were designed by leading artists, all from Siena with the exception of Bernardino di Betto (better known as Pinturicchio). Completion of the designs took 6 centuries, with the final ones finished in the 1800s.
Today most of these picturesque panels in the nave and aisles remain uncovered (but protected for feet by barriers), but the truly precious ones are either covered or protected by special flooring. Those covered will only be revealed in honour of Palio and during a pair of months through the year (generally September and October). The Cathedral is filled with treasures by Pisano, Donatello and Michelangelo. Near the entrance you will also find the oldest panel in the building, the Wheel of Fortune and Sienese Wolf surrounded by Symbols of Allied Cities, dating back to 1369. Step into the centre and you will find Matteo di Giovanni's 1481 Massacre of the Innocents. Glance to the right of the Piccolomini Library (an extraordinary sight in itself) and you'll be faced with Donatello's St John the Baptist. And the list goes on! There really is so much to discover.
Once perusing the many hidden corners and spell­binding sights within the Cathedral, you can also take to the Duomo Nuovo wall outside (the half constructed wall created in a bid to expand the Cathedral). From there you'll get a panoramic view of the city, including Piazza del Campo: the perfect way to end your unforgettable visit.
Useful Information
Entrance to the Cathedral is 4,00 euros. When the entire pavement is uncovered, admission goes up to 7,00 euros. Tickets can be pre­booked through the OPA Call Center (operators available in all languages). You can also purchase an OPA Si Pass, an all­inclusive ticket that is valid for 3 days costing 12 euro (March to October) or 8 euro (November to February). This gives you access to the Cathedral and the Piccolomini Library, the Museo dell'Opera, Baptistery, Crypt, Oratory of San Bernardino and Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art.
For more information on this and the Cathedral, visit http://www.operaduomo.siena.it
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