Siena’s Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) is the city’s main cathedral and a magnificent example of Italian architecture in the Gothic style. Known throughout the world, the Cathedral is fascinating in its grace and variety of decorations. It was built in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary back in the 13th century.
Many tourists come to this small Italian town just to see the famous cathedral of white marble and admire its interior, in particular the ancient mosaics.
History of the Cathedral of Siena
The building of the cathedral, designed by Niccolò Pisano, began in 1215. Originally it was the place of the sanctuary of the goddess Minerva.
In the 14th century a huge dome was installed over which the bell tower was built. Work on the design and creation of the dome was carried out by the famous master Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.
In the 19th century, the cathedral was reconstructed, during which the golden mosaic on the facade of the building was refinished. Currently the cathedral is active and open to the public.
At first sight the Cathedral is striking for its snow-white appearance, which is achieved by the predominant use of marble for decoration. Occasionally red and greenish-black marble is found on the facade. In combination, these colors create a unique look of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.
Photo: Manokhina Natalia / Shutterstock.com
The shape of the cathedral resembles a Latin cross with a prominent transept, and the dome and bell tower loom above the cathedral. The base for the dome is an octagonal base resting on massive columns.
Many of the images that decorate the interior of the cathedral were created by the Italian artist Luigi Mussini.
When you enter the cathedral, you can’t help but notice the amazing mosaic floor, which can be viewed endlessly with undisguised admiration. The floor was created over several centuries, from the 14th century to the 18th century. It consists of 56 panels, made by masters of the Sienese school, mainly in the techniques of graffito and intarsia on marble.
Also notable in the cathedral of Siena is the richly decorated pulpit by Niccolò Pisano and the magnificent statue of John the Baptist by the famous Donatello.
The cathedral also houses the Piccolomini Library, with paintings by Pinturiccio. It was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini, nephew of Pope Pius II, to house the cardinal’s codices and books. The library is culturally important throughout the world.
In addition to the colorful mosaic floor of the cathedral, of particular interest is the strikingly beautiful Baptistery of San Giovanni, which is located on the opposite side of the main facade.
Moreover, a richly decorated staircase leads to the baptistery, which is a pleasure to climb.
The baptistery was built in the 14th century and was originally designed as a crypt. Inside, it is magnificently painted with images on religious themes in the Renaissance style.
Legends of the cathedral
According to tradition, the construction of the cathedral was conceived by the people of Siena as a challenge to their main rival, the Florentines. They wanted to build a cathedral more grandiose and majestic than that of Florence.
The main part of the cathedral was finished in 1263, but later, in the 14th century, the townspeople decided to enlarge it. Thus, the people of Siena hoped to erect a cathedral even larger than St. Peter’s in Rome.
However, as soon as the work began, the bubonic plague struck, killing most of the city’s population. The terrible epidemic prevented work on the New Cathedral from being completed – only the foundations of the walls remained of the conceived New Cathedral.
What to see
Siena’s cathedral is a treasure trove of treasures, including an amazing mosaic floor, a sumptuously decorated pulpit, and the picturesque baptistery of San Giovanni.
Photo: Marco Scisetti / Shutterstock.com
The piazza outside the cathedral is always bustling with tourists, especially in high season. But the doors of this amazing Gothic architectural creation are open to everyone.
Don’t miss a chance to visit the top level of the cathedral, where a series of rooms are located. Here throughout the life of the cathedral almost no one climbed except the employees.
There is also the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. In this museum are attractive ancient stained glass windows and the famous painting “Maesta” by Duccio di Buoniceño.
How to get to the Cathedral
Siena Cathedral is located at Piazza del Duomo. You can get to the cathedral by bus number 050, 054, 590, 645, get off at the Postierla Verso stop.
The Cathedral, Piccolomini Library, Crypt and Baptistery are open until March 31
- Until March 31: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., on holidays from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m;
- From April 1 to October 31: from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., on public holidays from 1.30 to 6 p.m;
- June 27th – July 31st, August 18th – October 18th: from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., on holidays from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m;
- November 1 to March 31: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. on public holidays.
The observation deck on the roof of the cathedral (Porta del Cielo)
- In March: on Saturdays from 10:30 to 17:00 and on Sundays from 13:30 to 17:00 only;
- April 1st to October 31st: Mondays to Saturdays 10.00 to 19.00, Sundays 13.30 to 18.00.
As of 2022, it is possible to visit the Cathedral and other facilities in the Cathedral complex with a combination ticket. Options for such tickets are:
- Opa Si Pass , by which one can see the Cathedral, Piccolomini Library, San Giovanni Baptistery, Crypt, Museo dell’Opera (without climbing to the observation deck);
- Potra del Cielo All Inclusive: includes a visit to all buildings of the Cathedral complex and to the roof of the Cathedral (the tour to the roof is every half hour in groups of 18 people).
Opa Si Pass cost:
- Jan. 1 to June 26, Aug. 1 to Aug. 17, Oct. 19 to Dec. 31, €13;
- From June 27 to July 31, from August 18 to October 18 – 15 Euro.
For children from 7 to 11 years old a reduced price of 2 Euros will be accepted at any time. Admission for children under 6 years old is free.
The Potra del Cielo All Inclusive ticket is available from March 1 to January 6 and costs:
- 20 Euros for adults;
- 5 Euros for children from 7 to 11 years old;
- free for children under 6 years.
For children from 7 to 11 years old the ticket is available in any period for 2 Euros. For children under 6 years old free of charge.
Check the official website of the Cathedral of Siena at www.operaduomo.siena.it for information on schedules and ticket prices.
Tours of Siena
If you take a tour, you don’t have to look for information about where to go and what to see. A guide will take you through all the main sights of the city, tell you about the history and architecture – all that remains is to enjoy the walk and getting to know Siena.
You can choose and book the most interesting tour online on Tripster.
Duomo di Siena
Siena Cathedral is a masterpiece of Romanesque-Gothic architecture, one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe, located in Piazza del Duomo (Piazza del Duomo) of Siena in the southern Tuscan province in Italy. It is located in the old town on top of the ancient hill of Santa Maria (Santa Maria) within the walls of the ancient city in the area of Terzo di Città (Terzo di Città). The Cathedral, whose construction began in the middle of the ⅩⅡ century, has for centuries been the main Catholic church of Siena and a classic example of early Romanesque and Italian Gothic.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, with its unique mosaic floors and elegant bell tower, with works of the best European masters of architecture, sculpture and painting – with few exceptions, natives of Siena – is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At different times, its artistic content was filled by sculptors Niccolò and Giovanni Pisano, Michelangelo and his successor Bernini, the artist Ducho di Buoninsegna, author of the famous “Maesta” and other famous artists.
The temple is adorned with works of many famous masters; we can admire four great frescoes of the Ventura Salimbeni ⅩⅦ century, the Madonna del Voto (Madonna of the Gifts) by Dietisalvi di Speme, the statue of John the Baptist by Donatello, a superb altarpiece by Piccolomini, frescos in the library of La Libreria Piccolomini, by Pinturicchio and his pupils and other masterpieces.
It is known that the building of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta was built on the foundations of an older building dating back Ⅸ centuries, presumably replacing an older temple of Minerva, which was in turn built on the site of an older acropolis. Historians disagree on what date the cathedral was built. The first reliable documents relating to the construction of Duomo di Siena date back to 1226, these are expense receipts for the purchase of building materials. The general construction of the church, begun in the middle of the ⅩⅡ century, was substantially completed in the middle of the ⅩⅢ century. By this time the central hexagonal part of the building and the dome, covered with sheet lead and topped with a copper apple, had been built.
The sculptor Giovanni Pisano, the chief architect of the Cathedral, worked on the lower part of the building from 1284 to 1297. An adherent of the Romanesque style, he made sculptures of philosophers, prophets and sibyls, which in later restorations were replaced by exact copies; their originals are in the Museo dell’Opera. Giovanni Pisano was the son of the fashionable artist Niccolò Pisano, author of the Cathedral pulpit.
The main builder of the upper part between 1299 and 1317 was Camaino di Cresentino, who later built the baptistery of the Cathedral of San Giovanni del Siena. The interior decoration of the church was renewed several times over the centuries; the last major restoration took place in ⅩⅧ century, the floor mosaics were finished by the end of ⅩⅨ century.
Structure and decoration of the Cathedral of Siena
The Duomo is a Latin cross with three naves, a two-nave transept and a hexagonal dome. The main facade of the temple is decorated with human and animal figures, mythological characters and is richly ornamented.
The central nave
The central nave is surrounded by black and white columns, 18 m high, supporting the arch. It is decorated with huge stained-glass windows and the inlaid marble floor. Along the perimeter of the vault of the central aisle on the ledge are 172 plaster busts of pontiffs and 36 busts of emperors. In the central part is a pulpit, a masterpiece of Gothic art made by Niccolò and Giovanni Pisano.
The mosaic floors of the Cathedral of Siena
An important attraction of the Cathedral of Siena are the unique mosaic floors. Work on them lasted for five centuries and was only completed in the ⅩⅨ century. The first pictures were made by filling dark resin outlines cut into the marble, later the technique of opus sectile was added. This type of mosaic, a kind of stone marquetry, was characteristic of Roman medieval mosaics. It used large polished plates of marble, mother of pearl, glass, or semiprecious stones, carefully fitted to one another.
The 56 large pictures of the Cathedral of Siena made of white marble inlaid with colored stone inlays are subordinated to the general idea of the synthesis of ancient philosophy and Christianity. The images include the traditional characters of ancient mythology and history from the creation of the world to Christ. The mosaics are made by the best masters of Siena. The work on the floors was begun by Bernardino di Betto Pinturicchio, he and Paolo Manucci were the authors of the famous Colle della Sapienza, allegory of the hill of wisdom, made in 1505. The entire mosaic floor of the Santa Maria Assunta is visible on feast and weekend, otherwise part of the floor is closed to visitors.
In the right aisle you can find the Museo dell’Opera, a private museum, founded in 1869. Its collections are stored in the rooms formed after the termination of the construction of the Duomo Nuovo, the New Cathedral, whose construction was interrupted after the plague of 1348. The museum dell’Opera has original windows, sculpture, woodcarving from Siena Cathedral, manuscripts, precious religious objects and ancient textiles.
The pearl of the collection is the altarpiece “Maesta” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, made in 1308-1311. On the upper floor is a collection of paintings from the cathedral, including paintings from the Sienese school – the Madonna della Occhi Grossi, Gregorio di Cecco’s polyptych Madonna of Humility with the Saints, and the altarpieces by Matteo di Giovanni.
The famous library, La Libreria Piccolomini, was built in 1492 by Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini – Pope Pius Ⅲ. On the walls and ceiling of the library are beautifully preserved unique frescoes by Pinturicchio, Lorenzo di Mariano, Giovanni Antonio Campano and Francesco Tedeschini, along with a statue of the Cardinal. The library contains a collection of Italian miniatures of the ⅩⅤ century, and in the center of the hall there is a marble composition of the Three Graces.
The cathedral has several chapels, including the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, the Chigi Chapel and the small round chapel of the Madonna del Voto.
The “Gate of Heaven” route allows visitors to ascend a staircase and enter previously inaccessible rooms that offer a breathtaking panorama of the space inside and outside the cathedral. The Duomo di Siena takes visitors down into the Crypt, a dungeon beneath the choir where the ⅩⅢ c wall paintings have been restored. The complex includes the Baptistery, a baptistery of the ⅩⅣ C. area with frescoes on the walls and ceiling and a baptismal font of marble, bronze and enamel.
The Cathedral is open to visitors from 10:30 to 19:00 hours in the summer season and from 10:30 to 17:30 hours in the winter. The ticket office is open from 10:00 a.m. and visitors have half an hour before closing time. A single ticket to visit all the museums of Siena Cathedral and the Museum dell’Opera costs, depending on the season, from 5 to 15 euros. For children aged 7-11 years the ticket costs 2 euros, children under 6 years are admitted for free. Residents of Siena, clergymen and students of the University of Siena are also entitled to free admission.
If you buy a comprehensive ticket for 20 euros you have the additional opportunity to climb to the roof of the temple and the observation deck. Tickets can be purchased in advance on the museum’s official website, book a visit by phone or e-mail, or simply at the ticket office.
Inside the Cathedral of Siena on the Google map view
How to get there
Although Siena has an airport, it is used mainly for private flights. Tourists fly into Pisa or Florence airports, from where Siena can be reached by Tiemme Spa and Marozzi buses or by Trenitalia Regionale and Regionale Veloce trains.
The old part of town in Siena is not accessible by public transport, but you can get here by cab or rent a scooter or bicycle. It’s not too big, so it’s not too difficult to explore its attractions on foot. From the Duomo, the Basilica of St. Dominic or the Torre del Mangia (Eater’s Tower) is no more than a 15-minute walk.