Siena Cathedral

Duomo in Siena is located in a piazza above the Piazza del Campo. It is a great example of Romanic architecture. Construction started in the 12th century and the facade was finished in 1380. This is a unique cathedral example because its axis goes in the north-south direction. Initial idea was to make it the biggest cathedral in the world. By the time they had finished first part of it, they needed more money and therefore had to finish it with slightly changed axis. Under the cathedral there is a baptistery decorated with mosaics done by Donatello and other 15th century sculptors.

The exterior is rather impressive and in case you don’t have a lot of time to spend in the city, you don’t have to go inside to get the sense of its beauty. Both, exterior and interiors are decorated with white and black marble, symbolic colors of Siena. If you plan on visiting Siena, don’t change your mind due to £8 entering fee, it’s worth visiting! Along with the ticket, you get a 3-day pass to baptistery, crypt and Opera museum so you will definitely use it well! :)

Highlights of the Cathedral

In case you visited Florence beforewards, you might be a bit surprised. Rather spartan interior of Florence’s cathedral will probably make you confused when you enter this one and realize you don’t know where to look first. The columns are done in the same black/white marble striped style and above you, you will see busts of Siena’s religious men from the past looking down upon you. Pay attention to the pavement, as the treasure of the cathedral is actually the floor. With various techniques, grand masters created storytelling masterpieces simply by using the art of mosaics. These magnificent renaissance mosaics covering the floors of Siena have been shortly undercovered so the visitors could see the sights created by local artists during the 500 years period of time. (Mosaics are usually covered, so the thousands of yearly visitors passing around wouldn’t destroy them.)

Pavement is made out of 56 panels done by around 40 artists. They represent stories from the Bible and from antic period, done in black, white, red, green and blue marble. In his book ‘Lives of Artists’, Giorgio Vasari writes this is ‘the most beautiful and the most magnificent floor ever made’.

Among the oldests mosaics here is ‘Siena’s she-wolf’’ done around 1373 where you can see she-wolf breastfeeding Romulus and Remus. According to the myth, Romulus founded Rome while Siena was founded by Remus’ son - Sinus. Other panels show the David and Goliath fight, philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle and many other motives. It’s interesting how many of the panels showcase stories of secular people, despite the fact they are made for cathedral’s floor.

Another myth says how Apolon was longing for Sibila, mosaic inspired with her was done by Giovanni di Stefano. According the legend, she rejected him so he cursed her to eternal life but without eternal youth.

Among the other stories there is ‘Moses on Sinai’ where Siena artists Domenico Beccafumi managed to do chiaroscuro effect (light/dark).

For centuries, mosaics were a grand inspiration, not only for visitors but for the artists as well. Cosima, wife of German composer Richard Wagner wrote that he was very touched with mosaics he was moved to tears. Floor is uncovered each year for a short period of time, after the horse’s run Palio di Siena, a medieval run attracting thousands of visitors each year.

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Photos of Siena Cathedral