History and information, Siena Cathedral (Duomo) and surrounding complex

Visitor and background information for Siena Cathedral complex.

This is tickitaly.com's information page for Siena Cathedral and the surrounding complex - our ticket booking page is here.

The truly dazzling medieval masterpiece of Siena Cathedral - Cathedrale di Santa Maria - aka the Duomo dominates the skyline of ancient Siena, hovering above the city with its striped marble bell tower visible from miles around. However, large as it is, the wealthy folk of Siena once had very grand designs indeed and what is visible today was intended to be just the transept of a church that would go on to surpass St Peter's in Rome. Political turmoil and the Plague put paid to these plans - the Black Death wiped out 80 percent of Siena's population.

Nowadays the germ of this idea can be seen in the Facciatone (literally 'big facade') of the Duomo Nuovo ('new cathedral'), the seemingly tacked-on free standing wall/arch to the south of the cathedral. Now modified to form the Cathedral Museum, the panoramic terrace atop the Duomo Nuovo forms the best observation deck of Siena that you could wish for (access is included in your pass).

(You can see a couple of short videos of the cathedral on our blog.)

Some images of the Siena Cathedral complex

The cathedral was begun in the 12th century, transformed during the 13th and 14th centuries into a glorious example of Italian Gothic, a bejewelled treasure house of Gothic art (although the gilded mosaics of the facade are part of an extensive nineteenth century restoration). The (Romanesque style) banding of black and white marble, both on the exterior and interior, is a nod to Siena's traditional colours, the black and white of the horses belonging to Siena's legendary founders, Senius and Aschius, sons both of Remus.

The interior is amazingly ornate, with no surface left undecorated - the ceiling alone has 172 popes gazing down at you. There are countless works of art with notable heavy-hitters including Donatello, Duccio di Buoningegna, Giovanni and Nicola Pisano, Michelangelo, Pinturicchio, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Jacopo della Quercia. Must-sees include the baptismal font, the frescoes in the Piccolomini Library, Donatello's bronze of St John the Baptist, Pisano's pulpit and, of course, the marble floor.

The floor, pavement, is composed of wonderfully decorated marble panels, 56 of them in a mix of inlay and etching work, created between 1372 to 1547, one of the most ornate examples in Italy. Those in the nave and aisles are usually on show, albeit roped off, but those lining the transepts and apse are usually covered for protection apart from at Palio time. Typically they are on show for 10 or so weeks every year, usually for the whole of September.

Your pass also lets you into the baptistry with its frescoed vaults as well as down into the wonderfully decorated crypt with its cycle of 13th century frescoes; the crypt was discovered by accident as a result of some restoration works begun in 1999.

if visitng, please remember that this is very much a working church and you'll need to be dressed 'respectfully', in clothes that do not leave your shoulders/arms or lower legs bare. No shorts, short trousers above the knee, short skirts, sleeveless shirts or bare shoulders.

The cathedral museum, founded in 1869, is very much worth a visit, home as it is to many of the original cathedral decorations - many of the works on the facade are reproductions of the originals.

Finally, the pass also covers entrance to the museum at the nearby Oratory of San Bernardino, although those wishing to visit between November and February will need to make a request for opening.

Anyway, there you are, a very brief introduction to this card and the unlocking of this beautiful medieval city that it provides. As a very rough indicator you should reckon on a couple of hours to explore all that is covered.

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