Siena Duomo or Siena Cathedral is an Art Lover’s Paradise on Earth:
Italy has so many beautiful and historic churches and duomos that sometimes visitors do get cathedraled out on their Italian holidays. But no matter how weary you are in Siena, do not miss out on the Siena Duomo because Siena’s medieval cathedral is truly something special.
The Siena Duomo, set on the highest point in the city, is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the area. The cathedral was originally built between 1215 to 1263, a construction period spanning over 200 years. Much of the interior decorations and sculptures were added after the original construction. Many famous Sienese craftsmen, builders and artists were involved in the building and decoration of the duomo. Of particular mention are Gothic master Nicola Pisano who created the pulpit and his son, Giovanni who did the plans for the lower half of the West Facade in 1285.
During the early 14th century when Siena enjoyed great wealth and power, a massive expansion of the duomo was planned. The new and giant duomo would have been bigger than St. Peters, but the Black Death swept through Siena in 1348 and killed a large portion of its population. “Il Facciatone”, the new and incomplete extension shows just how huge the duomo would have been had it been completed. You can go to the top of the structure for a birds-eye view of Siena.
What to See in the Siena Duomo
The Siena Duomo is an art lover’s paradise on earth, but you don’t need to be an art aficionado to appreciate the beauty of this cathedral. There is plenty to see here.
The first time that I visited Siena Duomo many years ago, it’s striking campanile made a lasting impression on me. The unique black and white marble reflect the colours of Siena. If you look at the square tower, you’ll see that each tier of the bell tower has one more window than the tier below, an interesting design feature by its architect.
The West Facade, designed by master architect, Giovanni Pisano (son of Nicola Pisano), was completed between 1285 and 1297. Although the style of the facade was altered by others over the years, many of the statues were those designed by Giovanni Pisano. If you take a look through your camera lens, you’ll see that there are quite a lot of statues and they depict philosophers, prophets, sibyls and a range of animals. Incidentally, all the statues were replaced by replicas in 1960 and the originals are on display in the Museo dell’Opera. Another notable feature of the West Facade is the frieze over the central portal. The triangular mosaics depict the Presentation of Mary at the Temple, the Coronation of the Virgin, and a Nativity scene.
The first thing you’ll notice on entering the Duomo is the dazzling array of black and white marble striped columns. A large rose window is surrounded by impressive busts and carvings with an angel sculpture at the top.
One of the highlights of the interior is the octagonal Gothic pulpit created by Nicola Pisano from 1265-68. Pisano’s pulpit in the Pisa Baptistery impressed the Master in charge of Siena Cathedral works and he was brought to Siena to create the Siena Duomo pulpit.
Even the floors are works of art, covered in inlaid mosaics that depict stories from the Bible and other works of mythology. There are 56 etched and inlaid marble panels created from 1372 to 1547. The subjects include sibyls, scenes from Sienese history, and biblical scenes. We were lucky to be here in September as these mosaics are only uncovered for about ten weeks in the year, usually between August and October.
Siena Duomo’s precious works of art include works by Donatello, Bernini, Michelangelo and many others. In all there are just too many exquisite features and artworks to mention. Art lovers could spend a whole day enjoying Siena cathedral, but even if you only have a short time here, the striking Siena Duomo will most certainly impress.
Piazza del Duomo