Siena Cathedral

Black and white are the colors of the city of Siena, located about 40 miles south of Florence, and the Siena Duomo displays them both inside and out, including in the Siena Cathedral campanile, or bell tower.. From the exterior, it is a grandiose confection of gleaming white marble and splendid Gothic embellishment along the lines of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

The history of the construction of the Cathedral in Siena spans the years 1215 and 1263. It was designed in part by the sculptor Nicola Pisano, who carved the magnificent pulpit that sits in both the Pisa and Siena Baptisteries. The lower façade of the Siena Cathedral was designed by his son. The upper half of the Siena Duomo was completed sometime in the 1500s, during which time the powerful and wealthy of the town made plans to expand the church into something that would rival St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The scourge of the Black Death intervened in these grandiose plans, and today only the partial walls of what was to be called the New Cathedral (or Duomo Nuovo) stand as a testament to this ambition. Restoration in the nineteenth century saw the addition of mosaics inlaid with gold on the west façade. These were created by artists from Venice. In 1958, the wonderful Siena Duomo central bronze door was made by Enrico Manfrini, whose work appeared in Verona and many other cities after the damage caused during World War II.

It is a bit disorienting to walk into this cathedral in Siena for the first time. The numerous columns are striped in the black and white colors of the city and elaborate Gothic decoration appears everywhere. Some of these are masterpieces, meaning a virtual Siena Cathedral Museum awaits you once you get oriented. Here you will see the remarkable octagonal Nicola Pisano pulpit that was carved after and outshines his Pisa pulpit. His son Giovanni executed some of the pulpit, but most of the work and the genius behind it is the elder’s. This is one of the masterpiece attractions in the cathedral.

The works of the great sculptor Donatello appears in Florence, Padua, Venice, and as far away as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. His statue of poignantly emaciated John the Baptist stands in the Siena Cathedral transept. Marble panels reveal the entire life of Christ, from Annunciation to Crucifixion and Last Judgment.

More of the Siena Cathedral Museum treasures await you in the Piccolomini (a wealthy Siena family prominent in central Italy that contributed two popes to the history of the country) Library, which is accessed from the nave. Beautiful frescoes, created by Piccolomini who assisted Michelangelo with the Sistine Chapel, adorn the walls. There is also an impressive vault, and carved display cases. Even traces of Greece can be found in the lovely sculpture of the Three Graces that is an ancient copy of a Hellenistic design.

The Cathedral in Siena is free except during special religious events. There is a nominal fee for entrance to the library. No flash photography is allowed.

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