The Pilgrimage to Siena’s Duomo


Friday i mustered the energy (still a bit faint and achey from the flu) to make the walk into town through the on and off rain.

It was a pilgrimage of sorts as my sole purpose was to see Siena’s famed Duomo! Despite looking quite imposing and ominous in admist the gloomy weather,

the inside was much cozier and more intimate than i had expected, probably due to the incredible affect that the black and white marble creates

The exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the façade. Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, etiologically linked to black and white horses of the legendary city’s founders, Senius and Aschius.

The Cathedral of Siena (Italian: Duomo di Siena), dedicated from its earliest days as a Roman Catholic Marian church and now to Santa Maria Assunta (Most Holy Mary of Assumption), is a medieval church in Siena, was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projecting transept, a dome and a bell tower. The dome rises from an octagonal base with supporting columns.

The stain glass window in the choir was made in 1288 to the designs of Duccio and is one of the earliest remaining examples of Italian stained glass. I preferred the rich colours of the round stained-glass window in the façade which dates from 1549 and is dedicated to Mary (although the original is in the Cathedrals Museum which we saw the following day)

With the help of the audioguide (particularly enjoyable as a guide as you can turn it on and off and change topics whenever you like!) i sat in various positions admiring the countless ornate details and patterns and unique quirks of the black and white cathedral. Such quirks include the 2 big wooden poles attached to the marble columns. The story goes that they were standards carried into battle against the Florentines at Montespertoli in 1260. The Sienese placed them in the cathedral as a votive offering because they won the battle, against the MUCH larger and stronger forces of Florence. (this war was revenge for when the Florentines besieged Siena and catapulted dung and donkeys over its walls!). Also a bit quirky -in my opinion- are the 172 plaster busts of popes that line the walls surrounding the seating area.

It’s as if they are there to watch and make sure no-one is naughty during mass!

And who could forget the floor – Ahhhhhhhhhhhh the floor! The inlaid marble mosaic floor is one of the most ornate of its kind in Italy, covering the whole floor of the cathedral. This undertaking went on from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, and about forty artists made their contribution. The floor consists of 56 panels in different sizes. Most have a rectangular shape, but the later ones in the transept are hexagons or rhombuses. They represent the sibyls, scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues.

Most are still in their original state but to preserve them as such they are generally covered and therefore protected from the tens of thousands of feet that make their way into the Duomo each year. The uncovered floor can only be seen for a period of six to ten weeks each year, generally around the month of September. The rest of the year, only a few are on display but these few are enough to take anyones breath away

It is without doubt a stunning place that seems to continue to endlessly unfold and reveal more and more as your let your eyes wander.

Just off to the left of the main hall was one of my personal highlights of the experience – the Piccolomini library (just saying the name brings a smile to my face). It houses the most precious illuminated choir books i have laid eyes on

and the walls and ceilings are covered in frescoes painted by the Umbrian Bernardino di betto, called Pinturicchio. The frescoes tell the story of the life of Siena’s favourite son, cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who eventually became Pope Pius II. He was the uncle of cardinal Francesco Piccolomini Todeschini (then archbishop of Siena and the future pope Pius III), who commissioned this library in 1492 as a repository of the books and the manuscript collection of his uncle. The visual impact of these very colourful, and technically incredible frescoes is stunning.

Unrelated to religious symbolism and more of a dedication to the incredible collection of books Pius collected, the cieling is covered with painted panels of mythological subjects.

In the centre of the rooms there is a lovely sculpture of the 3 graces, a Roman copy of a Greek original.

It just plain amazing a because there is just one room like this you can properly appreciate it (unlike the Vatican Museums where my senses were so overwhelmed i felt my head were about to explode)

I even loved the terra cotta tiled floor of crescent moons!

Bedazzled by it all and now drained of mental aswell as physical energy we went out and just after existing it began to POUR down. Threatening booms of thunder echoed throughout the walled city so we quickly hurried into the shelter of a cosy looking trattoria called, “La Taverna Del Capitano Di Tre Mori”

It happened to be an absolute gem, with a great cosy atmosphere, delicious food and i must say – a VERY handsome set of waiters. If your ever in Siena i definitely recommend it (Via Del Capitano, 6/8 -right near the Duomo- 53100 Siena Tel. 0577 288094)

Nice and full by the time the rain had finally subsided, we stepped out onto the puddle filled streets and snapped some cool photos of the reflections

as we journeyed home

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Pilgrimage to Siena’s Duomo

  1. This is my favourite church in Italy! Thanks for the photos. I have been several times, but never enough.

  2. margaretbiggs

    What I have seen is just beautiful.The room with the 3 graces, the floors , everything.I hope you are feeling better. Getting wet would,nt have helped, but how could you miss it. My love always, Margoo xxxx

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