The Tuscan town of Siena is one of my favorite places to visit in Italy. It is a beautiful hilltop city with a history that goes back to the Etruscans, around 600 BCE. It sits about 63 Km (38 miles) south of Florence, about a one hour drive, or 2.5 hour train ride. Trains now run directly from Florence to Siena, but they have to pass through Empoli, explaining the longer time. The trip is very reasonably priced, at around € 10 each way. One great thing I found on this trip is that Italy has upgraded its smaller train stations, so all the platforms now have elevator service, a boon for those who have trouble with stairs or are bringing significant luggage.
My first full day in Siena came with a forecast of strong rain showers, so I planned several indoor explorations. I was staying at the Hotel I Tetti di Siena, which was just off of Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, one of the main entrances to the old city. From there it is a walk of about 700 m (0.43 miles) to the Duomo, Siena’s main cathedral. I walked first along Via dei Termini. It is a smaller street that parallels Bianchi di Sopra, one of Siena’s main shopping streets. It is quieter, and lined with stores that cater to the people who live in the city full time.
Passing through the Piazza Independenzi, I walked along via Diacceto to the Duomo. Along the way, it opened up for a great view across a small valley to the Basilica di San Domenico.
|Basilica di San Domenico
Construction of Siena’s Duomo began in the 12th century, and it was completed around 1263 CE. Its facade is covered in stripes of black and white marble, the city’s colors. For €13 you can purchase a ticket that offers entrance to the Duomo, Baptistry, Crypt, and Museo di Opera della Metropolitana, where many of the historic works from the Duomo now reside.
For €20 you get all of that, PLUS a tour of the Porto di Cielo (Gate of Heaven). This is the upper level of church. A climb of 80 steps up a tight, winding staircase, takes you to the top of building. From there you have views of main nave and altar of the church, close-ups of the statues that line the upper level of the nave, and amazing views out over the city of Siena.
|Tools of the trade
|Unfinished transpt, contructed in the 1300's
The Duomo has many beautiful paintings, floor mosaics, and statues lining the nave, but its real draw for me are its chapels.
The Chigi Chapel is near the altar, along the right transept. Above the altar in the chapel hangs the Madonna di Voto, a 13th century painting, credited to followers of Guido da Siena.
|Madonna di Voto
Along the opposite side of the church is the Chapel of St. John the Baptist. This features a statue of St. John by Donatello. It is surrounded by eight frescos painted by Alberto Aringhieri.
|St. John the Baptist by Donatello
Lastly, there is the Piccolomini Library. This houses illustrated choir books, and its walls are covered with frescos painted by Pinturicchio. The frescos were commissioned by Pope Pius III, and depict the life of his uncle, Pope Pius II, both of whom were from Siena. In the center of the library stands a 19th century statue by Luigi Bardi, of The Three Graces. It is a copy of a Roman statue, based on ancient Greek statues of the same theme.
|The Three Graces
This was my third visit to Siena, but it was the first time that I had taken the time to visit the Duomo. It is a beautiful church, and worth a stop. But rain had started to fall by the end of this visit. Next week I will show you some of the museums I went to after lunch, along with some photos of my walk in the rain.