Taking advantage of a sunny and spring-like weather, even if we are well into the autumn, we decided to take a daily tour in Siena, one of the most beautiful cities of Tuscany. We knew that the mosaic floor of the Cathedral of Siena, open only a few months a year, was still uncovered and we could not miss the opportunity to admire it.
In the early morning, we left my hometown Cecina on the Etruscan Coast, direct to Siena. We drove across one of the most beautiful areas of Tuscany, along a panoramic county road in the middle of rolling hills passing through Volterra and San Gimignano.
A lonely tree in the middle of the Tuscan Countryside
Once arrived, a stunning panorama of the Basilica of San Domenico, the Cathedral of Siena and the red roof of old buildings, welcomed us into the city. Right after, walking through the center we reached the famous Piazza del Campo. Personally, even if I visited Siena several times, the view of this square leaves breathless every time. I stared at this beauty for at least five minutes admiring its particular shell shape, the Torre del Mangia and the Palazzo Pubblico (the town hall).
Piazza del Campo
A traditional tuscan lunch in Siena
Before the visit to the cathedral, we decided that was time for lunch. We chose a typical restaurant attracted by the big hams hung on the ceiling and by the traditional Tuscan menu full of delicacies. We could not choose a better place where resting and enjoying great food: Pici pasta with duck ragout, Tuscan cured meats, a delicious dish of Lampredotto with green parsley and red chili sauce, accompanied with a wicker red wine bottle. As a dessert, we got a mousse of ricotta cheese and chocolate Ricciarelli biscuits (a traditional cookie of Siena). It was something of extraordinary for my taste.
The Complex of the Cathedral of Siena
The historical and artistic heritage of the complex of the Cathedral of Siena is managed by the “Opera della Metropolitana di Siena” (OPA), one of the most ancient Italian and European Institution. We got the “OPA SI Pass all inclusive” to visit all monuments. After having experienced it, we definitely recommend this ticket because the visit of the whole complex is must-do to add to your bucket list when visiting Tuscany. For more info and tickets, visit the operaduomo website.
The Cathedral of Siena, completed in 1263 is dedicated to the Holy Mary of the Assumption and is something beautiful. When I saw it, my first thought was: “how is possible to build such a wonderful monument!”. The facade is one of the most fascinating of all Italy and combines different styles: French Gothic, Tuscan Romanesque, and classical architecture. While the bell tower is made of black and white marble stripes (the colors of Siena).
The facade of Cathedral of Siena
The Gate of Heaven
The visit of the Cathedral of Siena started from the Gate of Heaven. We climbed the stone spiral staircases reaching the starry vaults. Then we walked above the holy temple along rooms that have been off-limits for centuries. From the high ground, we enjoyed the views of the incredible interiors and the external panorama of the city roofs.
The starry vault
The mosaic floor and the interiors
The Cathedral of Siena, right inside, is huge. There are big columns in black and white marble, 172 carved Pope faces, a pulpit made in marble of Carrara, many works of art of Donatello, Bernini, and Michelangelo, and a marvelous starry vault. With no doubt, the most incredible thing is the marble mosaic floor. It consists of 56 panels, made by Sienese artists, representing scenes from Old Testament and allegories. It can be seen only a few weeks each year, usually in September and October. We were so happy to have had the opportunity to experience such a great beauty of the Tuscan art. This year 2018 the floor is visible in a brand new glittering way from 27 June to 31 July and from 18 August to 28 October. Original chromatic effects will enlight the marble carpet making it even more wonderful.
The Tuscan painter and architect Giorgio Vasari says about the floor:
The most beautiful, largest and most magnificent, that ever was made
The mosaic floor
Inside the cathedral of Siena, there is another little jewel: the Piccolomini Library with its wonderful decorations made by the Umbrian painter Pinturicchio. The library was created to contain books and codex of the cardinal Francesco Tedeschini Piccolomini. He was the nephew of Pope Pius II.
Discovered for the first time only in 1999, hidden under rubble heaps, the crypt shows many paintings of thirteen century representing scenes from the Old and New Testament. Especially the ones concerning three moments of the Passion of Christ (the Crucifixion, the Deposition from the cross and the Entombment) captured our attention. We appreciated also the good preservation of the frescoes that still present really bright colors and the rests of the ancient columns and capitals.
Baptistery of San Giovanni
Climbing down the marble stairs on the right side of the Cathedral of Siena, we reached the parish church of San Giovanni Battista. Built below the cathedral, it is famous and mentioned in every book of the history of the art for the “Baptismal Font”. It represents, in six panels, the stories of San Giovanni according to Gospels, and it has a big importance for the greatest sculptors of Renaissance.
The Piccolomini Library, the Baptistery facade and the Crypt
Panorama from the roof of the Facciatone
On 1339, the local Grand Council of the Bell voted the enlargement of the cathedral of Siena, but less than twenty years later, the construction was definitely abandoned due to the Black Death of 1348 and to the riskiness of some portions of the new building. The rest of the facade of the unfinished “Duomo Nuovo”, nowadays called Facciatone, is one of the best lookouts of city and surroundings.
The Facciatone and the moon
Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo
Our visit to the complex of the cathedral of Siena runs out with the oldest private museum of Italy. The museum stores many pieces of art that were part of the façade of the Duomo. We appreciated the big stained glass window by Duccio di Buoninsegna at the end of the aisle with all the marble statues of ancient Prophets, Philosophers, and Sibyls on both sides.
The stained glass window of the Museo dell’Opera
Before to leave the city, we had a quick look at the talking fountain of Fonte Branda. It has medieval origins and is one of the most ancient water fountains in Siena. Even the poet Dante Alighieri talk about the fountain in the Inferno of the Divine Comedy.
On the way back home, in the dark of the countryside, we bumped into a big lonely sculpture round shaped. Only the light of the moon illuminated the strange red installation. We immediately stopped the car and, equipped with our Reflex and tripod, took the last and suggestive picture of this nice day across Tuscany, visiting the Cathedral of Siena and other beauties of our region.