Witness one of the most impressive landmarks in Italy at the Siena Cathedral. With a combination of Gothic and Romanesque architecture, and an ornate interior, the cathedral of Siena is one of the most important treasures in the city.
Officially the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Cathedral of Siena is a remarkable Gothic building and one of the most fascinating cathedrals in Italy.
Completed in 1348, the greenish-black and white stripes which adorn both the facade and the interior are the symbol of Siena. Each face of the cathedral has distinct artwork, but the west face is by far the most impressive. Three portals and a bronze sun make a dramatic scene framing the main entrance to the cathedral.
The striking interior has several important works of art including stained-glass windows, a hexagonal dome and an intricately sculptured pulpit.
One of the highlights of the cathedral is the inlaid marble mosaic floor which is only displayed for 3 months of the year.
Here is all you need to know about visiting the Duomo di Siena including the key highlights and information on buying tickets.
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THE SIENA CATHEDRAL COMPLEX
The Cathedral of Siena complex is made up of several sites including the interior of the cathedral, a guided walking tour of the roof and several museums. Here are all the main attractions to see at the cathedral.
1 – SIENA CATHEDRAL FACADE
The façade of the cathedral dominates the medieval city of Siena. Alternating layers of black and white marble are interrupted with intricate statues and grand bronze doors.
The upper façades are covered in brilliant golden mosaics.
The exterior is free to admire from the Piazza del Duomo where you’ll find the best vantage points to photograph this gothic masterpiece.
2 – SIENA CATHEDRAL INTERIOR
Unlike the Florence cathedral, the interior of the cathedral of Siena is a masterpiece. Even after 3 visits, we are still blown away by the scale and exquisite decoration of this beautiful building. It’s a magnificent combination of light and dark, with black and white pillars rising to star-studded ceilings.
The interior of the cathedral contains works by Donatello, Bernini, and Michelangelo, as well as an intricately carved pulpit by Nicola Pisano.
For just three months of the year (July and mid-Aug to mid-Oct), the marble mosaic inlay floors of the Duomo are uncovered. The 45 floor panels were laid from the 14th to 16th centuries and recount tales of the Old Testament. They are some of the most intricate inlaid floors in Italy, and it’s worth trying to align your visit to Siena to see them.
3 – GATES OF HEAVEN (PORTA DEL CIELO)
While the cathedral looks amazing from the ground, the views are even better from above. The 25-minute Gate of Heaven tour (Porta del Cielo) takes you up to the roof for stunning views over the city.
On the way up, the tour explores the backbone of the church, passing through rooms that were inaccessible to the public for centuries.
The highlight is the two walkways suspended high above the nave of the church. The view through the ornate windows provide a magical view of the ornate interior below, capturing one of the unmissable things to do in Siena.
4 – MUSEO DELL’OPERA
The Cathedral’s Museum (Museo dell-opera del Duomo) is today housed in the unfinished nave of a new cathedral which was never completed.
The museum contains a range of works of art including the cathedral’s original statues delicately lit by a large circular stained glass window made in 1287.
The highlight is the Maestá of Duccio; an altarpiece of forty-three small scenes which tell the stories of the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ. It marks the beginning of the transition from Byzantine art towards the more realistic representation popular in the Renaissance.
5 – FACCIATONE VIEWPOINT & UNFINISHED FACADE
In 1339 a motion was approved to extend Siena Cathedral. However, building works halted in 1348 due to the economic recession triggered by the Black Death.
Most of the new cathedral was demolished except for the facade which still stands to this day.
From the second floor of the museum, a staircase winds up to the top of the unfinished nave. A narrow ledge (Panorama dal Facciatone) running along the top of the facade offers wonderful views over the city and the rest of the duomo.
The staircase consists of 131 tight spiral stairs and there’s not a lot of space at the top, but it’s still one of the best things to do in Siena.
6 – PICCOLOMINI LIBRARY
The Piccolomini Library was commissioned around 1492 to honour the memory of Aeneas Dilvius Piccolomini, also known as Pope Pius II. It contains a rich collection of books and manuscripts that the pope collected over his lifetime.
Beautiful frescos line the walls of the library as a celebration of the life and works of the pope. With a combination of landscapes, mystical imagery and religious ceremony, the frescoes are a beautiful treasure in the cathedral of Siena.
The Picolomini Library is a classic example of Renaissance symbolism which combined scholarship with artistic expression.
7 – BAPTISTERY OF SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA
The Baptistery was built in the 14th century and contains a wealth of frescoes surrounding a grand marble, bronze, and enamel baptismal font.
The ceiling vaults represent the 12 articles of Christian faith and are considered some of the best examples of Sienese art anywhere.
The magnificent marble baptismal font was created by the best Sienese sculptures of the time through personal contributions between 1417 and 1431.
Don’t miss the six gilded bronze panels on the font telling the story of John the Baptist.
8 – THE CRYPT
The Crypt was only excavated in 1999 and contains some of the most important archaeological finds from the city. Frescoes from the 12th and 13th centuries are preserved in vibrant colour along with decorated pillars and geometric stone features.
You can also explore the structure of the cathedral dating back to the 12th century including highly decorated structural elements and the foundations of the church.
In some areas, the stonewalling which would have made up the original 12th-century building is still visible.
9 – ORATORY OF SAN BERNARDINO
The Oratory of San Bernardino houses Sienese paintings from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Set across several adjacent rooms, the collection contains the Diocesan Museum of Religious Art as well as one of the best collections of Sienese artworks in the city.
The simple brick facade includes a travertine portal dating back to 1574 and the symbol of St Bernardino – a sun with 12 rays.
Inside, the most important pieces in the collection are in the upper oratory chapel which contains ornate frescoes by several prominent Sienese artists.
The Oratory of San Bernardino is a 10-minute walk from the Siena Cathedral.
HOW TO BUY SIENA CATHEDRAL TICKETS
We strongly advise you to book tickets for the Siena Cathedral online, several days before getting to Siena. There are 2 types of tickets you can purchase to see all the sites at the Cathedral.
OPA SI PASS
The OPA Si Pass provides access to all the museums at the cathedral (except the Gate of Heaven) The ticket is valid for 3 days from the date of purchase. The museums included in the ticket are –
- The Cathedral Interior – Entry only, tours not included.
- The Museo dell’Opera (The Museum) – Entry plus access to the Panorama dal Facciatone.
- Piccolomini Library
- Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista
- The Crypt
- Oratory of San Bernardino
Purchase your Opa Si Pass online before your visit.
GATE OF HEAVEN
The Gate of Heaven (Porta del Cielo) ticket includes everything at the cathedral, which is the pass we recommend purchasing.
To buy this ticket, you need to select an entrance time which will be the beginning of the Gate of Heaven tour. The tour starts from inside the main entrance to the duomo, so arrive just before your selected timeslot and they will usher you into a little holding pen inside the cathedral.
At the end of the tour, you are left inside the duomo to explore the interior of the cathedral. Once you are finished inside, you can continue on to the museum, crypt, baptistery and the remaining sites at your leisure. Allow 3 hours to see everything.
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