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The Piccolomini Library, a Treasure within a Treasure

Where you'll find more than black and white in Siena

So you've stepped into the cathedral and need a few moments to accustom yourself to the richness of the interiors. From the amazing, works of art made in the pavements to the black and white marble columns, you don't really know where to start. Take one piece at a time and work yourself halfway into the cathedral, then head to your left to the Piccolomini Library.

If you're wondering what a library is doing within the Siena Duomo, we first have to start off explaining the importance of the Piccolomini name in Siena. You've likely already seen it both in Siena and in the area, particularly if you've also visited Pienza in the Val d'Orcia which is where the family was from.

Scene of Enea Silvio Piccolomini's life in frescoes in background

Enea Silvio Piccolomini served as mediator in trying to reconcile Emperor Frederick III with the papal state while helping arrange the emperor's marriage to Eleonora of Aragon as well as his coronation in Rome. He was instrumental in making all this come about: he was rewarded by becoming the Bishop of Trieste in 1447 and later, the Bishop of Siena in 1450. Very popular and having achieved much success in Rome, he became cardinal in 1456 and, just two years later, was elected as Pope Pius II.

So you might see he was a might powerful person and why he has this space in the cathedral dedicated to him and, as a consequence, to the family. The Library itself was built by Pope Pius II's nephew, also a cardinal who also later became Pope Pius III (seeing a trend here? Who knows how those conclave or Holy Spirit worked back then...), the library was in memory of his uncle and to conserve the rich collection of manuscripts he had lovingly collected.

Head to the library not so much to admire the manuscripts since the collections never really made it here, even if several beautiful, hand designed volumes are set out, but to admire the frescoes by Pinturicchio and his workshop, which included the young Raffaello Sanzio. Admire the colors, the luxuriously dressed figures and detail of each participant, the fine indoor settings, detailed landscapes and clothes. If you're an art student or aficionado, admire the mastery of perspective in the painted columns that frame each scene and in the backgrounds. The walls are divided into 10 scenes representing various important stages in the life of Pope Pius II, including the ones mentioned above: as ambassador to European courts, paying homage to the new Emperor and then to the ailing Pope, presenting Eleonora to the Emperor Frederick III (above), becoming cardinal and then pope, and several others.

Scenes of Enea Silvio Piccolomini's life

The ceiling itself offers another impressive view with its main rectangle and half voltas painted in blue, red and gold with grotesque designs. The family stem is obviously at the center - take a look, if you search for the half moon symbols across the room and in the frescoes you'll start seeing them everywhere!

In the middle of the room, take a few moments to admire the beautiful copy of The Three Graces from Roman times, based on the more ancient original that dates back to the Hellenistic period (4th-2th century BC)!

The colorful ceiling in the Piccolomini Library

Info on Tickets

You can buy your tickets ahead of time through the OPA Call Center. Operators are available in all languages to help you book your tickets, even just one day before your visit  and can help you choose the best tickets for your visit to Siena.

A great deal is to buy the OPA Si Pass, an all-inclusive ticket valid for 3 days that allows access to the Cathedral and the Piccolomini Library, the Museo dell'Opera, Baptistery, Crypt, Oratory of San Bernardino and Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art.

You can buy the OPA Si Pass directly online through our partner right now by checking your date below! If you prefer to just book the Duomo and Piccolomini Library ticket, you can buy the ticket here.


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Author: Lourdes Flores

I'm from California but have called Florence my home for over a decade. I love to explore Italy; it is a lot of fun to try to see everything like I'm seeing it for the first time, keeping you, our readers, always in mind. I enjoy sharing what I know and helping others as they make their travel plans for Tuscany through our Forum. If you have itinerary-related questions, please post them there!


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