The Duomo in Siena lies in a piazza above the Piazza del Campo, a great Gothic building filled with treasures by Pisano, Donatello and Michelangelo as well as frescoes by Pinturicchio.
The exterior of the cathedral is pretty impressive, and if you don't have a lot of time in Siena, you might not even go inside and just enjoy the outside. Built between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure, the cathedral is in the form of a Latin cross with a slight projecting dome and bell tower. The exterior and interiors are decorated in white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, black and white being the symbolic colors of Siena.
If you have time to visit the cathedral, you might be tempted to skip it once you realize you have to pay to get in... but it is certainly worth it and, with the pass, it's actually a great value! The pass gets you into the cathedral as well as the baptistery, crypt and Opera museum and is valid for 3 days so it most definitely worth the 10 euros!
What's that wall?
The cathedral that you see today was supposed to have been enlarged – you can see how much larger it was supposed to be by that wall that sticks out to the right of the church, as you head toward the ticket office. Work started to enlarge the church in the early 14th century but, in 1348, the Black Plague swept through the city and decimated its population. Work was stopped and was never restarted. The wall now provides a great platform to climb up to (access is through the Museo dell'Opera) and enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of Siena, including the nearby Piazza del Campo.
The Cathedral's Treasures
If you're visiting Siena after having visited Florence and its cathedral, you're in for a shock! While Florence's cathedral is immense and its cupola impressive, its interior is pretty spartan in comparison. In Siena, on the other hand, you don't know where to look. The columns continue the white/black marble striped motif and, if you look up, there are busts of past religious men of Siena looking down upon you. I recommend you take a special look at the pavement: the most impressive and beautiful of the treasures the cathedral holds are on the floor, where the pavement is decorated with the art of mosaics (using various techniques) to create storytelling masterpieces.
The 56 etched and inlaid marble panels were designed by 40 of leading artists between 1369 and 1547, all from Siena except for Bernardino di Betto, known as Pinturicchio who was Umbrian. Completion of the designs took six centuries, the last ones finished in the 1800s. Today, the mosaic panels in the nave and aisles are usually uncovered although protected from passing feet by barriers, but the most precious ones are under the apse and in the transepts and these are generally protected by special flooring since this is where people sit for mass; these are only uncovered in honor of the Palio and a pair of months during the year, often in September and October.
In the Duomo's center, the only floor panel that is usually visible is in the left transept which is Matteo di Giovanni's fantastic 1481 Massacre of the Innocents (a theme with which the painter was obsessed, leaving us disturbing paintings of it in Siena in both the Palazzo Pubblico and in Santa Maria dei Servi).
The oldest designs are those in the center near the entrance - the Wheel of Fortune and the Sienese Wolf Surrounded by Symbols of Allied Cities, which dates back to 1369 but which we know have been maintained and redone throughout the centuries when it wasn't customary to protect them. Some of them have parts that are pretty worn out. Each panel has its own story - we invite you to look all around the cathedral and find the ones that appeal to you the most and then go find out about the story in the panel by buying one of the small guides in the bookshop dedicated to the pavement.
Don't miss St. John the Baptist by Donatello to the right after the Piccolomini Library, the rose window by Duccio di Buoninsegna, the marble pulpit by Nicola Pisano.
Works that belonged in the Cathedral
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Presentation at the Temple, today in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Pietro Lorenzetti, Birth of the Virgin, today in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo di Siena
Simone Martini e Lippo Memmi, Annunziation among the Saints Ansano and Margherita, today in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Maestà del Duomo di Siena, parts in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo di Siena as well as other museums
Donatello, Madonna of Forgiveness, today in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo di Siena
The Piccolomini Library
The other major treasure in the cathedral - there are too many to cite all - is the Piccolomini Library. What's a library doing in a cathedral? We've got a whole article dedicated to the Piccolomini Library so you can discover its history!
Info on Tickets
You can buy your tickets ahead of time through the OPA Call Center by calling +39 0577 286300. Operators are available in all languages to help you book your tickets, even just one day before your visit - they'll be able to help you choose the best tickets for your visit to Siena!
For example, a great deal is to buy the OPA Si Pass, an all-inclusive ticket, a "Siena pass", 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 at the cost of € 12,00 from from March 1- October 31 and € 8 from November 1 - February 28. Children under 11 enter the cathedral free.