Duomo di Siena is one of the most outstanding examples of a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral in Italy
Siena Cathedral may not rank among the largest of the many magnificent cathedrals in Tuscany or Italy as a whole. But the overwhelmingly ornate exterior and the equally stunning interior more than compensate for any lack of scale. The Italian Gothic-style main façade of white and pink marble is an amazingly intricate array of sculptures of patriarchs, allegorical figures, biblical scenes, mythical animals and acanthus scrolls; all masterfully arranged and held together by the upward pointing geometrical design in a symmetry of triangles, circles and arches. The cathedral also houses the equally stunning Piccolomini Library.
Duomo di Siena dates from the thirteenth century and it is one of the most outstanding examples of a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral in Italy. It is situated on the highest of three hills in Siena, near the oldest part of the town called Castelvecchio. While the façade is mostly white and pink with dark green bands, the exterior sides, bell tower and interior are clad with white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, a powerful design giving the impression of both lightness and heaviness, of rising and falling.
Black and white are the symbolic colours of Siena. The entire historic centre of Siena including the cathedral is enlisted World Heritage.
Upon entering Siena Cathedral you will first of all see the massive white and blackish-green pillars as you are drawn towards the light from the rose window up ahead. After a few minutes your eyes would have adjusted themselves to the rather dim interior and the totality reveals itself as one immense work of creative genius, and a large dose of sheer willpower. We are perhaps less impressionable now and the religious symbols belong to a different time, but the creators of Siena Cathedral have clearly succeeded in their apparent intention; to leave you stunned and in awe of this creation, man-made or otherwise. Last but not least, the constant competition if not outright fighting with Florence would also account for the will to impress.
The Piccolomini Library in Siena Cathedral
The Piccolomini Library is situated inside Siena Cathedral. It was commissioned in 1502 by the Cardinal of Siena, Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini, who wished to honour his uncle Pope Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini). Placing a library inside a cathedral was very unusual at the time it was built. The frescoes were created by Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto) and his studio.
Pope Enea Silvio Piccolomini was one of the greatest humanist scholars and the library in Siena was built to house his precious collection of illuminated manuscripts, some of which are on display alongside the walls. The frescoes which line the walls tell the story of the Pope’s life, while the surrounding decorative elements and ceiling are in the “grotesque” style that imitates ancient Roman examples.
- See also The Treasures of Palermo
All photos by Asgeir Pedersen, IN Editions
This article was first published March 21 2014.