Siena Cathedral History

About Siena Cathedral

The Siena Cathedral (or Duomo di Siena) is widely regarded as the city's most aesthetically pleasing church, and was designed in the Gothic style popular in Italy during the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic church has always been dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the current parish celebrates Santa Maria Assunta (Lady of Assumption). For fans of Gothic architecture, Siena Cathedral is among the continent's finest examples of the style. An icon of Siena, Italy, it is constructed entirely of the city's signature dark green and white marble following the Gothic credo that "more is always better," ; every available surface has been covered in sculptures, marble, mosaics, and frescoes. Seeing the Duomo and its surrounding structures in Siena is like strolling through a massive art gallery. It features work by such luminaries as Pinturicchio, Donatello, Pisano, and Michelangelo from the Gothic and early Renaissance eras, and it is sure to blow your mind. The Duomo complex has six must-see buildings: the Piccolomini Library, the cathedral, the Baptistry, the Crypt, the cathedral museum Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, and the Facciatone viewing terrace.

Siena Cathedral History Timeline

As per Siena Cathedral history Construction on the current version of the cathedral began in 1229, and its dome was finally finished in 1264. About 20 years after the original extension of the choir over the baptistery, in 1317, the citizens of Siena envisioned a massive enlargement that would have made the cathedral the biggest Gothic structure in Italy. The new church would be over 100 meters in length, with its nave turned 90 degrees to face the old one. The discovery that the foundations couldn't support the extra weight, combined with the widespread death toll from the plague that swept over Siena in 1348, put an end to these extravagant plans.

Façade and Campanile

The cathedral's facade is a marvel of architecture and sculpture by Giovanni Pisano, with a green, red, and white marble inlay that is accentuated by a stunning rose window and Venetian mosaics on the edifice and its striking campanile. As a work of Italian Gothic, it ranks among the genre's pinnacles. Each end is capped with a thin tower, and the façade is dominated by three equally tall doors with pediments. A rose window is located over the main entrance, and wonderfully sculpted sculptures complement the existing decor without dominating any one place. The Romanesque campanile, built in the late 14th century, stands in the corner created by the nave and the right transept. The tower's entrance features a bas-relief of the Virgin and Child that has been attributed to Donatello and dates back to the 15th century.


The interior of the Siena Cathedral is every bit as breathtaking as the outside. From the moment you step into the cathedral's soaring nave, you'll be struck by the contrasting bands of dark and light marble that give the building's exterior and campanile their distinctive appearance. These striking stripes extend up onto the ceiling, breaking up the monotony of the building's slender support columns. The black-and-white striped walls are geometrically opposed to the unexpectedly deep blue ceiling, which is studded with gold stars. Above the nave's circular arches are sculptures of Christ and 171 popes, up to and including Lucius III, while 36 Roman emperors are shown in terracotta busts in the arches' spandrels. The 15th-century reliefs depicting the Virgin's life and the narrative of Sant'Ansano can be seen on the inside wall of the façade, while the Last Supper is depicted in stained glass in the rose window, which was installed in the 16th century.

Marble Floor

The floor, rather than the interior's spectacular striped marble, will capture your attention. Giorgio Vasari, a Florentine maestro who was behind some of Tuscany's most impressive buildings, praised the cathedral floor at Siena as "the most gorgeous, largest, and most spectacular that ever was made." The cartoons, or sketched designs, for its 56 panels were made by some of Siena's most celebrated artists, and the entire process spanned from the 14th to the 18th century. One notable exception is Pinturicchio's (1505) Hill of Wisdom panel from Perugia. The marble painters improved their methods as the projects progressed, first carving the designs into the marble and sealing in the lines with asphalt, then inlaying different coloured marble in intarsia or mosaics.

Pisano Pulpit

Though it would be difficult to pick just one piece as the cathedral's crowning achievement, Nicola Pisano’s and his students’ unrivaled carved marble pulpit is often regarded as the building's most important artistic feature. Siena Cathedral history has it that it was made between the years 1256 and 1268, and is widely considered to be among Tuscany's finest artworks. It has an octagonal shape and is supported by nine columns made of granite, porphyry, and green marble. Allegories of the Seven Liberal Arts and Philosophy support the innermost columns, while the outermost columns alternate between resting on the base and stone lions. A representation of the virtues stands above the uppercase letters. Seven exquisite reliefs in Carrera marble depict scenes from the life of Christ, including the Crucifixion, Adoration of the Kings, the Nativity, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Flight into Egypt, and the Last Judgment.

Piccolómini Library Frescoes

Off the main hall's left side is where you'll find the Piccolómini Library. It's hidden behind a beautiful piece of High Renaissance decorative sculpture from 1497 by Lorenzo di Mariano, whose name you may recognise from the carved marble entrance wall. The library, dating back to 1495, was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Piccolómini (later Pope Pius III) according to Siena Cathedral history; to hold his collection of illuminated musical manuscripts from the 15th century. The walls and ceiling are covered in vibrant paintings painted by Pinturicchio and his students in 1502 and 1508. A total of ten scenes from the cardinal's uncle's life, the future Pope Pius II Enea Silvio Piccolómini, are depicted. Pinturicchio also painted frescoes for the library's ceiling.


The baptistery, situated below the crypt, features groined vaulting supported by massive columns and was constructed during the choir's extension. It is entirely covered in paintings that were painted by Lorenzo di Pietro, better known as Vecchietta, and others around 1450. The artistic value of these frescoes was nearly eradicated due to clumsy "restoration" efforts made in the late 19th century. According to Siena Cathedral history the early 14th-century marble font in front of the apse was likely created by Iácopo della Quercia and rests on a raised hexagonal foundation. Scenes from John the Baptist's life are depicted in bronze on all six sides of the font.

Cappella di San Giovanni Battista

The Cappella San Giovanni is a small chapel located in the left transept wing, and it features a stunning entryway from the early 16th century designed by Lorenzo di Mariano. A bronze figure of John the Baptist by Donatello, completed in 1457, is kept in the chapel, making it one of the cathedral's most prized artifacts. Siena Cathedral history has it that Neroccio created a statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria in 1487, and it is on display here. Scenes from St. John the Baptist's life are depicted in paintings by Pinturicchio, who also painted two portraits. A modest carved baptismal font, dating back to around 1460, sits in the middle of the chapel on an inlaid marble floor.


The huge marble altar by Baldassare Peruzzi from 1532 is in the center of the presbytery, below an older bronze ciborium by Vecchietta, and is surrounded by angels holding torches. According to the Cathedral of Siena history some of the frescoes in the apse, which were painted by various artists in the 16th and 17th centuries, were badly restored in the 19th. From a total of 90, only 36 of the ornately carved choir stalls date to 1363–1397 and are in the Late Gothic style. Fra Giovanni da Verona's elaborate inlaid panels, dating to 1503, adorn the walls behind the booths.

Cappella Chigi

Chigi Chapel, as per Cathedral of Siena history, was designed by the great Baroque architect Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini and constructed in 1659–1662. It can be accessed from the right transept. Bernini himself sculpted two of the chapel's four sculptures. These depict St. Jerome and The Magdalene; his students created the other two, depicting Siena’s St. Catherine and San Bernardino.


When was Siena Cathedral built?

As per Siena Cathedral history the construction of the present-day cathedral began in 1229, and its dome was finally finished in 1264. Around 1317, construction began on an extension to the choir over the baptistery.

How long did Siena Cathedral take to build?

The final of the designs were completed in the 1800s as per Cathedral of Siena history, hence capping off a six-hundred-year process. Between 1369 and 1547, forty of the best artisans in Siena (with the exception of Bernardino di Betto, known as Pinturicchio, who was from Umbria) collaborated on the creation of the 56 etched and inlaid marble panels.

Why is the Siena Cathedral important?

The Siena Cathedral is important because it was constructed in 1255 AD in honor of the Virgin Mary, by pope Alexander IV.. Architecturally stunning, it also serves as home to a number of works by renowned sculptors, painters, and other artists.

Book Now: Castel Sant Angelo Tickets

Who is buried in Siena?

Giovanni Pisano is buried in the Siena Cathedral. His tomb is commemorated with an inscription from the 14th century, which may be found on the left corner pillar of the façade.

How old is the Siena Cathedral?

Going by the Siena Cathedral history of construction, it is around 826 years old.


© 2022 All rights reserved.

© 2024 All rights reserved.