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It is said that the Duomo in Siena, also known as the Duomo di Santa Maria Asunta, is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy. And indeed it is. Just consider its spectacular Gothic façade by Giovanni Pisano, which is covered with white, green and red marble, and filled with magnificent gargoyles and statues, although most of them are mere copies of the originals, which are currently located in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
You will see that over the central door stands a symbol of the sun, placed there by Saint Bernardino of Siena with the intention that the inhabitants of the city should have a common emblem. In addition, the upper part of the façade is completed with three apices, each decorated with mosaics made by Castellani. In them, you will see represented, from left to right, "The Presentation of Mary", "The Nativity" and "The Coronation of Mary."
You should also know that the façade was constructed in two phases: the doors were created in the late 13th century, while the rest was built during the next century. And the building of the whole architectural complex began in the year 1196, according to plans by Nicola Pisano, considered the greatest Italian architect of the 13th century, who was, obviously, the father of the sculptor who made the façade.
But the work was not completed until almost two centuries later. During all that time, there were many local people who worked on the building by transporting large blocks of stone from the quarries located on the outskirts of the city. In addition, in 1339 there was a failed attempt to expand the cathedral to make it the largest of all Christendom. However, an epidemic devastated Siena, causing the death of much of the population, meaning that the project remained unfinished. Currently, on the right-hand side of the temple, you can still see the unfinished nave.
The structure of the Duomo is a Latin cross with three naves and four towers, one of which, the campanile, stands out above the skyline at a height of 77 metres. It is a flamboyant Gothic bell tower in black and white, with six levels of windows topped by an exquisite dome.
But the real jewel of the Duomo is inside. It will surprise you with its black and white walls and columns, topped off by a series of starry blue domes. Black and white are the main colours here in Siena, because they symbolise the black and white horses of Asquius and Senius, the founders of the city, according to ancient legend.
Apart from looking up, you should also bow your head and contemplate the beautiful paving of the cathedral, which has fifty-six panels created by major artists of the city. They are truly impressive. Take time to admire its beauty and great details. Do not miss the story of Moses told in six parts, the different sibyls, such as the Cumaean, the Delphic or Babylonian sybils, who were women with prophetic powers, according to Greek and Roman mythology, and the famous slaughter of the innocents. In any case, you have to remember that, for much of the year, these tiles may be covered for restoration or to prevent spoilage.
On the other hand, in the aisle on the left, you will find the Piccolomini altar, with four statues at the bottom, which are the work of Michelangelo. And beside this altar, you will find the Piccolomini Library, a room that includes ornate Renaissance frescoes by Pinturicchio. These frescoes tell the life story of the Tuscan nobleman, who gave his name to the room and became Pope Pius II.
Another of the most important works within the cathedral is the Gothic pulpit by Nicola Pisano, located at the end of the left aisle. In it, you will see a number of octagonal panels, made between 1265 and 1268, in which scenes from the life of Christ are depicted.
Nor should you miss the Baptistery of Saint John, next to the Campanile. This rectangular structure, divided into three naves, began in 1317, but was halted in the late 14th century. Therefore, you will see that the higher levels still remain unfinished. The interior was designed by the Sienese architect and sculptor Camaino di Crescentino and the frescoes on the ceilings are by Francesco di Giorgio e di Lorenzo, known as Il Vecchietta, one of the famous artists of the Scuola di Siena. Later, in the 15th century, Michele di Matteo di Bologna made the frescoes depicting the crucifixion, agony and lamentation of Jesus. They are excellent. As for the exquisite hexagonal baptismal font, it is the work of the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia and is decorated with bronze reliefs on the life of St. John the Baptist. These interesting panels were made by different artists, such as Donatello, who in 1425 created the panel of The Feast of Herod.
As a last detail of the Duomo, in the opposite transept on the right, you will find the small Chigo Chapel, also known as the Capella della Madonna del Voto, the last structure built inside the Duomo in 1569. Its gilded dome stands out, created by the German Baroque artist Johann Paul Schor, made from a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who in turn carved two statues that decorate the chapel.
As you can see, the Duomo of Siena has earned its place as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy. Its façade, its central dome, arches, sculptures and mosaics will delight any visitor. If you could not enjoy it in its glory because of the restoration work, do not fail to browse a book or buy some of the postcards, where you can appreciate these works.