Piazza del Duomo

 

The Piazza del Duomo really is the heart of Siena. It is considered to be of world architectural importance and brings together many of the city's most historic attractions.

The square opens out from the Via del Capitano where in front of them, visitors will see the magnificent Duomo or cathedral that dominates the square. Indeed, this distant perspective across the piazza is one of the best places to really appreciate the black and white facade of the cathedral.

Either leading off from the Duomo or on the Piazza del Duomo itself visitors will find the Baptistry of St John; the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo; the vast complex that makes up the Santa Maria della Scala; the Duomo Nuovo with is unfinished Facciatone; the Piccolomini Palace with its library and impressive frescoes; and the Column of the She-Wolf, a symbol so evocative of Siena.

The Duomo built in the Italian Romanesque style should be the highlight of any city tour. The black and white color theme of both the exterior and the interior is also symbolic of Siena and provides a backdrop to the riches of the cathedral's interior. The cathedral sits on the site of a former Roman temple and although consecrated in 1179 work was to continue until well into the 14th-century.

Work that involved the talents of great artists and architects from both the medieval and Renaissance periods. Giovanni Pisano was responsible for the intricate facade while Nicola Pisano carved the elaborate sculptures of the pulpit. Other sculptures within the cathedral are attributed to Donatello, Bernini, and Michelangelo. Most eye-catching though is the stunning floor with its intricate mosaic panels worked in marble as well as the vaulted ceiling finished in blue, and adorned with gold stars. Visitors are advised to buy tickets in advance to avoid queues at the cathedral's entrance.

In the early 14th-century plans were made to extend the Duomo but the ravages of the Black Death put an end to building work leaving for posterity the atmospheric remains of the Duomo Nuovo. If completed, it would have been Italy's largest church. The unfinished facade or Facciatone can be accessed from the Museo dell'Opera.

Opening out from a cathedral chapel is the Piccolomini Library built to house the vast book collection of Pope Pius II. The colorful wall frescoes here are by Bernardino di Betto and graphically depict scenes from the pope's adventurous life. Also on view is a sculpture of St Paul by Michelangelo. Many art historians believe that it is a self-portrait of the artist that even includes his broken nose.

Highlights of a visit to the Baptistry of St John are the ceiling frescoes and the Tuscan Renaissance font while the Santa Maria della Scala was a huge complex that housed Europe's first purpose-built hospital as well as a pilgrim's hostel, a hospice, and an orphanage.

Before leaving the Piazza del Duomo, visitors should cast their eyes upwards to the sculpture of the She-Wolf suckling her twins Romulus and Remus. The sons of Remus were the founders of Siena.