Siena, Italy

Santa Maria della Scala

Taking its name from the steps or 'scala' that lead up to the cathedral opposite, this sprawling complex once covered a quarter of the city's landscape.

A medieval legend says it was commissioned by a mythical cobbler called Sorore who died in 898. This story is unlikely, however, as building didn't commence until the beginning of the 12th-century. Created as Europe's first purpose-built hospital, hospice, orphanage, and pilgrims' shelter, this vast complex took over three centuries to complete, going on to provide health care for the city of Siena until the late 20th-century. A remarkable achievement for any building!

A sympathetic makeover has turned Santa Maria della Scala into a museum and exhibition space that explores a thousand years of Siena's art and history as well as providing an impressive venue for a host of cultural events.

Visitors should be sure to admire the vaulted Pilgrims Hall. Located on the first floor, this vast space cared for pilgrims as they journeyed towards Rome.