Today we visit the gorgeous Siena cathedral complex. Instead of checking what time it opens I blithely assume that it will all open by 9 AM. Turns out the ticket office opens at 9:30 and the cathedral and environs opens at 10. While John stands in line for our tickets, Sarah and I spend our time taking pictures of the cathedral and each other.
One ticket gets you into the church, the Baptistry, the Crypt, the Piccolomini library and the museum. Once inside the gorgeous church we rent the mini iPad guide for all the sites. The fabulously decorated floor is one of the most brilliant artworks of the cathedral. It is uncovered entirely only in the summer so we are sorry that we only get to see a small part of it but glad that we are here when the crowds are not huge. We spend more than an hour looking at and listening to explanations of statues, ceiling, pulpit, altar, windows, and some uncovered pieces of the floor. It is amazing to see the craftsmanship that went into this church which was begun in 1196, in use by 1215, and finished in 1348.
Next we visit the Piccolomini Library, containing illuminated choir books and frescoes painted by Pinturicchio, probably based on designs by Raphael. The frescoes tell the story of the life of Siena’s favorite son, cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who eventually became Pope Pius II. Painted between 1502 and 1507 the frescoes contain portraits of Pinturicchio and Raphael mingling with the crowds.
Next up is the crypt which is not really a crypt but a meeting room for pilgrims in the old church before the current cathedral was built. It had been filled in with construction rubble and not discovered until 1999! After shoring up the ceiling of these rooms so that the ornate floor of the cathedral would not be disturbed, the crypt was opened to the public in 2003. The 13th century frescoes depict scenes from the Old Testament and from the life of Christ. What a find!
We are starting to flag and decide to find some lunch and sit down for a bit. Vacationing is hard work! We stop at a little restaurant, Il Ghibellino, across from the Baptistry and a couple of doors down from our B & B. We each have different versions of the local pasta called pici. It is like spaghetti on steroids. We all enjoy our lunches although once again I need to share my leftovers with Sarah and John.
The temptation now is to retreat to our rooms for a little lie down since we’ve been on our feet for hours and jet lag is catching up with us. But we can only use our iPad tour guides until 4 PM and we still have two more places to see. So off we go to the Baptistry.
The Baptistry is an integral part of the cathedral and not a separate building. Completed in 1325 it is located underneath the eastern portion of the church and its construction is probably why the so-called Crypt was filled with rubble. The main attraction is the hexagonal baptismal font, containing sculptures by Donatello and bas-relief panels by Ghilberti who also worked on the doors to the Baptistry in Florence.
Just one. More. Site. To. See. As we walk into the museum of the cathedral we are told to start at the top floor and work our way down. There are so many stairs! My knee is really tired. I stop halfway up ad sit down pretending to look at something on my tour guide. Finally I struggle up the rest of the way.
Look at all this great old stuff! There are medieval altarpieces and sculptures! Just my favorite kinds of artwork! Oh, why did we save this for last?! We do our best but we are exhausted. The very last piece of art we see before crying “uncle” is the most wonderful of the day. It is he Maestà by Duccio di Boninsegna, and was the altarpiece of the cathedral from about 1311 until around 1505.
The massive work shows the Madonna and Child with saints and angels. The back side has forty-three small scenes depicting the life of Mary and Christ. The base of the panel has an inscription that reads “Holy Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and life to Duccio because he painted thee thus.” Duccio, not immodestly realized that he had created a masterpiece. Here is one of the founding pieces of the Renaissance! It gives me goosebumps as I view it.
At this point even Sarah is exhausted. We return the tour guides and head back to our rooms for some r and r. Later we meet for drinks and people watching at the campo. We play the amusing game of “Italian or not?” as people pass by. We share a pizza for dinner and make the mistake of going to sleep too early which is why I am writing this in the middle of the night. Thanks, jet lag!