One of Siena’s most beautiful structures is the Cathedrale di Santa Maria, better known as the Duomo. Viewable from almost anywhere in the city, is the gothic structure. It was built between 1215 and 1263 and designed by Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni. The upper half was added in the 14th century, which was a time of great wealth and power for Siena. Plans were made to expand the cathedral into a great church that would even surpass St. Peter’s in Rome. The expansion started in 1339, but in 1348, the Black Death killed nearly 4/5 of Siena’s population. Therefore, the giant cathedral was never completed, and the half-finished walls of Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) represent as a monument to Siena’s ambition and one-time wealth.
The outside of the Duomo is extravagant to say the least. Similar in style to the Duomo in Florence, this gothic and Romanesque style is very eye-catching, especially in a city filled with medieval structures. The detail is mind-blowing and incredibly intricate. The black and white marble is the most noticeable and these colors represent Siena’s colors and continue on the inside of the Duomo as well.
Hidden around the left side (when facing) of the Duomo is the magic square. The magic square is enscribed with “Sator Opera Arepo Rotas” both horizontally and vertically. These words translate to “The sewer keeps the wheels work.”
An interesting part of the inside of the Duomo is its floors. The marble floors are adorned with images by Siena’s best artices throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. There are a total of 52 scenes among the Duomo’s floors and each is blocked off for preservation reasons. The first near the main entrance of the church is titled Hermis Mercurius Trimegistus and for some reason has no religious connection, and Hermis is a wizard from Egypt.
The one nearest is of the city emblems of the cities surrounding Siena and its city emblem (the she-wolf). Included are Perugia, Viterbo, Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Arezzo, Orvierto, and Roma.
The dome is constructed by 6 pillars, which represent the 6 protectors of the city that includes Saint Catherine and the Virgin. Along the two entrance pillars are two wooden beams which belonged to Carcoho, the war chariot.
On the right hand side of the church (facing the altar) is the Cappello del Voto, which was dedicated to the Madonna. The chapel is in Baroque style. The painting inside the chapel used to be on the main altar of the Duomo.
The most important piece of art on the main altar is the rose stained glass window (the original is kept in the Museo del’Opera right next to the Duomo). The beautiful stained glass window is one of the first of its style in Italy. Its luminosity of colors represents stories of the life of the virgin – whom the cathedral is dedicated to.
To the left of the main altar is the original Pulpit made by the greatest sculptors of the time, Niccola Pisano and his son Giovanni. The work started in 1265 in Pisa, then came to Siena and was finished in 1268, during the golden age of Siena. The structure is properly in gothic style, with a hint of renaissance. The details show stories of the redemption of mankind. On the Pulpit, there are 300+ human figures and dozens of animals.
Today, mass is held at the Duomo, but is mostly used for a tourist attraction. However, every year during the Palio, each flag of the contrade is hung on the pillars on the inside of the Duomo. Once the Palio is finished, the winning contrada marches to the altar in celebration and thanks the virgin for their victory.
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