A city of museums and churches that has a rich confluence of medieval art, Siena in Tuscany is the ideal holiday destination for history lovers who are longing for a bit of old-world charm. Entering this Tuscan city feels like being in a time warp of a different culture and the beautiful cityscape and classic cuisine add significantly to this allure. The historic center of Siena prides itself on being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and The Siena Cathedral is the most notable of all the tourist attractions.
A masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture, one can gaze at the Siena Cathedral for hours together and still have more to explore! Siena is also renowned for the Palio - an exciting horse race event that’s held twice a year around the Piazza del Campo, one of Europe’s most fabulous medieval squares! Visit this massive 12th-century marvel for a great start to your holiday in Italy.
Why Visit the Siena Cathedral
A stunningly beautiful edifice of Gothic Romanesque architecture, the Siena Cathedral is dedicated to the service of the Assumption of Mary. Replete with a dome, bell tower, and a projecting transept, it bears a likeness to the Latin cross. The exterior facade’s Venetian mosaics and rose windows make its design all the more distinctive.
The interiors of the cathedral are majorly done up in alternating stripes of black and white marble, symbolic of the city’s legendary founders. While the richly decorated walls and columns lend an exquisite aura, the mosaic flooring is what will take your breath away. A masterpiece in storytelling, the floor has about 56 inlaid marble panels supplied by 40 leading artists of the age that represents sibyls, scenes, and allegories from the Old Testament. The completion of these designs took over six centuries!
The cathedral is home to some prominent works of art by Italy’s prolific artists and many sculptors have worked tirelessly to contribute to its grand success. Nicola Pisano is credited with carving the pulpit, and his son Giovanni was tasked with developing many other portions. The works of Italian greats such as Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo are also featured here, among other artists.
Housed within the sanctuary, the Piccolomini Library boasts of an exotic collection of books and musical manuscripts. The library is famous for its brightly colored frescoes done up in blue, red, and gold colors with grotesque designs. Painted by Pinturicchio, they depict the life of Pope Pius II.
History of the Siena Cathedral
The Siena Cathedral is believed to have been built on an earlier church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. payment of six soldi towards Nicola Pisano, the celebrated artist in the day is the only record of its construction in the 12th century. Pisani carved the magnificent pulpit and his son Giovani carved the sculptures of sibys, prophets and philosophers that adorn it.
There were grand plans on expanding the cathedral by building a new nave that would be 100m long but the city was affected by the Black Plague which decimated most of the population and together with them, the grandiose plans leaving only the facciatone as a grim reminder of those days. Despite these, the grandeur of the cathedral has not been diminished owing to the works of many artists who toiled over making this monument gloriously perfect.
Best Ways to Experience Siena
To make the most of your trip down history lane, club your trip to the Siena Duomo with a visit to other Tuscan landmarks.
Where to Eat
After spending all day at the Siena Cathedral, you can unwind with a glass of wine and delicious Italian cuisine at any of the several restaurants located in its vicinity. A few famous names that have stood the test of time include eateries such as Ristorante II Duomo, Osteria del Gusto, Casato, or Antica Osteria da Divo.
You can also go for a relaxing walk around the narrow bylanes of Siena and chill in the Piazza del Campo square.
Things to Do
The pleasures of driving along the vast expanse of the Tuscan countryside are a class apart. You can embark on a day trip from Florence and cover the hilltop village of San Gimignano, also known as The Town of Fine Towers. You’ll enjoy the cultural vibe that is unique to medieval Europe here with its walled exteriors and quaint ambiance. What’s more, it makes for a picturesque backdrop for photography!
If you have time to spare, head over to the heart of Chianti and savor sips of the divine wine! If you plan well in advance, you can also spend a few exciting hours at the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
End your day trip with a visit to Monteriggioni and savor the Tuscan delights of fine wine, balsamic vinegar and zero food millets before the day ends!
The most fulfilling part of these tours is the fact that the guides are enthusiastic about the stories of the region. You can learn everything there is to know about the history of Siena and the cultural aspects that make this city so unique - the Contrade and Palio Horse Race. Other areas of interest in Siena that are worth a visit include Torre del Mangia - one of Italy’s tallest secular towers, which offers a pleasant aerial view, the Pubblico Palace, Complesso Museale Santa Maria Della Scala, Fonte Gaia, and The Civic Museum of Siena.
Skip-the-Line Tickets to Siena Cathedral
Gain skip-the-line access to the Siena Cathedral, a spectacular edifice located in the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
Witness the rare art pieces held in the Duomo, including sculptures by the Renaissance Masters, as well as the jaw-dropping Piccolomini Library, frescoed by Pinturichhio.
Enjoy panoramic views of the Tuscan countryside from atop of the Facciatone, the unfinished façade of the Nuovo Duomo.
Know Before You Go
The medieval heart of Italy, Siena, boasts of a temperate climate and attracts tourists all year round, but the best time to visit usually falls in Autumn when the Tuscan countryside is colorful and cooler.
By Train: With the railway station located around 1.5 km from the Duomo, you can easily visit Siena from Florence by train in 90 minutes.
By Bus: Opt for the Rapide SITA buses from Florence to take you to the historic center closest to Siena Duomo.
By Car: It only takes 45 minutes by road from Florence to Siena, but unless you’re renting a vehicle to drop you till Siena, it would be a bad idea to drive down in a personal car as finding a parking spot near the old town is a nightmare!
Piazza del Duomo, 8, 53100 Siena SI, Italy
Siena Cathedral Timings
- Between March to October: 10:30 AM to 7:00 PM
- Between November to 25th December : 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM
- Between 26 December – 6 January: 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM
- Sundays and public holidays usually between: 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM
Where To Stay Nearby
The Siena Duomo is housed in the city center, so it’s best to find accommodation in the historic city if you’d like to look out of your balcony and gaze at the dream that is the cathedral. There are plenty of modest options for budget travelers such as Hotel Minerva, Hotel La Perla, Hotel Centrale, to name a few. Luxury seekers can choose from hotels like Hotel Palazzetto Rosso or Relais Degli Angeli.
- Pre-book your tickets: To make the most of your travel to this medieval city, pre-book your tickets on Headout and save time and money! With Skip-the-Line tickets, you will no longer have to stand in queues for long hours; you’ll be inside the cathedral, marveling at its beauty!
- Dress code: Being a religious institution, visitors to the Siena Cathedral will have to abide by Siena’s dress code. So it’s a good idea for women to avoid sleeveless outfits, and opt for ensembles that cover your shoulders. Even men should wear shirts instead of casual tops.
- The pass to the Sienna Duomo includes access to the beautiful baptistery, crypt, and the Museum - giving you ample time to soak into the vibrant architecture and glamorous interiors.
- When to Visit: If you’d like to experience mass at this church, you can visit on weekdays at 10:00 AM. On public holidays, the timings vary, and you can check them online before visiting. But bear in mind that sightseeing isn’t permitted during these hours.
- Access the Facciatone from the Museum and then climb to the top for a picturesque aerial view of the city! If the entrance to the crypt is open for public viewing, do take a look, and you’ll be amused to see that the crypt is rather colorful and bright, unlike other churches.
- Ensure that you wear comfortable walking shoes as you may end up getting lost in time, exploring the delights of the Siena Cathedral facade. Feel free to explore the streets of Siena to your heart’s content, for that’s where you’ll find the authentic Italian charm!