The Civic Museum is in the town hall and is full of art that mixes both the religious with the secular. While there is lots of see in the museum, you do not want to miss two things – the Maesta by Simone Martini and the Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government. They are actually located in rooms next to each other.
The Maesta was done by Simone Martini, who was one of Duccio’s students. Martini took the artistic innovations occurring in Siena to the Papal Court in southern France, which allowed the Renaissance to take off in France. In this painting, you can see how he makes the canopy a spatial box and creates the triangular shape for the perspective (Mary and the two angels below). The fresco shows signs of damage – they used to keep salt stored in the room behind it and the effects of the salt damaged the fresco, which has been retouched.
In the next room, the frescoes cover three of the walls. The Allegory is on the end wall, opposite the windows, with the Effects of Good Government on the right side and the Effects of Bad Government on the left. These were painted for the room in which the government policies were being decided in – and it would be assumed that these frescoes by Lorenzetti influenced some of the men making those decisions.
Effects of Good Government is the first realistic landscape since the fall of the Roman Empire and shows the actual countryside of Siena. The Siena bell tower can be seen in the top left corner of the city portion of the painting. Near the windows of the room is a model of the city – if you look closely, it was modeled after this fresco. On the other side of the room Effects of Bad Government shows what could happen when poor decisions are made. The central Allegory shows peace and justice as central to good government in Siena.
In other parts of the museum is a Chapel of Mary that has frescoes showing the life of the Virgin – this was done to thank Mary for taking the plague away from Siena. Note the prophets on the ceiling and the artists attempts at writing in Hebrew.
I had this museum as one of my must-see items when coming to Siena – primarily for the frescoes on the effects of government. It was worth seeing. If you are not into art history much, this may not interest you as much though.
Siena’s town hall stands out in the Piazza del Campo – it is at the base of the shell shaped piazza and the building with the tall bell tower, the Torre del Mangia. The tower was built in the 1300s as an addition to the building which was built at the end of the 1200s. The Palazzo Pubblico was the seat of government for the town.
The building is medieval in its architecture but you can see Gothic influences in it. It looks like a fortress, and yet has the pointed arched windows similar to a Gothic cathedral. The façade of the building has the black and white shields of Siena at the points in each of the windows.
Visitors can go into the courtyard for free – in there are a few pieces of sculpture and a nice view of the bell tower from below. Inside the building is a museum – well worth the price to visit. I have another tip about the museum which focuses on the Renaissance artworks inside.
If you don’t want to tour the museum, grab a coffee and relax in the Piazza del Campo for a bit before walking the streets of Siena some more.
Of all the sights I saw and visited in Siena, the museum inside Palazzo Pubblico left one of the biggest impressions on me. Yes, even more than the duomo or the famous campo. But these are other stories....
The palazzo was built from end of 13th century on and was subsequently expanded over the years. It was and still is seat of the city council, first for the podestà, then for the council of the nine and now for the actual town council.
The museum houses a great albeit small collection of the original sculptures, the ones in the city being copies. I especially liked the one of Romulus & Remus with the wolf. One of the guys is busy drinking milk while the other stands between the wolf’s legs and looks at the museum visitors. There is a funny expression in his face, something like surprise and I swear that he is cross-eyed. Haha, right now when I looked up the English term I found that was is a common painting technique, so maybe it was exactly the sculptor’s plan? Even more funny: one of the boys lay dolls in one of the many shops around the Campo looked exactly like this twin with these eyes and I am even sure that the doll designer had exactly him in mind when he made the model (see photo 2).
But back to the museum: among the many other treasures are Sala del Risorgimento with painted scenes of the significant wars and meetings during Italian reunification. All are in bright colours including the ones at the ceiling. And to demonstrate the reunification, allegory figures of each region were painted at the top of the walls, each with symbols for the depicted region. But my most favourite part inside the musem was the Sala dei Nove (Hall of the Nine). This was where the “nine” (citizens who ruled Siena for a while) met for councils and the frescoes at the walls couldn’t have a better theme: results of the Good and the Bad Government. The cities of the Good Government flourish with good trade and happy and wealthy inhabitants in a humanly environment. And the bad government... maybe it reminded me so much of today’s society or better a society resulting through the influence of so many politicians and international companies? On the explanatory board this bad government was described as follows:
“Bad Government, tyrant personification concerned with protecting its own interest rather than the “common good”. It is aided by vice and has neutralised justice in order to persue its malign plan. In opposition to the effects guaranteed by Good Government, Bad Government produces negative ones of violence, destruction and theft in both town and countries.”
I am sure that the members of these political systems (the one where I live included) and international companies, if they would visit Palazzo Pubblico today, would never be able or willing to see that what the Senese Ambrogio Lorenzetti already painted almost 700 years ago is a mirror image of themselves and their acting to destruct what has been built over the centuries and millennia. Well....
Another famous hall is the one called Sala del Mappamondo, which shows the long gone huge areal of Senese government. And there are several more rooms with frescoes, paintings and chapels which reflect the importance of Siena during Medieval times and later.
Don’t miss to walk up the stairs to the Loggia. It is marked in the floor map but I didn’t see a sign at the stairs itself. They are leading up after one has left the Sala del Risorgimento. When I was in the museum the weather was not that good, low visibility. But I could guess how magic the views are in sunshine. (photos 3, 4 and 5)
November 1 – March 15: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.,
March 16 – October 31: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
8 Euro for the museum alone (7,50 Euro with advanced booking), 12 Euro for museum and Torre del Mangia. Note that the ticket booth for both torre and museum is to your left and for the museum alone at your right after entering the palazzo.
Photography is strictly forbidden. When I was there (November 2010), museum staff was in every room and watched the visitors.
Palazzo Pubblico on Google Maps.
© Ingrid D., November 2010 (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts).
The Palazzo Pubblico and its clock tower, called Torre del Mangia, were completed in the 14th century. Like the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Siena's Palazzo Pubblico was and still is the city's town hall. Today, the Palazzo Pubblico is also home to the Museo Civico. There isn't that much information given about the history of Siena in the museum, but a visit does allow you to see the Council of Nine's different meeting rooms, all of which are decorated by frescoes painted by some of the city's most famous artists. The one I thought was the most impressive was Ambrogio Lorenzetti's "Allegories of Good and Bad Government", on the walls of the Sala dei Nove. On one side, you can see prosperous and happy citizens, with Siena's green fields stretching in the background. On the other side, all you can see is poverty and violence, and a rather bleak countryside.
The palazzo's Torre del Mangia is 102 m tall, and there are two reasons explaining this height: it had to be taller than any tower in Florence but it couldn't be taller than the duomo, to symbolize equality between church and state. The tower's narrow staircase doesn't allow a lot of people to go up at the same time, which often makes for really long queues. Since we'd already had a nice view of Siena at the Museo dell'Opera, we decided to skip the tower and only visit the Museo Civico, although it probably would have been nice to see the Piazza del Campo from up there. Tickets for the museum and for the tower are 8 Euros each, which I thought was a bit expensive considering the lack of historical information in the museum. If you wish to visit both the museum and the tower, there's a combined ticket available for 13 Euros.
Inevitably one compares one's visit to Florence with one's visit to Siena. Although some comparison can be made, it must remembered that Siena's blossoming was during the Middle Ages, the arrival of the Plague in the middle of the 14th century killed off about half of her inhabitants and she never recovered during the Renaissance, falling under the control of the Florentine rulers, especially the Medici family. Indeed, Siena remained in the shadow of the Tuscan capital and although perhaps somewhat a blow to its civic pride, Siena was spared from any bombardment of WWII and rapid expansion and over-development. As such, its centre is a preserved medieval jewel, and at the heart of it is the Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall.
Built between 1288 and 1310, the original purpose of the Palazzo Pubblico was to house the republican government which consisted of the Podesta (Chief magistrate) and the Council of Nine. It is a perfect example of medieval Italian architecture comprising of a spledid concave facade; imposing 'campanile' or bell-tower, Torre del Mangia (1325-1344) which is taller than the campile of Florence, and; interior rooms containing magnificent frescoes.
The ground level is built in travertine, a whitesh stone where one can see curved windows topped with gothic pointed lunettes. The upper stories are built in red-brick. The windows of the upper levels are also constructed in gothic pointed arches but each window is divided into three by two gentle columns and tracery. Corbeling divides the first and second levels of the sides, and the third and fourth floors of the central part of the structure. Crenelating can be found along the edges of the top of the Palazzo.
The interior contains a monumental courtyard and frescoes occupy most of the rooms throughout the palazzo, the most engaging are those found in the Sala della Pace entitled the 'Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government' (see seperate page). The back of the palazzo provides a lovely upper loggia which provides a lovely view of the city.
If you only have a limited amount of time in Siena and may not be overly interested in art, than perhaps a trip in the interior of the palazzo may not be your cup of tea. However, I had always wanted to see the famous frescoes of Good and Bad Government and was extremely happy to have done so. I'm not a big tower climber, especially in 34 degrees heat, so I skipped the Torre del Mangia. Chacun son gout!
Hours: Nov 1-Mar 15 daily 10am-6:30pm; Mar 16-Oct 31 daily 10am-7pm
Admission on cumulative ticket with Torre Mangia 9€ ($12) with reservation, 9.50€ ($12) without a reservation, or 6€ ($7.80) adults with a reservation, 6.50€ ($8.45) adults without a reservation; 3.50€ ($4.55) students and seniors over 65 with a reservation, 4€ ($5.20) students and seniors without a reservation; free for under 11
Located in the Palazzo Pubblico, the museum maintains several important rooms used by the central government of Siena. It dates from the late 13th and early 14th Centuries. Inside are superb collections from the Mediaval and Rennaisance periods. Most wonderful are the frescoes painted by Lorenzetti showing the ellegories of Good and Bad Government. They are amongst the best examples of civic and non-religious paintings dating to the period.
Then there is the striking Bell Tower, built in the first half of the 14th Century. It is 102 Meters in height and one can climb the steps to reach the top for panoramic views. Tickets are sold here, where one can get a combined ticket or one just for the Civic Museum.
The interior of the Palazzo Pubblico is now the Museo Civico (Civic Museum). Museum exhibits many paintings by local masters such as Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, as well as the remains of the Gaia Fountain.
The ceilings in the Civic Museum are adorned with beautiful paintings, bas-reliefs and frescoes. Most of the art dates back to 17th and 18th centuries. This picture was taken in the room that had been the location of city council meetings.
If this had been in California, it would undoubtedly have been stuccoed over by now.
The Palazzo Pubblico is Siena's town hall. Entering the palazzo, you will come to the Museo Civico, a collection of state and other apartments adorned with frescoes and paintings.
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