Jutting out from the side of the Cathedral of Siena, this most unusual structure at first seems like an old ruined cathedral. Except it is not a ruin, but an unfinished structure. It is all that is left from the grandest of ambitions of the ephemeral Republic of Siena, which ended with the Plague of the 14th century. During the zenith of wealth and power of the republic, the Sienese decided to enlarge their nearly completed Cathedral to make it the largest in Christendom. It was in 1336 that they began building a new nave, perpendicular to the existing one, and reorienting the church by 90 degrees. The existing nave, the incredible one we see today, would have merely become the transept of the Cathedral. These plans were brought to an abrupt end just over a decade later, when in 1348 the Plague wiped out most of the city's population. In the 12 years of construction, a good portion of the walls of the new cathedral were completed along with the new façade, now known as "il Facciatone," but the structure has since stood hollow. In the side naves, where a vaulted ceiling had been completed, walls were raised to create buildings for other uses. These red brick buildings are curiously framed by the white and black marble arches of the unfinished cathedral (see main photo). One of them now houses il Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, a museum which walks the visitor through the history of the Cathedral and displays the original works of art and statues that decorated the façade. It also provides access to the upper level of the Facciatone, with incredible views over the city.
This is where all the originals from the cathedral are kept – statues, windows, altar pieces. It protects them from the weather, vandalism, and gives them more correct temperatures and lighting in order to maintain the art.
The original stained glass window is at the end of a room filled with the original outside statues. The window is lit with artificial light so you can see how beautiful it is. It was created by Duccio in the 1300s. As you look around the room at the statues, you’ll see how their necks are long and strained – out of proportion to a point that it really looks strange! This is because these statues were designed to be seen from the ground while they were up high – so they were made this way so people could see the heads from down below!
Probably the best treasure in the museum is Duccio’s Maesta which is now kept protected in its own room with full time guards watching for people getting too close or attempting to take photos. They have split the altarpiece in two parts and have the front side on one wall and the back side on the opposite wall. There are chairs to sit and admire the work. On the back side of the piece is the Passion cycle – follow the architecture in the smaller paintings to find the correct sequence.
From the museum, you can head up to the top of the façade (where Siena had hoped to build a much larger cathedral). This is a bit of a climb and through small spiral staircases, but at the very top you get a wonderful view of Siena, the cathedral, and the Piazza del Campo. You go up half-way and come to a walkway that you can catch your breath and enjoy a view, then find the small stairwell that continues the climb to the very top. If you are not afraid of heights or claustrophobic, this is a must-do, especially on a clear, sunny day. We got lucky and had that kind of weather – it was just really cold in January!
This museum of works of the church contains most of the originals of the precious art work in the church. The Duomo itself contains copies. Note that no photos are allowed in the museum therefore the pictures presented here are the copies in the church.
In 1339, at a time when Siena was one of the most prosperous cities in Italy, plans were made to expand the cathedral and turn it into what would have been the biggest cathedral in the world. Construction of the new 30 x 50 m nave had just begun when the city was hit by the Black Death in 1348, which is estimated to have killed about two thirds of the population. The project was left unfinished, and in what would have been an aisle of the new nave, it's now possible to visit the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. Each duomo in Italy seems to have its museum showcasing works of art that were initially found inside the cathedral, but the one in Siena, established in 1869, turned out to be our favourite. The museum's extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and manuscripts is very well presented, and the best part is that you can go up a narrow staircase that leads to the very top of what would have been the facade of the new nave. The view from up there is amazing! You'll find the small door leading to the "facciatone" at the back of the room called "Hall of Vestments" - the 131 steps are not exactly easy to negociate, but it's truly worth the effort!
Open daily. Admission to the Museo dell’Opera is included in the duomo’s combined ticket (12 Euros).
Despite their well-crafted appearance, many statues at the Duomo's facade are copies of the origina, which had been moved to the nearby Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. The museum is well organized and contains rich collections of tapestries and manuscripts in addition to the statues. The more famous pieces are Giovanni Pisano's 12 statues of prophets and philosophers and Duccio's Maesta which is painted on both sides.
Digging the museum's other treasures is an uphill task - in a bit of a literal sense - except that one has to climb 131 steps in a claustrophobic staircase rather than a hill to enjoy it. The IT, is of course, the stunning views of Siena and the surrounding Tuscan landscape from what would have been the enlarged Duomo's facade. So if the 505-step climb to the summit of Torre del Mangia is a bit too much, this could be your next best alternative (and probably the only other option!).
Many of the most scenic pictures I've taken of Siena and the lovely rustic surroundings were taken from this vantage point despite chilly autumn winds and drizzles!
The museo is adjacent to the Duomo, and was established in 1869 to hold the treasures of the Duomo. The building was constructed in 1348 after the plague that stopped the expansion of the Duomo because funds ran out. They had iconoclasts in every corner. The main thrill was finding a stairway-not well described- that led to the top of the ridge overlooking the museum and cathedral. From there you can see the whole city and many miles beyond. It was great visit. The statues of the facade of the duomo by Pisano done 1285-97, and frescoes inside are fabulous, and well preserved. There is the connecting baptistery that also holds a lot of treasures. The "Maesta" by Duccio is a an impressive alterpiece depicting Jesus in the arms of Mary. The stained glass window is circular and very colorful.
Hours are generely 10:30AM-7:30Pm and admission is 4 Euro
Thirty-three years ago I spent a day in November in Siena and now with these years under my belt I look forward to revisiting the Museo del Duomo.
I studied in Firenze one semester in 1975. Our art class took a day trip to Siena to see the Duomo and its museum. I thought that the museum had treasures worth the trip. Last year I had a rushed visit to Siena and the Museum was closed while we were there. So this year I planned two days in Siena to make sure that I can visit the museum.
The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is housed the incomplete nave of the Duomo cathedral. There several sacred works including sculptures & paintings, and works by Duccio. When you enter the museum you will come across a magnificent stained glass window, and a gallery of statues, some of which were meant to be placed on the facade of the Duomo (which explains the odd proportions)
Sadly, you can't take photographs inside the building
The Cathedral Museum is situated in the first three arches of the New Cathedral, the only its part that have survived. Many works of art, specialy created for the interior of the New Cathedral, are preserved now in this museum. Here you can see the ten statues which Giovanni Piasano, one of the greatest European Gothic sculptor, had sculpted for the facade of the cathedral, the high-relief by Jacopo della Quercia, the Majesty by Duccio di Buoninsegna which is a masterpiece, and many others.
And this is the view you'll be rewarded with as part of your visit to the Museum della'Opera. Quite a superb sight!
My children are dutifully posing again for this photo op. This is only part of the beautiful 360 degree view. The other nice thing about this view point is it just wasn't that crowded.
Villa Elda Siena
1 Review and 196 Opinions We stayed at the hotel around Chrismas. The usual rates of about 190 Euro where reduced to 80 Euro....
Athena Hotel Siena Siena
2 Reviews and 525 Opinions The hotel cleaning staff broke the keyboard to my laptop. The manager John Luigi called me a liar,...
Pensione Palazzo Ravizza Siena
1 Review and 555 Opinions Out of the five hotels we stayed at in Italy, this was by far our favorite. Large rooms and...