Between heaven and earth in Siena
The floor of the cathedral: a unique wonder
Let’s start right here with the floor of the cathedral. Usually uncovered after the second Palio, which takes place in August, and remaining on display until the autumn, admiring it is a delight for the eyes. Giorgio Vasari already knew this in his time, calling it “the most beautiful, great and magnificent [floor] that had ever been made”.
Between the 14th and 19th centuries, great Sienese artists such as Sassetta and Domenico di Bartolo worked here, as well as the Perugian Pinturicchio, who in 1505 painted the panel of the Mount of Wisdom, representing the road to virtue as the way to attain inner peace.
The first inlays were outlined on white marble slabs with grooves made using a chisel and drill and then filled with black stucco using the “graffito” technique. Later, however, the work became more elaborate. Artists such as Domenico Beccafumi began to use marble inlay, a technique that combines coloured marble to create figures and images. The end result is very dramatic with a play of light and shadow that is similar to chiaroscuro drawings.
Discovering the cathedral’s loft
The other wonder of the cathedral is in its loft, made up of fascinating rooms that no one was able to set foot in for centuries, except for people who worked here.
The tour begins inside the cathedral, with a spiral staircase housed inside one of the spire-topped towers that line the façade of the Cathedral. Once you climb above the starry vaults of the right aisle, another journey begins. You can walk around the top of the sacred building in small groups with a guide, admiring not only the interior of the cathedral seen from above, but also a breathtaking view of Siena. This is a unique overview, offering both an internal and external view of the Cathedral.
The best time for a visit
The opening of the loft to the public and the period when you can admire the uncovered floor take place on different dates, but sometimes coincide to a certain extent. We recommend visiting the Gate of Heaven in the weeks when the floor is uncovered: this means that you will have the opportunity to admire the floor from an even more privileged viewpoint.
The cathedral and the Gate of Heaven tour can be accessed with a ticket, which you can conveniently buy online. This is a great way to avoid the queues, especially on busy days, but also to avoid the risk of arriving and finding that no tickets are available.
In addition to the cathedral and its loft, the ticket includes admission to the Piccolomini Library, the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, the Baptistery, the Crypt and the Facciatone (the unfinished façade of what should have been an extension of the Cathedral, offering a truly magnificent view of the city: it is worth tackling the stairs to the top, provided you do not suffer from vertigo).
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