Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Siena Duomo Floor revealed

This post is out of date – see the new post about Siena Duomo or Cathedral floors with current opening dates

Giorgio Vasari called the floor of Siena’s Duomo “the most beautiful, big and magnificent that has ever been done.” Normally this floor is covered by carpets to protect it from the footsteps of many visitors, but it is uncovered for a few months each year, allowing us to get a view of the marble intarsia works of art that tell biblical narratives and represent allegories, and took centuries to complete. In 2013, this visit was made even more exceptional because you will be able to also see the works from above by attending the small group tours called ‘Porta del cielo’.

Siena Duomo floor

Even if you have been to Siena before, you will want to visit again on this occasion. For what to do with the rest of your day, see the Siena itinerary on this blog.

A bit more about the floors: there are 56 large scenes represented by major Sienese artists including Sassetta, Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, and Domenico Beccafumi, as well as with the intervention of some ‘foreign’ artists like Pinturicchio.

Pinturicchio, Allegoria del Monte della Sapienza

Pinturicchio, Allegoria del Monte della Sapienza

The techniques used progress from graffito to commesso marmoreo. Graffito is the use of the scalpel to carve out areas of white marble which were then filled with black stucco. This evolved to incorporating more colours using a technique similar to wood intarsia, which is called commesso marmoreo (sometimes also pietre dure, but these are softer stones, thus not ‘dure’).

1Guidoccio Cozzarelli, Sibilla Libica. Siena, pavimento del Duomo

Guidoccio Cozzarelli, Libyan sybil

The nave and side aisles of the cathedral floor are decorated with stories from antiquity, such as the image of Romulus and Remus, symbol of Siena. There are ten sybills represented, and various philosophers.

4 Matteo di Giovanni, Strage degli innocenti, particolare. Siena,

Matteo di Giovanni, Innocents

The transept and choir narrate old testament stories, all except the Slaughter of the Innocents by Matteo di Giovanni which is based on the recount of the Evangelist St. Matthew.

2 Domenico Beccafumi. Storie di Mosae sul Sinai, particolare

Domenico Beccafumi, stories of Moses on Mount Sinai

By the time you get under the cuppola, time has gone by and you have works by the Mannerist artist Domenico Beccafumi, with a perfection of the marble intarsia technique to use gradations of material for fine shadows and intricate representation.



Visitor Information

Siena Duomo floor uncovering
2015 dates extended for Expo2015: July 1 to 31, 2015, and then again from August 18 to October 27, 2015.
Open daily 10:30 – 19:30, sundays and holidays 9:30 – 18:00
Opera Siena all inclusive ticket 12€ + online reservation fee – book here
Guided tour including porta del cielo €25


PHOTO CREDITS: press photos reproduced by permission from Opera – Civita Group. If you wish to reproduce these images, please write to Salvatore – do not write to me, because they’re not mine!

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Jenna Francisco

    I’ve been fascinated by the Siena Duomo since learning about it and visiting it the first time in 1995. I wish I could be there this year to see the floors, but at least we have your detailed explanation and photos…thank you for that!

  • arianna

    Bellissima chiesa! Love Siena, especially walking around the small streets and discover hidden places!

  • Jennifer

    Can we get the tickets ahead of time? We leave for Florence Aug. 31st.

  • arttrav

    Hi Jennifer
    Absolutely yes- thanks for asking. I shall update the text with that information, because reservation is required for the porta del cielo tour. The pavements, on the other hand, require no reservation, so just show up. If you want to see them from above, here is the booking info:
    Tickets (by reservation only)
    Full: €25.00
    Group: €400.00 (max 17 pax)

    Information and Booking
    T. +39 0577 286300 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm)

    Best regards,
    alexandra korey

  • Bella Italia by Lee

    My wife and I have been to Siena many times in our 25 trips to Italy. The duomo is our vavorite in Italy. We will leave for Bella Italia on September 6th (just 14 days, 22 hours, 49 minutes and 44 seconds from now. Ciao!

  • arttrav