Monday, November 12, 2007

The Cathedral Wore Stripes

The craftsmanship and majesty of the world’s cathedrals astound me. The Duomo di Siena or Siena Cathedral can be found in Siena, Italy about 30 miles south of Florence. It was completed between 1215 and 1263 A.D. There are many unproven stories regarding what was housed on the site before the construction of the cathedral. It is believed in the 800s a church and bishop’s palace was located on the land and records indicate a synod, which is a council convened to settle a matter of doctrine, administration, or application, was held in Sienna in 1058.

A large expansion project was begin in 1339, but was halted in 1348 due to an outbreak of Plague.Construction was never resumed once the Plague had passed mainly due to weaknesses found in the structure. A parking lot is now houses on some of the construction site. You can see an image of the wall that was constructed here.

Between 1993 and 2003 the choir section of the cathedral was excavated and many 13th century frescoes were found. Archeologists believe the excavated portion was once the entrance to an earlier church….perhaps the one from the synod discussed above.

On the exterior of the building there is column with a she-wolf breastfeeding Romulus and Remus. Roman myth explains the twins founded Rome and the sons of Remus, Senius and Aschius, founded Siena.

Siena Cathedral has interesting decorative stripes in the interior. The stripes are found on the columns and walls. Black and white is the color scheme because these are the same colors found on the civic coat of arms for the city of Siena. The article How Siena Came by Its Cathedral takes a minute to load, but it is very interesting and has a magnificient photo of the stripes.

The floors are probably the most striking decoration in the cathedral. They are inlaid and are the most ornate in Italy. The designs represent the sybils, Old Testament scenes, allergories, and virtues. The best time to see the marble panels is September because for most of the year they are covered in order to protect them. Click on the picture to the left in order to enlarge it. You can see the detailing of the floor. This image is looking down towards the can see the base of the striped columns.

The cathedral also houses many other priceless words of art. There are pieces of art by Michelangelo such as a statue of Saint Peter and Donatello’s The Feast of Herod. The main ceiling of the cathedral depicts 172 popes. In fact, Rick Steves pronounces the popes are looking down as if entralled by the abundance of art the cathedral contains.

The Piccolomini Library adjoins the cathedral. It contains illuminated choir books and frescoes. The colors of the frescoes are very vibrant. The library is named for Cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini. You might recognize him better as Pope Pius III.

You can view more pictures of Siena Cathedral here.

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