The Marble Floor of the Siena Cathedral - Panels, History and Unveiling Info
The Siena Cathedral Floor | A Tapestry of Marble
With a tapestry of contiguous images, walking on the floor of the Siena cathedral feels like treading on a large marble canvas. The mosaic inlays which cover the entire floor, are made up of 56 marble panels depicting unique scenes and symbols from classical antiquity and the Old and New Testaments and executed with exquisite detail and vibrant colors. Created by various Sienese artists over a period of several centuries in myriad artistic styles, the Siena cathedral floor is a visual and cultural delight.
Siena Cathedral Floor | Quick Facts
Location: Siena Cathedral, Piazza del Duomo in Siena, Italy
Construction Started in: 14th Century
Construction Completed in: 19th Century
Materials Used: Marble and stone
Floor Area: 14,000 square feet
Notable Features: 56 panels of marble inlays
Why View the Siena Cathedral Floor?
- Splendid Mosaics: The floor of the Siena Cathedral is a tapestry of 56 large mosaic panels, considered by Giorgio Vasari and many others as 'the most beautiful...largest and most magnificent floor ever made'.
- A Tapestry of History: Each panel of the floor was created by different artists over centuries with different techniques and styles, leaving a legacy of artistry.
- A Cultural Legacy: The floor's depictions of biblical and historical scenes, allegories, and local history by Sienese artists provide insight into the cultural influences and heritage of Siena.
- A Rare Treat: The floor is only uncovered for a limited period each year, making it a rare opportunity to experience.
When Can You See the Marble Panels of the Floor?
The floor can be viewed upon entry into the Siena Cathedral between 10 AM and 7 PM.
The last admission to the Siena Cathedral is 30 minutes before closing.
Best Time to Visit and Unveiling: The Siena Cathedral floor is best enjoyed when it is unveiled. The floor of Siena Cathedral remains covered for most of the year. In the year 2022, the floor was left uncovered from 27 June to 31 July and from 18 August to 17 October. It is expected that similar timings for unveiling will be followed in 2023. Therefore ensure that you schedule your visit around this time.Siena Cathedral Opening Hours
The History of the Siena Cathedral Floor In a Nutshell
The magnificent floor was constructed between the 14th and 19th centuries. The earliest panels to be created were the Wheel of Fortune (1372), the She-wolf of Siena (1373), and the Four Virtues (1406). The preliminary outlines and designs of the panels were provided by Sienese painters that were then executed by craftsmen. Superintendents like Domenico di Niccolò dei Cori (between 1413 and 1423) and his successor Paolo di Martino (between 1424 and 1426) oversaw the construction of the cathedral's floor and worked on the panels themselves. The mosaic floor made tremendous progress under Alberto Aringhieri, who was appointed in 1480. The basic work for ten sibyls was created during this time (1481 to 1483). Many panels were created even in the 16th century by Domenico Beccafumi, a renowned Sienese artist. Even the Umbrian artist Pinturicchio who was responsible for the frescoes in the Piccolomini Library was involved in the creation of the floor during that time.
How were the Siena Cathedral Floor Panels Created?
The style of some of the later mosaic panels is almost modern and impressionistic. This is possibly because the techniques used in the creation of the mosaics evolved over time. The early panels of the mosaic floor were created using an engraving technique called graffito in which the outline of the design is scratched into the marble and then filled with Bitumen or black stucco. Later, marble inlaying or the marquetry method was adopted wherein bits of colorful marble including, grey Sienese Montagnola and yellow Broccatello, were laid next to each other to create patterns. Sassetta, Domenico di Bartolo, Matteo di Giovanni, Domenico Beccafumi, and Pinturicchio were esteemed artists of the time who worked on the marble floor.
How are the Panels on the Siena Cathedral Floor Arranged?
The marble mosaics almost cover the entire flooring of the Siena Cathedral. The nave contains 15 panels in total with themes of Classical antiquity and the Pagan world. They are divided into three sections by two rows of columns running down the nave, with the Ten Sibyls panels occupying the side aisles. Toward the transept, we find much larger rectangular panels and a hexagonal centerpiece. The transept is noted for its departure from classical themes, containing scenes mostly from the Old and New Testaments. The hexagonal piece in the center is called The Lives of Elijah and Ahab created by Domenico Beccafumi between 1518 and 1547 and is the largest panel in the Cathedral. Moses on Mount Sinai and Moses Striking Water from the Rock are also stupendous mosaics that are located towards the altar.The Interior Structure of the Cathedral
Must-See Panels of the Siena Cathedral Floor
The Ten Sibyls
On either side of the nave, you will find the Ten Sibyls — female seers from the ancient world who prophesized at holy places about events to come. There are said to be several sibyls from various geographic regions as depicted in the panels. They include the Delphic Sibyl, the Erythraean Sibyl, the Phrygian Sibyl of the Anatolian Highlands, the Persian Sibyl, the Hellespontine Sibylla, and the Libyan Sibyl of Africa among others. Each Sibyl is set in white marble against a black background. They are identified by clear inscriptions on the inlay, with smaller panels in which their prophecy of the coming of Christ is inscribed.
The Wheel of Fortune
The last panel before the transept is the allegorical Wheel of Fortune (laid in 1372) which deals with the capricious nature of fate and suffering in the human world. It consists of a large wheel (possibly turned by the goddess of Fate Fortuna) and four figures — a king upon a throne and three others clinging to the wheel in varying states of distress. It represents the fortune of man through the Latin adage of regnabo, regno, regnavi, sum sine regno or I will reign, I reign, I have reigned and I am without a kingdom. In four hexagons on the corners of the panel are the Roman philosophers Epictetus, Aristotle, Euripides, and Seneca, each with a prophecy of the future.
The She-wolf of Siena
The second panel on the nave, following Hermes Trismegistus, is the famous She-wolf Suckling the Twins. The center of the panel consists of a large female wolf with two human children suckling at her and the inscription 'Sena' scrawled across it. It is a depiction of the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus, who may have also been interpreted as Ascanio and Senio, the founders of the city of Siena. It is surrounded by smaller roundels containing the emblems of important cities in the Tuscan region and Italy such as the lion of Florence, the elephant of Rome, and the hare of Pisa.
Slaughter of the Innocents
In the lower half of the left transept, we find the Expulsion of Herod by the artist Benvenuto di Giovanni which captures the defeat of Herod Antipas as divine revenge for killing John the Baptist. Next, we see the Slaughter of the Innocents, which was created by Matteo di Giovanni in 1481, in which Herod the Great (the father of Antipas) orders the death of all children below the age of 2 in Bethlehem to ensure that the baby Jesus does not survive. This panel has also been interpreted as the massacre by the Turks in 1480 after they conquered Otranto, an event that deeply disturbed the Christian world. The Slaughter of the Innocents is one of four compositions by the artist, three of which are paintings found in other Sienese churches.
Book Tickets to Siena Cathedral
Additional Information About the Siena Cathedral Floor
- Sections of the floor are covered in the year to prevent the marble inlays from deteriorating.
- The entire floor is uncovered for display usually between late June and early July and between August and October. Ensure that you visit the cathedral during these periods to view it.
- You do not need a separate ticket to view the floor of the Siena Cathedral when it is covered. However, an additional fee is charged for viewing the marble floor on the days it is unveiled.
- During the period when the floor is uncovered, mass is celebrated in the church of the Santissima Annunziata.
- It is advised to book your tickets online as this allows you to avoid ticket queues and access the cathedral faster.
All Your Questions About the Siena Cathedral Floor
Yes, tickets are required to enter the Siena Cathedral. Upon entering you can view the cathedral’s marvelous floor. On days when the floor is uncovered, a fee may be charged to see the marble inlays in their full splendor.
On the Siena Cathedral floor, you can see scenes from the Old Testament and allegorical depictions from Roman and Greek mythology.
The Siena Cathedral floor is famous for its intricate, colorful mosaic panels depicting biblical and pagan mythology scenes and figures.
The Siena Cathedral floor is uncovered from late August to October and between late June and late July.
There are 56 large panels in total on the Siena Cathedral floor.
A large number of panels of the Siena Cathedral floor were completed in the 14th and 16th centuries. However, several additions and renovations were done up till the 19th century.
The Siena Cathedral floor was created using the inlaid marble technique and the graffito technique.
Restrictions on photography and filming of the Siena Cathedral floor may apply. But in general photography for personal use within the Siena Cathedral is allowed.