The churches listed below are the main ones of particular artistic or historical interest, but they constitute only a tiny fraction of the many churches in Siena, most of which are very ancient. Most are open mornings and afternoons and all day for the most visited. Most are open mornings and afternoons and all day for the most visited. However, an increasing number are usually closed, or open only on special occasions, no doubt because of lack of personnel to guard the valuable artworks.


    By far the most important and spectacular church is the Duomo or Cathedral. Both the two main preaching orders of friars, the Domenicans and Franciscans, also built massive Gothic churches in Siena, San Domenico and San Francesco, to accommodate the large audiences that they hoped to attract for their preaching. Both are well worth a visit. Several other religious orders had monasteries or convents here, often with large and beautiful churches filled with works of art. Then there are a large number of  smaller churches. These include the contrada churches, where members of a contrada go for baptisms, weddings and funerals, and where the contrada’s horse is blessed before the Palio. Most of the latter are very small and usually shut except for services, so they are not covered in this guide.

  • Duomo:   Siena’s great stripy cathedral with its Baptistery, Crypt and Bishop's Palace.
  • Sant'Agostino: The church of the Augustinian order with a dull exterior but some interesting paintings inside. Below the Pinacoteca.
  • Sant'Andrea Apostolo: A very small chuch worth visiting for the tryptich over the altar. In via Montanini.
  • San Cristoferoa tiny church off the main street, said to be Siena’s oldest


  • San Domenico:    the Dominican church of Siena, containing relics and a contemporary portrait of St Catherine of Siena. One of the most important churches. Near the Fortezza.


  • San Francesco:     a huge Gothic church with Lorenzetti frescoes. A visit can be combined with one to the Oratorio San Bernardino next to the church.
  • Santa Maria delle Nevi: A tiny church at the top of the Banchi di Sopra, hardly ever open but worth visiting when it is on account of the wonderful painting over the altar.
  • San Raimondo al Refugio: A small church in the via del Refugio (off via Roma) with a beautiful marble façade and a heavily decorated baroque interior. Worth a visit if passing.
  • Synagogue: Siena's18th century synagogue near the Campo









Although the Duomo is in full use as Siena’s cathedral, it is also treated as a tourist attraction and entry is by ticket, which can be purchased from the ticket office to the left of the Church. Separate tickets are needed for the Baptistery and Crypt, even though they are part of the Duomo. A  three-day combined ticket that allows you entry to the Baptistery, Crypt, OPA museum and Oratorio San Bernardino (the latter not always open) is very good value. Within the Duomo there are wooden barriers herding tourists around in a circuit and away from the famous pavements.  Duomo, Crypt and Baptistery are  usually open from 10.30, but entry to the Duomo depends on what religious services are taking place. Go early or late to avoid the masses.



   This is one of Italy's great cathedrals, but as a building curiously unsatisfactory; indeed to many hideously ugly. Ruskin, in the 1880s, described it as "every way absurd - over-cut, over­striped, over-crocketed, over-gabled, a piece of costly confectionary, and faithless vanity". William Beckford, in the 18th century, wrote of his visit to Siena:


"Here my duty of course was to see the cathedral, and I got up much earlier than I wished in order to perform it. I wonder that our holy ancestors did not choose a mountain at once, scrape it into tabernacles, and chisel it into scripture stories. It would have cost them almost as little trouble as the building in question, which may certainly be esteemed a masterpiece of ridiculous taste and elaborate absurdity. The front, encrusted with alabaster, is worked into a million of fretted arches and puzzling ornaments. There are statues without number, and relievos without end or meaning. The church within is all of black and white marble alternately......I hardly knew which was the nave, or which the cross-aisle, of this singular edifice, so perfect is the confusion of its parts......In every corner of the place some chapel or other offends or astonishes you."


   So you will not be alone if you find the whole thing all too much. Built between 1150 and 1330, the cathedral began as a Romanesque building, gradually turning to Gothic as fashion evolved during the long years of its construction. It is so surrounded by buildings that the outside is almost impossible to see properly from nearby - except for the hideously over-­decorated facade, finished with garish 19th century mosaics, and the beautiful front of the Baptistry at the other end. For a general view of the dome, elegant campanile and lightly striped marble walls, it is best to go to another of Siena's hills to glimpse the cathedral across the valley - the view from behind San Domenico is particularly good.


   The Siena Duomo (the word comes from the Latin domus or house, and stands for House of God) had barely been completed before the Sienese, afraid that the Duomo then being built in Florence would outshine theirs, decided (in 1339) to build a whole new and much bigger cathedral, incorporating the present one as its transept. The beginnings of the new nave can still be seen on the right hand side of the cathedral - the Cathedral Museum (Museo del OPA) is built into one of its side aisles, and some beautiful marble tracery shows what a fine work it might have been. But the Black Death of 1348 struck before it was completed and left Siena so shaken and impoverished that this grand design was never taken forward. The huge red brick archway (Facciatone) that would have been the main entrance has a stairway inside it and can be climbed from the Cathedral Museum . The road down the side of the Duomo leads through another arch that would have been a side door; the outside of this arch has one of the most perfect and beautiful Gothic doorways in Italy.


   Inside the Duomo, the slim, sparse and elegant stripes of the external walls are replaced by heavy horizontal zebra stripes on every surface. The effect is dark, over-powering and even downright ugly. To enjoy the interior, one must ignore the general effect and concentrate on the detail - as it is more full of wonderful things than almost any other church in Italy, and needs several visits to appreciate. The three best things in it are the Piccolomini Library, the amazingly carved 13th century Pulpit, and the Pavements - but there are many, many more works of art of a quality that people would come miles to view in any English church, and more in the Baptistery below the Duomo. Most guidebooks give the Duomo fairly full coverage, so this concentrates on the pavements, the Piccolomini Library, the newly opened crypt and the Baptistery.


The Pavements

   Almost the entire floor of the Duomo is covered in pictures in inlaid stone, designed by the leading artists of the period between 1370 and 1550. Until recently, as many of the 56 separate scenes are so worn and susceptible to further damage, they were permanently covered in pieces of hardboard and could not be seen. However, since theDuomo has been turned into a museum during the  most of the pavements are uncovered; and visitors are allowed to walk between them, and also behind the altar to see the pictures in inlaid wood above the stalls. So well worth a visit if you are there then.


   The scenes are extremely varied, ranging from pagan sybils along the side aisles to great Old Testament battles and New Testament dramas. Each of the sybils is different – an elderly one from Cumaea; a black one from Libya; a learned one with a book from the Hellespont (beside whom a wolf and a lion endearingly but sheepishly shake hands).



  In the main aisle, the second from the main door shows in its central panel Siena’s (and Rome’s) symbol of a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus (Remus’s son is supposed to have founded Siena). The symbols of other important towns, including Rome, are shown revolving round Siena.


  In the middle of the main aisle, one of the best is the mysterious History of Fortune or Hill of Virtue designed by Pinturicchio (1454-1513). Fortune helps some wise men reach a rocky island. She holds the sail of a ship in one hand and anchors it to the earth with her foot. Above, Knowledge offers the palm of Victory to Socrates and Crates (a Cynic philosopher who gave up his riches for a life of poverty on the streets of Athens) empties a casket of jewels – beautifully rendered, as is the detail of the plants and animals on the island.


   Near the pulpit, there is a dramatic Massacre of the Innocents (a scene of which Sienese artists were horribly over-fond), with Herod actively directing operations from a throne on the left. It is by Matteo di Giovanni (c.1430-1485). Beyond, there is a good battle scene showing the liberation of Bethulia (besieged by Holofernes in the Book of Judith). In front of the main altar, difficult to see even when uncovered, is one of the best of several by Beccafumi, depicting the sacrifice of Isaac. Nearby, on the other side of the church, there is a striking death of Absalom, who had rebelled against his father David and was caught and killed by one of David’s supporters after his hair got entangled in a tree.



The Piccolomini Library


   This a magical room off the left aisle decorated with brilliantly coloured frescoes. The room was intended as a library for the books of Siena’s most famous Pope, Aenea Silvio Piccolomini (Pius II) and frescoed in the early 1500s by Pinturicchio with scenes from the Pope’s life. The story begins in the fresco at the far end of the right hand wall and the frescoes then go round clockwise. They depict:


1. Piccolomini (on the horse) as a young man of about 18 from a noble but impecunious family, departing for the Council of Basle as the secretary to a Bishop. The party were driven ashore by a storm, shown in the background.




2. Piccolomini addressing James III of Scotland, to whom he had been sent on a secret mission in 1435 by his new master, a cardinal. A marvellously improbable picture of Scottish landscape. The weather was apparently not as good as appears in the painting; Piccolomini had to walk through ice and snow, on which he blamed the gout from which he suffered for the rest of his life. He is also alleged to have fathered an illegitimate child in Scotland.


3. Piccolomini being crowned as a poet by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in Vienna. Piccolomini was by this time well established in diplomatic circles as a talented and useful young man. It was the period of opposing popes and anti-popes, and he first sided with the anti-pope, who had sent him on a mission to Vienna, where he had joined the service of the Holy Roman Emperor.


4. Piccolomini, an ambitious man who clearly knew where his best interests lay, then decided to switch papal sides. This served him well. In 1446 he was ordained a subdeacon, and here he is shown, only two years later, giving allegiance to the legitimate Pope and being consecrated as a bishop (the Church was the best way for a clever young man with no funds to achieve power and greatness).


5. (On the entrance wall) By 1450 Piccolomini had became Bishop of Siena, but continued his work as a diplomat and undertook the negotiations leading to the marriage of the Holy Roman Emperor to Eleanor of Aragon. Here he is presiding (in his Bishop’s mitre) over the meeting of the betrothed couple at the Camollia Gate of Siena. The pillar with the crests in the middle background still stands outside the Porta Camollia.


6. Continuing his rapid progression up the ecclesiastical ladder, Piccolomini is being ordained as a cardinal by Pope Calixtus III in 1456.


7.  Piccolomini being crowned Pope Pius II in 1458, after being elected to succeed Calixtus III.


8. Pius II gathers together the Christian princes in a congress at Mantua to organise a crusade against the Turks (the central idea of his pontificate was to liberate all Europe from Turkish domination).


9. Pius II canonises St Catherine of Siena.


10. Pius II, who is by this time visibly ill, arrives in Ancona in 1464 to hasten preparations for the crusade. The Venetian fleet is arriving in the background. Unfortunately, the Christian princes did not share Pius’s enthusiasm for the crusade, and the Venetians, who were in it for the money, employed delaying tactics, no doubt hoping to extract a bigger payment for the use of their ships. The crusade never took off and Pius II died disheartened a couple of months later.


  Each fresco is painted to show the scene through an arch with patterned sides, carefully drawn so that from whichever angle you regard the fresco the arch appears to have the correct perspective.


   The Piccolomini crest was a crescent moon, and crescent moons pop up all over Siena. In the Library, the whole floor is covered in crescents.




The Crypt (separate ticket required)


   Halfway down the steps beside the Duomo is a door into what is known as the Crypt (Cripta). In fact, it is no such thing; it was originally a series of ante-rooms to the Duomo used by pilgrims before the Baptistery was built. in the 1990s, while some rubble was being cleared out, it was discovered that these rooms were covered in pre-Duccio frescoes, dating from the early to mid 1200s. Unsurprisingly, they are in a bad state, but nevertheless retain their vivid colours and provide a fascinating glimpse of what an early medieval church was like, with every surface covered in paint – where there are no actual frescoes, the walls are painted to resemble marble, and even the pillars and their capitals are covered in bright colour.



                    Brightly painted pillar. St Joseph stands on the left carrying the

                    two turtle doves he brought to the temple as an offering when

                                                      Jesus was circumcised.

   The best frescoes are in the main room, particularly the Crucifixion and the touching scene to the right of it showing the Virgin with the body of Christ, her hand round his neck and embracing his dead face. The end wall shows the Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity. On the back wall, there are further scenes from Old and New Testaments (Old above, New below). There is an unusual picture of the Christchild being given a lesson on one of the pillars. On another side wall there is a charming picture of the Holy Family, presumably on their way to Egypt, eating dates from a rather fanciful date-palm. This portrays a legend from an apocryphal gospel, which is also recorded in the Koran. According to the legend, the family stopped to rest under a date-palm, but it was too high for them to reach the fruits. The baby Jesus then performed his first miracle, by climbing down from the Virgin’s lap and ordering the palm-tree to bend down so that his mother could gather its fruits. Joseph is shown proudly pointing towards the miraculously bending palm-branch (below).





The Baptistery (separate ticket needed)


   At the bottom of the steps, under the altar area of the Cathedral, is the Baptistery (Battistero). As so often in Italian cathedrals, it was built to impress and to recognise the importance of baptism in the Christan religion. Its magnificent Gothic façade (built in 1355)  would do justice to a moderate-sized church. Inside, almost every inch is covered with 15th century frescoes (heavily restored in the 19th century). There is a beautiful hexagonal font surrounded by gilded panels with reliefs illustrating the life of St John the Baptist:


  • An angel announcing to St Zachary (the Baptist’s father) that he is to have a son – miraculously as his wife Elizabeth was barren;
  • The birth of the Baptist;
  • The Baptist preaching;
  • The Baptist baptising Christ;
  • The Baptist in prison;
  • Herod’s feast at which Salome demanded the head of the Baptist.


    The first and last are by Jacopo della Quercia and are particularly fine. The six statues above the panels represent the Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Prudence and Fortitude). Two (Faith and Hope) are also by Donatello, who also created the four bronze angels.


                                                                  The Baptistery



The Bishop's Palace (not visitable)

Next to the Cathedral is the handsome gothic residence of its Bishops (below).

.  ..





SANT'AGOSTINO (St Augustine)

The church of the Augustinian order with a dull exterior but some interesting paintings inside.


It can be reached by going downhill from the Pinacoteca along via di San Pietro. Not far from the Campo car-park. It is open only occasionally, usually for special occasions like concerts and for some "open days" in the summer months. The Tourist Office can provide information on the latter.


    This is the church of the Augustinian order. It was not a preaching order like the Franciscans and Dominicans, so it is not so huge and barnlike as San Francesco and San Dominico. But it is still a large structure on a pleasantly shaded square, the Prato (field) of Sant’ Agostino.

    The church took some 50 years to build, over the last half of the 1200s. It was damaged by fire in 1747 and the interior was restored in neo-classical style with lots of coloured marble and pillars. The outside of the church is difficult to see because of the surrounding trees, but as it is one of the dullest brick façades in Siena this does not really matter.

    The church is chiefly of interest for a handful of interesting works of art, well sign-posted. In the second chapel on the right-hand side, there is a particularly good Crucifixion with saints by Pietro Perugino (c.1450-1523), an Umbrian painter (teacher pf Raphael). The painting (dated 1506) is quite different in style from the art of Siena, with wide open sky, and isolated figures and an immense sense of calm. Unfortunately it is badly in need of a clean. The saints by the Cross are St Monica (mother of St Augustine), St Jerome, St John the Baptist and St Augustine.

In the chapel immediately to the right of the altar, there is a charming 15th century wooden statue of the Madonna and child, painted and gilded. Further along, in the chapel of the Bichi family, are two rather good grisaille (monochrome) frescoes by that most versatile painter/sculptor/architect of 15th century Siena, Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501). The rather damaged ceiling paintings are by Luca Signorelli (c.1450-1523). The Bichi family were obviously rich enough to employ the best artists of the day. The same two painters also painted three panels to go over the altar, which are now in the Louvre or Berlin. All of the frescoes in the chapel were covered in plaster when the church was given its neo-classical makeover after the fire, and were re-discovered  in the last century. The chapel also has some rare 15th century majolica floor tiles, now rather damaged, but they must once have been wonderful.


    Half-way along the right aisle, a door leads into the Piccolomini chapel. At one end there is a large painting by Sodoma (dated 1530), of the Adoration of the Magi, a rather muddled composition that is not one of his best works. Much more interesting is the small fresco in the lunette opposite by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1290-1348). This is a tiny Maestà with the Virgin surrounded by saints each holding his or her symbol. The fresco was covered over when the Piccolomini family put an altar in front of it and only rediscovered in 1944.  The work was restored for a Lorenzetti exhibition in winter 2017-18 and now glows with colour. The panels describing the work in detail (in Italian and English) prepared for the exhibition have been left in place and give full explanations.


Ambrogio Lorenzetti Maestà



    The work is well worth looking at in detail, especially for the saints with their symbols. From left to right we have:

  • Saint Agatha, who holds out her amputated breasts, cut off in revenge when she refused the advances of a high Roman official;
  • St Augustine, one of the great Doctors or  philosophers of the Christian Church, with three books;
  • St Catherine of Alexandria, more often portrayed with the broken wheel which on which her persecutors tried to kill her, but here shown carrying her severed head. She wears a crown in recognition of her royal birth;
  • St Bartholomew, one of the Apostles, traditionally portrayed with curly dark hair, carrying the knife with which he was scalped;
  • The Virgin and Child, with goldfinch. There is much argument about the symbolism of the goldfinch, but according to one legend, when Christ was carrying the Cross, a goldfinch flew down and plucked a thorn from the Crown of Thorns and was splashed with blood, which is why goldfinches have red in their plumage to this day. The goldfinch would therefore represent a prefiguration of the Passion of Christ;
  • St Michael the Archangel in full winged splendour;
  • St Mary Magdalen holding her usual vase or pot of ointment, unusually with a cherub burning with love emerging from it;
  • A picturesque but unidentified old hermit clutching a bunch of herbs (Tuscany was full of hermits in those days); 
  • St Apollonia, holding the tongs with which her teeth were pulled out.

Before the Piccolominis made it their family chapel, the whole room (the former chapter-house or meeting-room of the friars) was apparently covered in frescos by Ambrogio and it is tantalising to imagine what has been lost

    The monastery attached to the church has disappeared and now there is a large 19th century neo-classical portico next to the church, leading to the Collegio Tolomei, a scholastic establishment originally set up to educate young Sienese noblemen.




2018, 2023



SANT'ANDREA APOSTOLO (St Andrew the Apostle)




    This tiny Romanesque church is worth a glimpse in inside if it is open, for the sake of the picture over the altar. It is at 141 via dei Montanini, by the junction with via Giuseppe Garibaldi.


    In Its existence is first recorded in 1175 and it retains its very simple Romanesque exterior and bell-tower. In the 18th century the interior was completely transformed with white and cream-painted pilasters and vaults, in completecontrast to the exterior. The handsome stone steps outside up to the the door of the church were added about the same time. In mediaeval times, it was an important step on the pilgrim route through the Porta Camollia.


    Over the altar, there is a good tryptich (dated 1445) by the Sienese painter Giovanni di Paolo of the Coronation of the Virgin, who sits between St Andrew (bearing the cross on which he was crucified) and St Peter (with his key). On the right hand side, over one of the altars, there is a semi-monotone fresco of around the same period showing the three generations of the Holy Family, one above each other – St Anne, her daughter the Virgin Mary and the Christchild.

2019, 2023




SAN CRISTOFORO (St Christopher)


   This little church, just opposite the Palazzo Tolomei, is worth a brief glance if it is open. It is among the oldest in Siena and in the Middle Ages housed one of the governing councils of the city. Early Sienese history was made in the church and its cloister on several occasions. In 1260, Florentine Ambasssadors called on the the governing council there and demanded that Siena accept Flerintine hegemony and the installation of Florentine fortresses within the city. The Sienese refused, leading ultimately to the Battle of Monteaperti, Siena’s famous (and only) victory over Florence. Siena needed to hire German mercenaries for the battle, and the banker Salimbene Salimbini, whose establishment was a forerunner of the Monte dei Paschi, simply walked up to what is now Piazza Salimbeni and returned with a wheelbarrow full of gold coins for the purpose. Later, in 1376, St Catherine of Siena is said to have ended a feud between one of her companions, Stefano Maconi, and two of Siena’s powerful families, the Tolomei and Rinaldini, by summoning them to the church and entering into an ecstatic trance before the altar.


    The façade was completely destroyed in an earthquake in 1798 and the church had to be largely rebuilt. It is now a simple but elegant neo-classical building with a mainly baroque interior. The reconstruction of the façade was financed by the Tolomei family and the two statues in the niches are of saintly members of the family – Saint Bernardo Tolomei (who founded the abbey at Monteoliveto) and the Blessed Nera Tolomei.


   At the alter end of the right wall, there is a spirited painting of St George and the Dragon – the latter has cleverly coiled his tail round one of the saint’s horse’s legs. There is much argument among art historians as to the artist, but it is generally attributed to the nameless mid-15th century “Master of the Osservanza”. Just beyond, in a niche in the right transept, there is an attractively plain terracotta statue, possibly of San Galgano.


   The main alter is surmounted by a dramatic marble sculpture of the transit to heaven of St Benedict, helped on his way by two candle-bearing angels, in high baroque style by Giovanni Antonio Mazzuoli (1693).


  In the left transept there is an unusual 15th century fresco by Martini di Bartolomeo of Christ in his tomb surrounded by the symbols of his passion – the kiss of Judas, Pilate washing his hands etc.


                                                           The transit to heaven of St Benedict.


2012, revised 2019.







The Dominican church of Siena, containing relics and a contemporary portrait of St Catherine of Siena. One of the most important churches (seen below from across one of Siena's many valleys).



                                      St Domenico seen across one of Siena's many valleys


  The Dominicans, like the Franciscans, liked to build huge barn-like one-aisled churches, and San Domenico is one such -- an enormous structure of red brick, begun in the 13th century and altered at various times since, following disasters such as fires, an earthquake, and occupation by the Spanish soldiery in the 16th century. The Dominicans were a preaching order and designed their churches for huge congregations to hear popular preachers. It is one of Siena's most prominent buildings, visible from odd spots all over the city.


   Inside, up some steps on the right at the back, is the only portrait of St Catherine painted in her lifetime, or at any rate shortly after her death by someone who knew her, the artist Andrea Vanni (c. 1332-1413). She holds her symbol, a lily, and wears Dominican robes - she was a tertiary member of the Order. An unknown admirer is portrayed at the bottom of the painting.


   In the middle of the right side of the church, the Chapel of St Catherine of Siena harbours her mummified head (looking surprisingly like her portrait) in an ornate marble tabernacle (carved by Giovanni di Stefano in 1496) over the altar. She died in Rome, but the Sienese requested her head (as the most important part of her body) be sent back to Siena. It is the frescoes, mainly by Sodoma (1477-1549) that are the artistic glory of this chapel. On the left side of the altar, Sodoma shows St Catherine mystically swooning as she receives the stigmata (there is a visible wound on her hand), and on the right she is in ecstasy, with various divine and holy personages watching from above. The crowded scene in the painting on the left wall of the chapel (quite hard to see) represents the beheading of St John of Tuldo, a noble youth from Perugia who fell foul of the Sienese authorities and was condemned to death for sowing political discord. In prison he refused to see a priest. But Catherine visited him in prison and persuaded him into a Christian acceptance of his fate; she also supported him at his execution (she is the figure on the far left). On the opposite wall, St Catherine is exorcising a woman possessed by a devil. (this fresco is by Francesco Vanni, painted a bit later in 1596).


   Beyond St Catherine’s chapel, on the wall of the Sacristy, there are two further paintings. The second is an attractive Nativity by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1502), set in a typically romantic ruin with two swarthy shepherds in attendance.


   There are a few paintings of interest in the transept. In the first chapel to the right of the altar there is a colourful triptych by Matteo di Giovanni (1435-95), of the Madonna and Child with St Jerome (with his lion) and St John the Baptist. Both saints stand in a desert landscape, contrasting oddly with the sumptuous carpeted throne of the central panel, crowded with richly clothed angels bearing flaming torches.


   An attractive marble tabernacle and angels by Benedetto di Maiano (c. 1475) stands on the main altar, distressingly overwhelmed by the garish modern stained glass and huge golden candlesticks. The first chapel to the left of the main altar contains an attractive fragment of fresco with Virgin and Child attributed to the young Pietro Lorenzetti. (c.1280-c.1348), with his brother Ambrogio one of Siena’s greatest early masters.


   The second chapel to the left of the main altar has works from three distinct styles of Sienese painting. Over the altar there is a Virgin and Child, painted by Guido da Siena, one of Siena’s earliest painters, in around 1270. It is a beautiful but stylized image in the Byzantine tradition. On the left wall is a Madonna Enthroned by  Benvenuto di Giovanni (painted in 1483) in by what was by then a rather old-fashioned gloomy Sienese style, all the figures - except the smiling Child - looking thoroughly anxious and set against a gilded background.  On the right wall, the painting of St Barbara enthroned, although painted around the same time (1479), takes a leap into the Renaissance. This is also by Matteo di Giovanni, perhaps his greatest work, with lovely serene Botticelli-style faces. It is rare to see a mere saint given such prominent treatment. St Barbara clutches one of emblems, a tower with three windows representing the Trinity. Note also the Adoration of the Magi above.


1980s and 2023







A huge Gothic church with Lorenzetti frescoes. The Oratorio San Bernardino next door is also well worth visiting.

To get to San Francesco, turn off the Banchi di Sopra into via dei Rossi (under the arch opposite the Luisa Spagnoli dress shop). Go right down to the bottom and through another arch into the Piazza San Francesco. It can also be reached from the big car-park (with escalator) called San Francesco in the valley behind the church.


        Originally, San Francesco was outside the walls of the city, and the arch at the bottom of via dei Rossi into the Piazza San Francesco, called Arco dei Frati Minori or Arch of the Minor Friars, was the gateway through the city walls. However, the 15th century Sienese Pope Pius II, whose parents were buried in San Francesco, was keen that the church should be brought within the city, and a new set of walls were built behind San Francesco. 

        Just before the arch into the Piazza San Francesco (one of Siena’s most attractive open spaces), it is worth glancing at the modern trompe-l’oeil marble statue of a topless woman at a window, on the left. Just below her, on the opposite side of the street and more or less under the via dei Rossi, lies the ancient Fonte di San Francesco, one of the old fountains that supplied Siena with water in the Middle Ages. It is now the contrada fountain of the Contrada of the Caterpillar (Bruco). 


       The Franciscans, who had a healthy rivalry with the Dominicans, usually built their churches bigger than anybody else’s, and San Francesco in Siena is no exception. It is a vast Gothic redbrick building, built in the 1200s and enlarged some hundred years later. It is largely unadorned on the outside, apart from the Gothic main door with rose window above. These are in fact 20th century pastiches; the façade was pulled down between the two world wars as it was thought to be dangerous and rebuilt. Originally, there were tiger stripes on the lower part of the façade and a quite different doorway, now to be seen inside the church.

       The interior has been painted to resemble black and white marble as in the Duomo. The church was once far more garishly coloured inside, however, as can be seen from the traces of the original decoration in the chapels of the transept.There is not much to see in the huge bare nave, apart from some fragments of fresco and, on the left of the entrance, the magnificent renaissance main doorway by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1502) which adorned the façade before its rebuilding. Rather incongruously, it now frames what is almost a trompe l’oeil modern painting of the modern holy man Padre Pio. A number of large and not particularly distinguished oil paintings have been mounted on ugly iron frames in front of the side chapels instead of being hung in the alcoves of the chapels as was surely meant.

       The works of real interest are the frescoes by the Lorenzetti brothers in the chapels to the left of the high altar, all that survives of what must have been an extraordinary array of wall decoration. The chapel immediately on the left of the high alter (light switch just inside the chapel, on the right) contains an intensely tragic crucifixion by Pietro Lorenzetti; even the angels in the sky have tortured faces and attitudes and it is one of the most moving paintings in Siena.


      In the third chapel to the left there are two frescoes by Pietro’s brother Ambrogio, unfortunately less well preserved (light switch again just inside the chapel on the right). That on the right shows St Louis of Toulouse taking leave of Pope Boniface VIII, after he had renounced the throne of Sicily in favour of his brother Robert d’Anjou, seen here wearing his new crown and seeming far from pleased with it.

       That on the left shows Franciscan friars being martyred in Morocco in 1227 while on an ill-fated mission to convert infidels. Note the oriental dress and features of some of those doing the martyring, more suitable to somewhere much further east, but no doubt Lorenzetti had never seen a Moroccan. All three frescoes were painted in the first half of the fourteenth century, and introduce a depiction of character that was then new to Sienese painting.

       In the end chapel on the far left of the high altar there is a pleasant 14th century fresco on the side wall of the Virgin and Child by Jacopo di Mino, dating from 1400. But all except one of the paintings over the altars in the chapels are 19th century works in 14th century style. The exception is in the first chapel to the right of the altar, where there is a genuine 14th century Madonna and Child, unfortunately badly burnt in a fire in 1655. There is also some carving worth a look. On the steps to the chapel to the far right of the high altar there are two attractive 15th and 16th century tombstones, and two chapels further on, a fine 15th century sarcophagus of Cristoforo Felici, sculpted by Urbana da Cortona, is set high in the left hand wall .  


       On the opposite side of the right transept, a door leads into another chapel containing a frescoed Virgin and Child with Saints by the 14th century Lippo Vanni, painted to look like a polyptich in an ornate Gothic frame (unfortunately difficult to see because of the poor lighting). Off the left transept, opposite the chapels with the Lorenzettis, there is a large chapel with good pavement decoration, but frustratingly unlit and barred to visitors.


       There are no fewer than three cloisters belonging to the monastery that used to be attached to the church. The first “Piccolomini Cloister” is accessible through a door next to the main entrance to the church. It is now occupied by the Law and Economics faculies of Siena University and is open during normal working hours. It was originally Gothic in style (two of the Gothic arches can be seen in the wall in the far corner), but was redone in elegant renaissance style in 1517 by a Piccolomini bishop – the Piccolomini crescent moon appears at the top of each arch. On the left side of the cloister there are steps up to the church with 18 identical crests (rather damaged) of the Tolomei family, another major Sienese family, commemorating 18 Tolomei men who were according to legend treacherously murdered by the rival Salimbeni family and are now buried underneath.


       The second cloister, known as the Sansoni cloister, is reached through a door to the right of that leading to the Piccolomini cloister. It dates from the 15th century but has been knocked about quite a lot. Until recently, it was part of a barracks, but the soldiers have now moved elsewhere and it has also been taken over by the University. The third cloister is closed to the public. What remains of it can be glimpsed through a door on the left side of the nave of the church.


       In 1730, a thief stole a precious receptacle containing some 350 consecrated hosts or communion wafers (particole), to the consternation of the population. The thief appears to have been interested only in the receptacle, as  the hosts were found a month later stuffed in the offertory box of the neighbouring church of Santa Maria in Provenzano in a somewhat cobwebby state. A huge procession of clerics and townsfolk returned them to San Francesco, where they appear to have been put away (curiously, as consecrated hosts are seen as the body of Christ and are not normally kept for any time before being given in communion). Some 50 years later, somebody remembered them and examined them, to find that they were in a pristine state. This was seen as a miracle, and they were put safely away again. Since then, they have been examined at intervals, with some each time being tested for taste and consistency, and found still to be uncorrupted. What remains of the hosts after the testing etc. is still kept locked away in a chapel in San Francesco, being brought out for special occasions.


    Revised 2003, 2012 and 2015.





    SANTA MARIA DELLE NEVI (Saint Mary of the Snows)


    This tiny church at No.1 via dei Montanini at the top end of the Banchi di Sopra, on the ancient pilgrim route of the via Francigena, is hardly ever open. But on one of its rare opening days during the summer months it is well worth popping in to see one of the greatest works of the 15th century Sienese master Matteo di Giovanni.




    Interior of Santa Maria delle Nevi



        The church was built in the 1470s. It was commissioned by Giovanni Cinughi, Bishop of Pienza, whose family palace was nearby and who intended it for use by his family. He dedicated it to Our Lady of the Snows, an allusion to the legend of a miraculous snowfall in Rome on 5 August 352 AD which was predicted by the Virgin Mary to the then Pope in a vision. She told him to build a church to her on the ground covered by the snow, which he duly did – subsequently replaced by the present church of Santa Maria Maggiore – with the financial help of a rich Roman nobleman to whom the Virgin had also appeared.

        Santa Maria delle Nevi has an agreeable Renaissance travertine façade and a bright interior not predictable from the outside.  The wonderful painting by Matteo di Giovanni over the altar is dated 1477 and was specially commissioned for the church. The main panel shows the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints and angels, the latter holding both individual snowballs and whole dishes of snowballs. St Peter with his key stands to the right of the Virgin and St John the Evangelist is on the left, clutching as usual a book with his Gospel. Kneeling at the Virgin’s feet are St Lawrence holding the gridiron on which he was said to have been martyred by the Romans; and St Catherine of Siena in her black and white Dominican robes. The predella below the painting has scenes showing the miracle of the August snow, which has fallen in a way that indicates exactly the ground-plan of the new church to be built.

        Sienese painters were very conservative and slow to adopt Renaissance innovations, but this painting does have some Renaissance touches with e.g. the perspective of the throne.

        On either side of the altar are stuccoes of St Joseph (unusually in hands-on father mode holding the infant Christ) and of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi (a Florentine nun and mystic) attributed to the 18th century sculptor Giuseppe Maria Mazzuoli (1727-1781).








    ...   ...


       This church near San Francesco has one of the most attractive façades in Siena, built of clotted cream-coloured travertine in a baroque or mannerist style. It is set in quite a large piazza, enabling one to admire it with a fair degree of distance.


       The church was consecrated in 1611 and contains a 14th century terracotta statue of the Virgin Mary (high above the alter in a glass case) which became associated with a number of miracles. It was in honour of this statue that the first July Palio in the Piazza del Campo was run in 1656, originating a tradition that continues to this day. At the time of the July Palio, the church is filled with the swirling flags of the contrade, and echoes to their drum rolls. On the evening before the Palio, the silk banner of the Palio is brought here and blessed. The next morning a solemn mass is said for all the contrade, and after the Palio members of the victorious contrada process to Santa Maria in Provenzano and sing a Te Deum of thanksgiving (for the August Palio, the Duomo is the church where all the ceremonies take place).









    Two moderately interesting small churches near the Porta Camollia, Siena's main northern gate.


    San Pietro alla Magione


                              San Pietro alla Magione with its later brickbuilt extension on the right

    This little Romanesque church, on the right about a hundred metres down the via Camollia, would have been the first church that pilgrims entering Siena encountered. In the 12th century, the Kinghts Templar, a Christian military order founded during the Crusades to defend and give succour to pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem, set up a hospice (probably a cross between a hostel and a hospital) by the church, La Magione – the word comes from the French “maison” – and also took over and probably built much of the present church (although there has been a church here at least since 998).


    The stone-built church is a few steps up from the street and is very plain and simple, although a triangular marble Gothic arch has been added rather incongruously to the Romanesque entrance. The inside is even simpler, a single nave and no ceiling to hide the roof. Note the marble Gothic tabernacle to the right of the apse, matching the church in its elegant simplicity. The brick-built chapel next to the church was built in the 1520s in thanks for the end of an episode of plague. There is a very simple open bell-tower, in a form typical of the Templars. An alley called via Malta runs down the side of the church, reflecting the fact that the church later passed to the Knights of Malta.


                               The austere interior of San Pietro alla Magione (the altar is modern).

    This part of the city is in the Contrada dell’Istrice (porcupine), and the contrada fountain is behind the church, decorated with a fine porcupine. The Romans introduced porcupines from Africa to Italy and they have been in Tuscany ever since, much to the disgust of the farmers, as they eat the root crops. They come out mainly at night and their quills can quite often be found around Barontoli.


    Santa Maria in Portico


                                                                   Interior of Santa Maria in Portico

       A little further along on the right a small lane called vicolo di  Fontegiusta leads through a portico down to the church of Santa Maria in Portico. Its front is plain brick and unadorned apart from the marble surround of the door. But inside the church is that rare thing in Siena, a Renaissance gem. It was built in the 1480s as a thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary after the Sienese victory over the Florentines at the battle of Poggio Imperiale in 1479. The church is almost square, with slender pillars and lovely renaissance arches separating the three naves.  There is a glorious if arguably over-decorated marble altarpiece, surrounded by attractive frescoes of the life of the Virgin (her birth on the left; the Annunciation above; and her “Transition” – for she did not die in the normal sense – on the right by the artist Ventura Salimbeni (1568-1613) and dating from 1600.

    The altarpiece or tabernacle displays a late 14th century fresco of the Virgin and Child, a much venerated and miraculous image image that was originally set in one of the old city gates as protection against enemies (the Sienese saw the Virgin as very much their personal protectress).  On the right wall, there is a charming little organ-loft. The various paintings on the side walls are of limited interest – although that on the left wall near the entrance, allegedly by the painter/architect Baldassare Peruzzi,  represents the somewhat unusual subject of the Sybil predicting to the Emperor Augustus the coming of Christ.


       The church possesses a whalebone said to have been presented to it by Christopher Columbus, who is thought to have passed some years as a student at Siena University.

    Down the hill behind the church was one of Siena’s famous fountains, the Fontegiusta, but all that there remains of it today is an archway in the city walls.,





    Porta Camollia


    Porta Camollia, inner façade


        Siena’s ancient northern gate, the Porta Camollia is at the top end of the via Camollia and was the gate used by travellers from Florence and pilgrims from northern Europe coming along the Via Francigena to Rome and Jerusalem. Because it was the gate facing Florence, Siena’s old enemy, it was one of the best defended. There is even a large secondary gate, the Antiporto di Camollia, a couple of hundred metres outside the main gate – a huge brick structure built in the 13th century and rebuilt in the 17th.


                                                                                                The Antiporto

        The name Camollia is said to come from Camulius, a Roman who was, according to legend, asked by Romulus, the founder of Rome, to go to Tuscany to capture the the two sons of Romulus’s brother Remus, whom Romulus had murdered. The two sons, Ascius and Senus, had fled Rome and became the legendary founders of Siena. Camulius seems to have decided to throw his lot in with them, as he stayed in Tuscany, founding a settlement near where the gate now is. There is an alternative and much less romantic theory that the name Camollia comes from a nearby nuns’ convent or ca’ mulierum.


       The original gate, probably dating back a thousand years, was destroyed during the 1555 siege of Siena, and the present structure was erected in 1604 when Siena was under Medici rule. The outside of the gate is decorated with the five pawnbrokers’ balls of the Medici crest, and the inscription Cor magis tibi Sena pandit (Siena opens her heart to you wider than this gate) was put there – no doubt with teeth gritted – to honour the entry into Siena of the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand I.


    Porta Camollia, the outer façade .


        The open space between the Porta Camollia and the Antiporto was used in the middle Ages for markets and fairs. On the western side stands the Colonna di Portogallo (Portugal Column), so-called as it is where Enea Silvio Piccolomini, the future Sienese Pope Pius II, presided over the meeting of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III with his bride Eleanor of Portugal. Piccolomini, who was at that stage Bishop of Siena, had arranged the marriage, in a fine piece of international diplomacy. The meeting of the bridal pair, with the column behind them, is depicted in the scenes of Pius II’s life by Pinturicchio in the Piccolomini Library of the Duomo.

    The meeting of Emperor Frederick III and Eleanor of Portugal in front

    of the Colonna di Portogallo, by Pinturicchio



                                                    The column today, sadly without its gilding.







    SANTA MARIA DEI SERVI (properly San Clemente in Santa Maria dei Servi) and the PORTA ROMANA

    An impressive Gothic church with interesting paintings, near one of Siena's most imposing gates.

    To get to Santa Maria dei Servi from the Campo, take the via Porrione, and go straight on for a long way, past St Martino and on until a signed road forks to the left towards the church.


    Santa Maria dei Servi, seen from the Palazzo Pubblico

       The campanile is 14th century and the church was also begun in that period, so the building is mostly Gothic – although as so often with churches it took a couple of hundred years to complete, and the facade remains unfinished to this day. It is the monastery church for the Servites who live next door. Inside it is handsome and spacious and its interesting paintings make it well worth a visit. The nave and transepts are covered in painted decoration; although probably dating from the 19th century, it gives an impression of what the church was like originally. When the lights are on, the joyous gaiety is almost impious to our eyes. When the lights are off, it is unfortunately quite hard to see the paintings.


       Starting on the right at the back, between the first and second chapels, there is an attractive fragment of 14th century fresco of the Madonna rescuing the souls of children from Purgatory at the time of the Last Judgement.. In the second chapel on the left is an important painting of the Madonna and Child by the Florentine artist Coppo di Marcovaldo, one of the earliest Italian painters – he probably inspired both Guido da Siena and Duccio. He was captured by the Sienese at the battle of Monteaperti in 1260, and painted this picture as the price of his freedom. It is a marvellous example of Italian Byzantine, highly stylised with great emphasis on the folds of the rich and gorgeous robes, a perfectly balanced and elegant composition.


       The church has not one but two extremely gory pictures of the Massacre of the Innocents, a subject of which Sienese painters were strangely fond. The first, in the fifth chapel on the right, is by Matteo di Giovanni and has recently been restored and lovingly regilded.The second is a fresco in a chapel of the right and  is thought to be partly by Pietro Lorenzetti. The agonised expressions of the mothers are powerfully rendered, and there is an interesting early example of the use of horses for crowd control. To the left is another possible Lorenzetti of St Agnes with her symbol of a lamb. Under this is the mummified body of the Blessed Francesco Patrizi, his bony hand stretched out.


       In the end chapel of the right transept, there is a large and handsome 13th century crucifix of the Duccio school, as is the Madonna and Child over the door of the sacristy. Over the high altar there is a messy Coronation of the Virgin by Bernardino Fungai, and in the chapel on the far left of the altar there are yet more Lorenzetti frescoes, rather damaged, of the dance of Salome – note the head of St John the Baptist still steaming, or are they holy rays? – and of the ascension of St John the Evangelist. There is a pretty nativity above the altar of this chapel, with a hoopoe at the bottom, painted by Taddeo di Bartolo in 1404. 


       In the left transept, the Madonna della Misericordia is by Giovanni di Paolo, painted in 1471. The Madonna is looking rather constipated, but is elegant of shape, with curiously piercing eyes as she shelters mankind under her cloak. In the third chapel on the right, there is a Birth of the Virgin by Rutilio Manetti, with a great play of light and dark as befits a follower of Caravaggio.


       Finally, before leaving, pause to admire the beautiful marble font near the door, dating from the 14th century.


    Porta Romana


             The outer gate of the Porta Romana, as seen by those approaching the city.

       To the south of Santa Maria dei Servi, the road to Rome goes out of the old city through the magnificent Porta Romana (also known as the Porta Nuova), one of the largest of Siena's defensive gates. It was built in the 14th century when a new outer wall was constructed around the south of the City after it expanded beyond the previous walls. Like most of Siena's gateways, it has a double gate. The outer gate is highly crenellated, machicolated and decorative; the more sober inner gate gives more of an impression of force and power, to remind those leaving of the might and wealth of the city. In the 16th century, after Florence had finally taken over Siena, Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici put the large Medici crest on the wall between the two gates. Above the inner door the space can still be seen where there was once an icon of the Madonna painted in 1417 by Taddeo di Bartolo to protect the city.


                           The outer gate as seen by those leaving the city down via Roma


    (1980s, revised 2004)






    A church and an arcade near the Piazza del Campo; there is a good painting by Beccafumi inside.


    They lie between the Banchi di Sotto and the Campo, about 50-100 yards down from the top of the Banchi di Sotto. The church is often closed, but worth a peek inside if the door is open.


    San Martino


       It was one of Siena's first churches, originally founded in the 8th century. The present building is much later - the sober classical facade dates from 1613, and the interior is typically over-ornamented Italian baroque, heavy and not particularly attractive. But some bits of the interior are nevertheless worth a glance. Look for instance at the handsome and beautifully carved ensemble of statuary which makes up the main altar (the sculptor is the little known 17th century Giuseppe Mazzuoli). Look also at the two statues above the two side altars on either side of the main altar. That on the left, of the Virgin and Child, is also by Giuseppe Mazzuoli, whereas that on the left (of St Thomas of Villanueva) is by another and considerably less talented member of the Mazzuoli family. The two statues are illustrative of the good and bad sides of mannerism: the Virgin is alive and full of wonderful movement, whereas St Thomas is stiff and artificial, his attitudinising merely ridiculous.

       Siena's most famous mannerist painter, Beccafumi, is represented by a beautifully coloured Nativity above the third altar on the left, typical of this painter with its interesting light effects but somewhat marred by the overly sentimental circling angels in the sky. Above the second altar on the right is a stiff and rather unpleasant Circumcision of Jesus by Guido Reni. The other paintings are undistinguished - although that above the third altar on the right is said to be by Guercino, it is in such an appalling state as not to be worth looking at.


       The church has a 16th century cloister, rather damaged, which can be entered through a dark passage in the Via Porrione, just beyond the church.


    Logge del Papa


       This pretty loggia to the left of the church is another contribution to the city by Siena’s great Renaissance patron, Pope Pius II Piccolomini (Papa is the Italian for Pope). It was built in the 1460s.







    A smallish out-of-the-way Church with a magnificent Beccafumi, near two of Siena’s ancient gates.


       San Niccolò al Carmine (also known as Santa Maria del Carmine) is in the Pian dei Mantellini. It is the church of Siena's Carmelite monastery. Apart from the big handsome bell­tower, the red-brick building itself is undistinguished, but the paintings inside are worth a look if you are nearby (Pian dei Mantellini can be reached by going up via di Citta and then on – it turns first into via Stalloregio and then Pian dei Mantellini after going through a gate in the old city wall. There are number of ancient palazzi on the way).



        On the way to the church, in via Stalloreggio on the left, high on the wall of a building on the corner of via del Castelvecchio, there is a tabernacle with a painting by Domenico Beccafumi, known as the “Madonna del Corvo”, or Madonna of the Crow.  Legend has it that a crow brought the 1348 plague to Siena and that it was at this spot that it fell down dead. Unfortunately, it is difficult to see the painting through the protective glass. By the gateway out into Pian dei Mantellini, there is another another 16th century tabernacle with Madonna and saints. Tabernacles of the Virgin were much favoured as the Sienese believed that she gave the city her special protection.


    The Arco delle Due Porte

    The gateway, known as the Arco delle Due Porte  (Arch of the Two Doors) because it has double arches (one blocked for centuries), is in Siena’s oldest (11th century) wall built around the original nucleus of the City (as the ciy expanded, new outer walls had to be built). There is another tabernacle with Virgin and Child, allegedly the oldest in the city, outside the gateway to the left of the blocked arch.


    Arco delle Due Porte, the very ancient double gateway at the end of via Stalleregio


    The church of San Niccolò

       The entrance to the red-brick San Niccolò al Carmine is on the side of the church. Over the altar opposite the entrance, there is a huge painting by Beccafumi, Siena's chief mannerist painter (1485-­1551), of St Michael the Archangel pushing Lucifer and the rebellious angels down to hell, with a fierce-looking God the Father urging him on from above (there is another version of this scene in the Pinacoteca). It has Beccafumi’s usual good light effects, unfortunately difficult to appreciate in the gloom of the church.


       To the right is an unfortunately damaged fresco of the Assumption with a choir of heavenly angels, attributed to the early 15th century artist Benedetto di Bindo. The angels are managing to hover in a most relaxed and convincing way, playing a variety of instruments, around the now obliterated figure of the Virgin being assumed into heaven. At the bottom left of the fresco, on one side of her empty tomb, St Lucy is carrying her eyes on a plate (one of the various attempts at martyring her involved her eyes being torn out, subsequently to be miraculously restored), and St Catherine of Alexandria stands on the other side. The figure in front of the Tomb is Doubting Thomas, to whom according to legend the Virgin dropped her belt to prove that it was really her going up to heaven.



    Detail from Benedetto di Bindo’s Assumption, showing the Virgin’s belt dropping into the hands

     of the sceptical apostle Thomas

       A door on the other side of the Beccafumi leads into the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. Over the altar, there is a birth of the Virgin by Sodoma (painted about 1537), with a particularly large bevy of women fussing around the newly delivered mother. It has a handsome 16th century marble surround.


       Back in the main church, next to the door into the chapel, there is 13th century byzantine-style Madonna and Child - the "Madonna dei Mantellini" inset into a larger and later painting by Francesco Vanni. The church also has a handsome 17th century polychrome marble main altar.


       Next to the church, at No 44, is the old cloister of the convent. It is now part of Siena University, but still retains early 18th century frescoes illustrating Carmelite life by Giuseppe Niccola Nasini.


        To the right of the entrance to the cloister, there stands the Palazzo Incontri, a large neo-classical structure built around 1800.


    Porta San Marco and the Cappella della Madonna del Rosario


        Beyond the church and to the right, the via di San Marco leads down to Porta San Marco, a city gate built as part of the fifth and last or outermost wall round Siena. The gate dates from the 1320s, like the neighbouring Porta Tufi. It is one of Siena’s least impressive entrances with no system of double gates. It was strengthened with a military fortification by Baldassare Peruzzi in the 16th century, but this has been demolished. It is also known as the Porta delle Maremme, as the road from it leads towards Grosseto and the Maremma region.


    Porta San Marco from outside the city walls


        A few hundred yards back up via San Marco, there is the charming baroque façade of the Cappella della Madonna del Rosario. This little chapel was built in the 1650s and gained its late baroque façade in the 1720s when the money from a Palio win was used by the local contrada – the Snail or Chiocciola – to enlarge it.   The contrada seems subsequently to have abandoned the church and it was deconsecrated in 1820. But in recent years to has been brought back into use as a “House of the Horse” (Casa del cavallo) to stable the Snail horse in the run-up to the Palio, with young men of the contrada guarding it day and night to ensure that it is not nobbled by a rival.


    Cappella della Madonna del Rosario



    1980s; revised 2015 and 2016.







    A small church in the via del Refugio (off via Roma) with a beautiful marble façade and a heavily decorated baroque interior. Worth a visit if passing. It used always to be shut, but recently a cultural offshoot of the Touring Club of Italy, “Aperti per Voi”, has arranged for volunteers to be there on certain mornings to allow for visits – see church door for details (at present – winter 2019 – it is open 09.30-13.00 Wednesday mornings).



        A member of a rich Sienese banking family, Aurelio Chigi, left money and instructions for the building of this church in his 1596 will. The present gleaming white marble façade was not added until 1660, after it was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII, another member of the Chigi family. It is not clear why Aurelio chose St Raymond of Penafort as the patron for his church – St Raymond was a 13th century Spanish lawyer who became a Dominican friar and drafted part of the Catholic Church’s canon law. The “Refugio” refers to an institution in the same street for the destitute daughters of impoverished nobility of which Aurelio was the director.  The church is cleverly sited so that the façade can be seen from via Roma (the former main road to Rome) at the end of a vista down via di Refugio. It was damaged in the big Sienese earthquake of 1798, but no trace of the damage remains.


        The façade follows classical principles, with the three orders of capitals – doric, ionic and corinthian – on succeeding floors. On the third level, the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII, with the papal keys and crown, is splendidly displayed. The Chigi crest with its six superimposed hills and star above can be seen on either side, topping the corners of the church.


        The interior is quite different. It was decorated in the early 1600s when the fashion was for heavy baroque decoration covering every part of the church. Specially designed gilded frames surround gloomy paintings by 17th century Sienese masters showing scenes from the lives of St Raymond, St Catherine of Siena and San Galgano (whose family palazzo is just round the corner), and St Catherine of Siena. The overall effect is oppressive to modern eyes, but there is no doubt of the skill of the work. The handsome white marble tombstone of Aurelio Chigi is in the middle of the aisle.



        In the sacristy at the back of the church, along with the usual collection of old church paraphernalia, there are two painted wooden sculptures – a St Catherine of Alexandria lacking an arm, said to be by the most famous of Sienese Renaissance sculptors, Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438); and a charming Virgin and Child by Lorenzo di Mariano (aka Il Marrina) (1476-1534) – see photo below.











    A mainly classical church with good paintings by Sodoma, near one of Siena’s grandest city gates. Of moderate interest.


    To reach this church, follow via Pantaneto, the continuation of the Banchi di Sotto, down the hill and turn left into the via Pispini, just after the massive neo-classical façade of the church of San Giorgio (almost always shut).  You will see the red-brick façade of Santo Spirito in front of you. Unfortunately it is usually shut, except for a few open days during the summer (on which the Tourist Office can supply information).


       The church of Santo Spirito was originally built in the thirteenth century but its present interior is early sixteenth century and of typically elegant classical renaissance style, with symmetrical wide round arches and a large dome (not, however, a true dome architecturally speaking; as can be seen from the exterior, it is built inside a drum). Originally, the inside of the church probably had almost no decoration, but later in the baroque age stucco angels were attached to the sober classical lines, perching on ledges above the altar and providing an attractive asymmetry to the classical geometry of the church's bare architecture.


       The church has a number of paintings of which the most interesting are the Sodoma pictures of saints above the altar in the first chapel on the right at the back of the church. The wishy-washy painting immediately above the altar in this chapel is not his, but most of the others show his vigorous style and were painted in 1530. On the left hand side of the chapel there is a good St Sebastian, and on the right is St Anthony the Abbot with his symbols of a bell on his wrist and a pig, a baby saddleback, at the bottom of the picture. At the top, St James of Compostella can be seen galloping over terrified Saracens. St James, one of the Apostles, died in 44 AD, many centuries before the Saracens appeared in Europe, but acquired a reputation in the early middle ages for returning in spirit form to help Christian armies fight the Saracens and Moors who were then invading the continent.


    To the right of the main altar, behind a grill (light switch on the right) is an interesting crib scene with life-size figures of painted terracotta, allegedly by Ambrogio della Robbia (1554), one of the lesser members of the della Robbia clan. The statues have clearly been much repainted over the years, and the baby in particular looks far too romantic to have come from as far back as the sixteenth century. One of the shepherds is playing the bagpipes. (Bagpipes were according to one story introduced to Scotland by Italians from Cremona, who became the MacCrimmons, the hereditary pipers to the Clan MacLeod. In fact, bagpipes were probably a natural development in almost any society where animal skins were readily available.)




    Pispini Fountain and Gate


       The pretty Fontana dei Pispini used to stand in front of  Santo Spirito, but has recently been moved a few hundred yards further down the via Pispini, where it now stands opposite the church of San Gaetano, the church of the Contrada of the Shell or Nicchio (see the large shell above the church door). This fountain dates back to at least the 1400s, but was transformed into its present shape in 1536. The Shell contrada has adopted it as its official contrada fountain.



                                                    Fontana dei Pispini



         A little further down, the via Pispini reaches the Gate of the same name, the Porta dei Pispini. It is a huge double gate, one of Siena’s grandest, built in the 14th century in Siena’s outer ring of walls (which were constructed when the city expanded out of the previous walls).



                                                                                  Porta Pispini


    There were real threats to Siena in those days and the walls are soild constructions. Outside of the Porta Pispini, along on the left is the Fortino di Porta Pispini, the sole survivor of seven bastions designed by the great 16th century Sienese architect Baldassare Peruzzi to strengthen the defensive capacity of the wall.








    A large red brick renaissance church overlooking Siena from a hill on the northern edge of the city, with good della Robbia figures.






       The convent of the Osservanza was the home of San Bernardino until he left Siena in 1444 to die in L'Aquila (St Bernardino was a Franciscan friar who became an immensely popular preacher, the Billy Graham of his day). When he lived here, it was a small convent; but after his death, as his cult grew, a large church was erected to accommodate the many pilgrims. Since its construction between 1476 and 1490, it has suffered many changes. It was baroquified in the eighteenth century, de­baroquified in the 1920s, bombed in 1944 and reconstructed after the last war. Despite all these vicissitudes, it is still an elegant example of the Renaissance. It also contains some marvellous Andrea della Robbia glazed terracottas, probably the best of his work to be found in Siena.


       Inside the church, on each side of the main door, are tondos by Andrea della Robbia of St Louis and of St Bonaventura. On either side of the chancel arch at the other end of the church are wonderful statues of the Archangel Gabriel and of the Virgin Mary, both rendered in pure white, again by Andrea della Robbia in around 1485. Note the charmingly natural pose of the Virgin. And finally in the second chapel on the left is a magnificent della Robbia high-relief altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin with a predella below with scenes of her life, in imitation of a painting of the period. This was badly damaged during the wartime bombing, but has been lovingly reassembled and restored. Unfortunately, it is very badly lit, and visibility is not helped by a barrier wired to an alarm that prevents anybody from approaching too close to the side chapels.


    Coronation of the Virgin by Andrea della Robbia



       There other sorts of good things in each of the side chapels. Especially fine are the Madonna and Child by Sano di Pietro in the first chapel on the left (switch on the light); the 16th century group in coloured terracotta, mourning over the dead Christ in the second chapel on the right; and a triptych by Sano di Pietro in the third chapel on the right, with the Virgin between Saints Jerome and Bernardino (St Jerome, one of the great doctors or learned men of the church, as so often holds a book in which he is pretending to write, although the page already seems full; St Bernardino is instantly recognisable by his hollow-cheeked and toothless look). On the left wall of the same chapel there is a portrait of San Bernardino, painted by Pietro di Giovanni Ambrosi in 1444, the year that the saint died, so it may well have been from life. In the fourth chapel is a further triptych, this time with St Jerome (in red, not even pretending to write this time) and St Ambrose, dated 1436 by an unknown painter now known after this painting as the ‘Master of the Osservanza’.




       If there is a monk in the church ask to be shown the sacristy (through a door to the right of the altar): it contains a further wonderful polychrome terracotta group mourning the dead Christ attributed to Giocamo Cozzarelli. This is more mannerist in style, with the various saints and apostles striking intensely tragic attitudes. Off the sacristy is a small museum with illuminated manuscripts; beautifully embroidered old vestments; some - mostly modest - paintings and statues (good but damaged fresco of St Michael the Archangel, originally from the crypt); and other odds and ends.


      The altar and the chancel suffered most from the bombing and are a complete reconstruction.


    (1980s and 2015)




    Siena's 18th century Sephardi synagogue.

    The synagogue is at 14 vicolo delle Scotte, a tiny lane entered through archways from either via Salicotto (which runs down the left side of the Palazzo Pubblico) or via del Porrione, to the right of the façade of San Martino. The synagogue is open Sunday, Monday and Thursday from 10.30 to 17.30 and other days (except Saturdays) by appointment. During the open days, visits are every half hour and are preceded by a short presentation.



        There has been a Jewish community in Siena since at least 1229. The Jews were not particularly well-treated, being considered “Despisers of the Most Glorious Virgin Mary” (Siena’s traditional protectress), but nevertheless flourished as money-lenders and bankers despite the competition from the Monte dei Paschi.   Things went particularly badly after the Medici takeover of Siena. In 1571 Grand Duke Cosimo dei Medici ordered that they be confined to a ghetto area below the Campo and imposed various other restrictions.

        When the French revolutionary forces entered Siena in 1796, they tore down the gates of the guetto and ceremoniously burnt them in the Campo. This emancipation of the Jews was not to last long. There was a counter-revolution against the French in 1799, during which members of a fanatical religious association called “Viva Maria”, founded in Arezzo, burst into the synagogue while the congregation was at prayer. In probably the most shameful episode in Siena’s history, a huge bonfire was built in the Campo and thirteen Jews, including six women, were burnt alive, the Church authorities turning a blind eye. After that, confinement of the community to the ghetto lasted another sixty-odd years (until the uinfication of Italy). The Jews finally attained full citizenship only in 1895. 

        Construction on the present synagogue began in 1756, on the site of an earlier building. The community employed as their architect a Florentine, Giuseppe del Rosso, who had worked on several churches in Florence. The outside of the synagogue is very plain, more like a private house, as the Jews were not supposed to build new places of worship. The interior, however, is sumptuous in a neo-classical style unusual in Siena at that period. The community employed master woodworkers and there is also excellent marble carving, despite the fact that sysnagogues were not supposed to use marble as that would be rivalling churches. The marble used for the columns on either side of the Torah Ark is said to come from Jerusalem, although this seems somewhat unlikely (and would be coals to Newcastle).


                                         Interior. There is a woman's gallery upstairs.

        There are plaques outside the synagogue, commemorating both the 13 people burnt in 1799 and Siena’s Holocaust victims.

        There is also a Jewish cemetery, still in use, at 17 Strada Linaiolo, outside the Porta Romana, to which there are periodic guided tours (telephone 0577 49272).