Gloriously gothic and civilised, Siena is one of Tuscany’s most seductive cities. An iconic rose-brick cityscape awaits you, which has existed since the 13th century. Endlessly intriguing, its museums and galleries are packed with Italian wonders from the Roman, Gothic and Pre-Renaissance periods.
Museum-goers will love the sheer abundance of museums in and around Siena. Here are some you won’t want to miss:
Municipal Museum (Museo Civico)
Siena’s most visited museum is laced with richly frescoed rooms, painted by artists from the Siena. Commissioned by the city’s governing body, instead of by the Church, many of the frescoes depict secular subjects. Highlights are Simone Martini’s celebrated first work: Virgin Mary in Majesty (1315) featuring the Madonna under a canopy, surrounded by saints and angels, while the Hall of the Nine (Sala dei Nove) features the fresco cycle of Good and Bad Government created by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The museum lies in the heart of the city on the first floor of the city hall – allow at least an hour to take everything in.
Cathedral Museum (Museo dell Opera del Duomo)
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo sits within the magnificent complex of Siena’s cathedral, or Duomo. It is an art museum housing paintings and architectural fragments that were once within, or a part of, the Duomo of Siena. The displays include many Italian gothic sculptures by Giovanni Pisano taken from the façade of the cathedral, along with the Maestà of Duccio di Boninsegna, the 13th century altar piece and works by Pietro Lorenzetti and Ambrogio.
Aurelio Castelli Museum (Museo Aurelio Castelli)
Father Aurelio Castelli was responsible for gathering the museum’s works of art on display after the closure of many convents. Located next to the Basilica dell’Osservanza, the church was built at the start of the fifteenth century and the museum sits in the wing of the building which overlooks the convent courtyard, commanding wonderful views of the city of Siena. The museum showcases several works of art, including paintings, prints, sculptures and seals from the basilica. You can also visit the Basilica dell’Osservanza, which itself houses several important works of art as well.
National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeológico)
For an excellent overview of the archaeology of Siena and nearby Chiusi, head to the National Archaeological Museum of Siena which is tucked inside the underground rooms of the ancient 10th-11th century hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. The museum displays numerous fascinating finds from excavations in the province of Siena, including: red-figured Etruscan ceramics; architectural decorative elements in terracotta; sarcophagi and lamps from Roman times.
Etruscan Museum (Museo Etrusco)
In an area as ancient as Siena, it’s small wonder that there is a treasure trove of archaeological findings to be discovered. The Etruscan Museum displays findings from digs in Siena and its surrounding areas, especially Ranza and Cellole, thanks to the work of the Archeological Youth Group of San Gimigmano which has restored and catalogued all the exhibits you will see carefully laid out in the showcases. Amongst the items you will see everyday items such as bowls, vases, plates, necklaces and buckles, along with urns depicting a stretched-out figure of a deceased person holding a plate with a small offering to pay for their journey to the afterlife.
Sacra National Gallery (Pinacoteca Nazionale)
Home to a rich collection of masterpieces by artists from the famous Sienese school of art dating back to late medieval and Renaissance times. Here you will find ostentatious, large altar pieces dripping in golden decorations. The Pinacoteca Nazionale is housed in two old palaces: Buonsignori and Palazzo Brigidi located off a quiet street around the corner from the cathedral, settings which are ideal for quiet admiration of the masterpieces and their craftsmanship.
Asciano Museum of Sacred Art (Asciano Museo d’Arte Sacra)
Pretty Asciano perches atop a hill, half an hour’s drive (or a brief train ride) from central Siena. This small Tuscan town’s Museo d’Arte Sacra near the Romanesque parish church of Sant’Agata displays 14th and 15th century religious works by some of Siena’s most famous sculptors and painters, the highlight being an exquisite painting of the Birth of the Virgin by a local artist known as “Il Maestro dell’Osservanza”.