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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

The Duomo of Siena

Siena’s Cathedral


The Cathedral in Siena is the most beautiful half-ruin cathedral church in the world, and Cornell architects should love it.  What’s not to love?  Its’ outside is black and white horizontal stripes, its’ section is beautifully complex, its’ paving pattern is the most ornate in all of Europe and its’ principal nave was never finished.

The Cathedral stands in the middle of an urban square created by the ambitious but ultimately ruinous construction of the Nave.  When the Sienese found out that their rival city-state (Florence) had a cathedral that was bigger than theirs, they tried to make a bigger one.  Instead of demolishing their old cathedral, they decided to turn its nave into the transept, and extend an even larger nave perpendicular to the existing church.

Visiting the Cathedral was a pleasure made even more sweet, by the fact that I knew nothing about this church.  Now, it happens to be one of my favorites, and it should be reason alone for anyone to go to Siena, although there are many other reasons to visit Siena.  Climbing the unfinished grand facade is an entirely unique experience, and to this day, there are no forms of representation that can do this church justice.  There’s no drawing that depicts how the stairs seem to flow out of the cathedral and down a hilly urban fabric.  There’s no section that shows the way the church cradles a hill side and ingeniously fits its various programs into a vast complex.  There’s no drawing that shows the way the partially constructed walls and how they were enveloped by the city fabric.

There is however, a beautiful drawing of a floor plan that shows all the paving patterns, and it’s in the museum dedicated to the cathedral, so if you haven’t been, go.

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