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  • Day29

    Cripta del Duomo di Siena, Siena

    September 27, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    We made our way to the Piazza del Duomo, the square in front of the Siena Cathedral. While this is nothing like the Piazza del Campo, it is a lot smaller, it is the central point for many of the main sites we next visited, the Duomo di Siena, the Libreria Piccolomini, the Facciatone, the Battistero di San Giovanni, and the Opera delle Metropolitana. The confusing thing was most of these places were actually all part of the Cathedral, but they all had separate entrances and were independent of each other.

    First place we visited was the Cripta del Duomo di Siena. Situated under the Duomo’s pulpit, this vaulted space was totally filled with debris in the late 1300s and was only excavated and restored in 1999. Originally functioning as a cathedral entrance and confessional, it was decorated with 180 square meters of richly coloured 13th century pintura a secco (dry or mural paintings) covering walls, columns, pilasters, capitals and corbels. Fortunately, these managed to survive their mistreatment.

    The Cripta is not exactly a crypt and was never used for burials. It is thought to have functions as a sort of porch with stairways leading directly up into the nave of the cathedral. Constructed at the same time as the Duomo, Siena’s citizens barely got a change to enjoy its frescoes before it was filled with debris and abandoned. Expansion work on the choir began in 1317 that required dismantling the crypt’s vault and the construction of the baptistery soon destroyed the façade. The crypt was subsequently used as a storeroom for construction materials and was closed up for good.

    It lay unseen for nearly 700 years until its re-discovery during routine excavations in the Duomo in 1999 and the room was opened to the public in 2003. It is amazing what has survived all these centuries and the colours of the murals are so vivid to this day. You can see where the new buildings were added with no thought or care to cutting through a mural, destroying the images. I guess it was just an everyday thing for them, no big deal, and yet to us, today, we are amazed and enthralled by the artistry.

    It is believed that there is another crypt in the cathedral, the original one, under the dome, but in places still inaccessible today due to the risk of static problems. You can just imagine how much is still buried and undiscovered today and possibly forever. The history, the sense of time, it is so hard to explain the feelings it evokes. It is pretty amazing.
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