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If, while strolling through the city, you have arrived at Piazza del Duomo, you will surely notice that next to the cathedral stands a marvellous structure with a somewhat curious shape, a sort of great wall covered in marble from which a series of columns connected by very high round arches and closed by brick walls. This is what the Sienese call 'Facciatone', what remains of a pharaonic architectural project dating back to 1339.

The Cathedral of Siena that we know today, one of the most important Gothic cathedrals in Christian Europe, was built from the 1340s onwards with a very important participation by Nicola Pisano (a fine artist and father of Giovanni, with whom he would shortly afterwards work on the Pulpit for the same Cathedral: another of the many wonders that you cannot miss).

Almost a hundred years later, however, the city of Siena had expanded substantially: it had grown richer and larger, and its population had grown considerably. On August 23rd 1339 then, after heated debate and lengthy discussions, it was decided to resoundingly enlarge the structure of the Duomo by transforming it into the transept of a new cathedral that would be built perpendicular to the 13th-century one.

The design of this 'Duomo Nuovo' - which was to become one of the largest churches in Christendom - was entrusted to Giovanni d'Agostino, a very talented sculptor who was only 25 years old at the time.

In accordance with the typical practice of medieval building techniques, construction began on the façade, which was erected and immediately decorated. Although it may seem strange to us today, it was in fact common practice in the 14th century that as soon as a wall was built, it was decorated, even before the structure was built as a whole. This is the reason why today the 'Facciatone' looks to us like the ruin of a destroyed ancient cathedral and not the only fragment of a structure that was never completed.

Despite the fact that the building of the 'Duomo Nuovo' began immediately and with the involvement of many stone masons and sculptors, a series of vicissitudes slowed down the construction, to which a dramatic event gave a lethal blow: the plague of 1348, during which Siena lost many of its citizens, including Giovanni d'Agostino. Attempts to continue the work in the early 1350s were in vain, as the shortage of sculptors and stone masons and the economic recession resulting from the pandemic soon forced the Municipality to abandon the project.

All that remains today of the dream of that gigantic cathedral is the mighty façade, some of the columns that would have divided the central nave from the side ones, the 'Portale di Vallepiatta' (the one that was supposed to connect the right side of the Duomo Nuovo with the Baptistery and that still stands today at the beginning of the grand staircase that leads from the Duomo to Piazza San Giovanni), and various sculptural decorations.

Today, the 'Facciatone' towers imposingly over the rooftops of Siena and welcomes all those who wish to climb it to enjoy a breathtaking 360° view of the city and surrounding countryside. The panorama from the 'Facciatone' can be visited, according to the summer schedule - valid until 31 October - , from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (on public holidays from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on pre-holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.). For information and reservations, please visit https://operaduomo.siena.it/visita/ .


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