The unveiling of the floor of the Siena Cathedral: visiting a hidden jewel

A jewel visible only in a few months of the year

It is only in the period between the second half of August until the end of October that something extraordinary can be admired in Siena. This is the time in which there is the unveiling of the floor of the Siena Cathedral, an unmatched work within the Italian artistic panorama. To characterize the floor of the Cathedral of Siena – according to the biographer Giorgio Vasari “the most beautiful, the largest and most magnificent that has ever been made” – is the series of fifty-six large squares that were almost all made with the marble inlay technique (tarsia marmorea), a type of execution that stands out from the mosaic for a greater degree of complexity.

A scene of the marble floor with the detail at the centre of the Sacrifice of Isac

Eighty-five metres of beauty

What is striking about this huge ‘marble carpet’, about eighty-five meters long, is its aesthetic beauty since the visitor can admire the wonderful images created by combining marbles of different colours that have been expertly inlaid; the precious materials used for this floor come from Montagnola, an area located in the western part of ​​the province of Siena.

Pagan images within a Christian worship place

In addition to this, the charm of the floor of the Siena Cathedral also lies in its surprising iconography; considering that we are inside a Christian worship place, what we would expect to find here is a series of Christian iconographic themes.

Instead, what it can be seen under own feet, while someone is walking through the Cathedral’s aisles, is hundreds and hundreds of figures inserted into scenes that are in some cases a pagan subject while in others episodes of the Old  Testament.

The central nave of the Siena Cathedral with the unveiled marble floor

A journey into the history of the Humankind Salvation

From Hermes Trismegistus to the Slaughter of the Innocents, passing through the representation of the Sibyls, the Mount of Wisdom and the Stories of the Exodus, a journey into the history of the Humankind Salvation unfolds on this splendid floor which has been articulated through references to the texts of philosophers and writers of antiquity, as well as those of the authors of early Christianity of which the artists who made the marble inlays took care to report the exact textual quotations. Indeed, another fascinating constituent of this floor is the conspicuous presence of inscriptions, in Latin and in the vernacular, which represent the essential reading key to interpret the complex and sometimes rare iconography of this grandiose work.

Together we will contemplate the beauty and thematic richness of this floor by guided tours that will take place in the Cathedral of Siena, during the unveiling of the marble floor from August to October.