A palace of papal lineage that today houses the Centre for Contemporary Art in Siena.
Along Via di Città, a few steps from Piazza del Campo and Siena Cathedral, stands the imposing and unmistakable Palazzo Piccolomini, known as Palazzo delle Papesse, an extraordinary example of Florentine-style Renaissance architecture with its typical ashlar stone facade, built between 1460 and 1495.
But who were the Papesse?
This title refers to Caterina and Laudomia Piccolomini, sisters of Pope Pius II, the Sienese pope who rebuilt Pienza, the city where he was born. Caterina directed the whole construction of the palace, in a style that wasn’t at all Sienese, but closely associated with the Piccolomini family. Bernardo Rossellino, the favourite architect of Pope Pius II, was in charge of the project. He created a building that wss reminiscent of both Leon Battista Alberti’s Palazzo Ruccellai and the one Rossellino himself designed for the Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza.
In 1633, the Palazzo delle Papesse had an illustrious guest: Galileo Galilei. After his conviction by the Inquisition, the Pisan scientist was confined to house arrest in the residence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s ambassador, Francesco Niccolini, at Trinità dei Monti in Rome. He was able to leave the papal city in July of the same year, thanks to Archbishop Ascanio II Piccolomini, who hosted him in Siena in the Palazzo delle Papesse. During his stay in Siena, Galilei was able to meet and write with personalities from the city and engage in scientific debates despite his conviction. He also made some observations of the moon from the palace’s rooftop, from which one can still enjoy a magnificent panorama of the city of Siena.
Towards the end of the 17th century, the noble Piccolomini family, among the most important and influential in the city and bankers of the papal court, faded out. However, Pius II had created the Consorteria Piccolomini to unite the various branches of the family that had formed over the centuries. The Consorteria decided to rent the Palazzo to the Convitto dei Tolomei boarding school, founded in 1629 by Celso Tolomei, whose mission was to educate young noblemen. The boarding school remained there until the early 19th century when the state-owned company Scrittoio delle Regie Fabbriche was installed in the palace. It became the seat of various government offices, including the State Archives, which later moved to another Piccolomini palace in Via Banchi di Sotto.
In 1884, the Palazzo delle Papesse was acquired by the Banca d’Italia bank, who made several changes inclduign the addition of the neo-Renaissance frescoes decorating the rooms on the main floor. After 100 years and a new restoration efforts, in 1998 the palace was reopened as a Contemporary Art Centre and hosted international exhibitions.
Where: Via di Città 126
When: it can be visited during exhibition opening hours |