A very important church for Siena, closely linked to the life of St Catherine
The Basilica of San Domenico stands imposingly on a hillock at the foot of the historic centre of Siena, framed by the houses that ‘climb’ below the Cathedral. It’s among the most important churches in the city especially for its link to the life of St Catherine of Siena.
Built between 1226 and 1265 and enlarged during the 14th century, the Basilica of San Domenico has been subjected to many events over the centuries including fires, military occupations, earthquakes, interventions and modifications, which have led to its unmistakable Cistercian-Gothic appearance and unique relationship between exterior and interior.
The left side of the building faces the square, while the right side is taken up by the monastery premises. The facade is plain and devoid of decoration, except for the rose windowand is partially covered by the Chapel of the Vaults.The presence of the chapel has limited the space available on the facade, moving the church access to the left side, which is rather unusually.
Entering the Basilica of San Domenico is an intense spiritual experience.Perhaps it’s the presence of the Dominican fathers, or the fact that a large part of St Catherine’s mystical journey was fulfilled here, or it’s the presence of her relic – the mummified head – or simply the rigour of its aisles. What is certain is that when you enter this red-brick basilica you are engulfed by contemplation and a respectful silence..
Marvel at the impressive frescoes of St Catherine by Andrea Vanni, the only portrait of the Sienese saint. The complex also contains other important works, such as the Adoration of the Child by Francesco di Giorgio; and the two paintings by Sodoma, The Ecstasy and The Fainting of St Catherine. In the left transept is the chapel housing La Maestà by Guido da Siena, mentor of Duccio di Boninsegna.
Externally, the bell tower dates back to 1340. It was lowered following the 1798 earthquake and the crenellated crowning was also added at this time.
Also part of the complex is a crypt from the 14th century, which is accessed by a staircase at the end of the right aisle of the church. To the right of the facade is the entrance to the cloister built in 1425.