Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana ★★

The cathedral museum is filled with works by Donatello and Duccio and comes with a stunning panorama of Siena

Housed in the walled-up right aisle of the Duomo’s abortive new nave, Siena’s Duomo museum contains all the works removed from the facade for conservation as well as disused altarpieces, including Duccio’s masterpiece.

It also offers one of the city’s best views.

The ground floor has the fascinating but weather-worn facade statues by Giovanni Pisano and his school (1284–96), remarkable for their Gothic plasticity and craned, elongated necks. (When they were 50 feet up in niches, these protruding necks made sure their faces were visible from the ground.)

In the center of the room is Jacopo della Quercia’s last work, a 1438 marble panel of Cardinal Casini Presented to the Virgin by St. Anthony Abbot. Also here is a luminous marble tondo of the Madonna and Child carved in refined schiacciato relief. Most scholars now agree it’s the work of Donatello. There are more statues out a side door, but that leads to the exit, so first head up the stairs.

Duccio’s Maestà

Upstairs is the museum’s, if not the city’s, masterpiece, Duccio’s Maestà. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this double-sided altarpiece, now separated and displayed on opposite sides of the intimate room. Not only did it virtually found the Sienese school of painting, but it has also been considered one of the most important late medieval paintings in all Europe since the day it was unveiled.

When Duccio finished the work on June 9, 1311, it was reportedly carried in procession from the painter’s workshop to the Duomo’s altar by the clergy, government officials, and every last citizen in Siena.

The centuries have, all told, been unusually kind to it. Although eight of the predella panels are in foreign museums and one is lost (12 pinnacle angels suffered similar fates), it’s otherwise remarkably intact and in great shape.

The central scene of the Maestà, or Virgin Mary in Majesty enthroned and surrounded by saints, became the archetypal grand subject for a Sienese painter. Her dark bulk and the gorgeous inlaid throne contribute to the Madonna’s majesty, while the soft folds of her robes and her gentle features bring out her humanity.

On the wall is an early Duccio Madonna and Child. Almost overlooked here is Pietro Lorenzetti’s incredible Birth of the Virgin. The perspective in the piece may be a bit off, but Lorenzetti broke traditions and artistic boundaries with his fabrics, his colors, and (most important) the architectural space he created.

Instead of painting a triptych with a central main scene and two unrelated side panels of saints, as was the norm, Lorenzetti created a single continuous space by painting vaulted ceilings that seem to grow back from the pointed arches of the triptych’s frame.

Pietro never got a chance to develop these ideas; this is the last work he painted before succumbing to the plague.


The upper floor’s Treasury Room has a remarkable early Crucifix by Giovanni Pisano (ca. 1280), a 13th-century gilded silver reliquary containing the head of St. Galgano, and paintings by Domenico Beccafumi, Sassetta, and Vecchietta kept in a usually locked side room.

In the Sala della Madonna degli Occhi Grossi, the namesake Madonna of the Big Eyes, which got nudged off the cathedral’s high altar by Duccio’s Maestà, was painted in 1220s by the “Maestro di Tressa.”

Also here are some Ambrogio Lorenzetti Saints (and a few by Il Sodoma), and Madonna and Child works by Matteo di Giovanni, Sano di Pietro, and the “Master of Città di Castello.”

A city panorama from the facciatone 

If you take the stairs (past rooms of baroque canvases and church vestments) that lead up to the walkway atop the facciatone, the would-be facade of the “New Duomo,” you get the best visualization of how the enlarged Duomo would have looked as well as sweeping views across the city's rooftops with the Torre del Mangia towering over the Palazzo Pubblico.

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How long does the Museo Metropolitana take?

Planning your day: Give the museum at least 45 minutes.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).