Visiting as much as possible from the historical and artistic patrimony of Siena is a prerequisite of a complete stay in this picturesque Tuscan city. While the so-called Basilica dell’Osservanza does not fall in the range of the most popular highlights, it is a stop likely to enrich your experience of the city. Originally built in a clean Renaissance style, the church and monastery have accumulated elements pertaining to other architectural trends following the repeated restoration works carried out in time.
The church was erected on the so-called Colle della Capriola, once home to Saint Bernardino da Siena, a prominent figure of the Franciscan order of Minorites. Supposedly, construction works were carried out and completed in 1490, following a design by the Siena-born Francesco di Giorgio Martini. By the end of the 15th century, the original structure had already been expanded by order of Pandolfo Petrucci, back then a powerful Sienese politician, who envisaged the accommodation of his family crypt.
Following the siege of Siena in 1554, the church was significantly damaged, and restoration works were in place. Thus, in the 16th century, this place of worship took a Baroque twist, reflecting its architects’ sensitivity to the artistic fad of those times. Unfortunately, World War Two razed the church to the ground (the bombing in 1944), so, except for a few documentary resources, nothing survived that troubled age.
The structure you can see now is a reconstruction based on the said salvaged documents and on friars’ testimonies. Authorities claim the current structure is a close reproduction of the original monastic complex which consisted of a church and a monastery. The historic air of the place will surely convince you the present version did not fall short of authorities’ ambition to restore the church to its past outline.
The facade of the church is not overwhelmingly decorated – it is quite plain, in fact – though it does feature certain eye-catching elements. Topped over by a triangular gable, its upper part is dotted with sills above a frieze. The lower part consists of a colonnade of pillars which shelters an array of commemorative plaques, evoking the most significant moments of the history of the complex (the 15th century dedication to Saint Bernardino, visits and donations of popes and of other notable figures). The sobriety of the exterior is completed by a roof structure which matches the austerity of the Renaissance style, proving the current version of the building is indeed the original one.
In contrast, the bell tower seems to be a later addition. The crypt (originally built in the late 15th century) shelters the tombs of the Petruccis (other significant burials can be spotted), and it can be entered from the left end of the colonnade. Inside the church, a surprising sobriety infuses the air. Once replete with lush decorations, the current church turned to its original Renaissance simplicity after the mid-20th century restorations. Certain elements can catch your interest, however.
Two glazed terracotta medallions flanking the entrance and the triumphal arch with a support structure adorned with two restored glazed terracotta statues can be cited. The altar features a crucifix as centerpiece (of little historical value) and a fresco, supposedly a 15th century work by Pietro di Francesco Orioli. Four chapels flank each side of the church, all dedicated (and rededicated) to biblical figures and events (chiefly, Mary and Jesus) and to two saints: San Bernardino and San Antonio da Padova.
The monastic complex is complemented by a series of structures: the oratory of San Bernardino, the refectory, the vestry and the mausoleum below it, two cloisters and the so-called Pandolfo’s loggia.
The monastery museum (called Aurelio Castelli Museum, in the honor of the reputed scholar who militated for the independence of the complex in the late 19th century) was opened in 1920, and it is particularly interesting. It showcases exhibits pertaining to the history of the church and monastery, recovered from the disasters that have affected the complex in time.
The following count as some of the most prized exhibits showcased in the museum: a fresco by Girolamo di Benvenuto (formerly located in the crypt, but brought here for preservation); parts of a wooden Crucifixion by Lando di Pietro recovered from the 1944 bombings; the tombstone of Niccolo Piccolomini, with no known authorship (previously attributed to Il Vecchietta); and the reliquary of the vestments of San Bernardino.
The table below lists all information about the address and contact of Basilica dell’Osservanza.
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