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SIENA Art and monuments - Palazzo Chigi-Saracini

Among the Medieval palazzi that line the elegant Via di Città, is the 14th century Palazzo Chigi-Saracini, currently the seat of the prestigious Accademia Musicale Chigiana founded in 1932. In the mid-12th century the powerful Marescotti family, which belonged to the Ghibelline faction, erected their town house here. The imposing stone tower is still visible, along with the trifore windows in the facade of the current palazzo and the Marescotti coat of arms – an eagle with spread wings. Before the Palazzo Pubblico was built, this building was used as the seat of the Council of the Republic of Siena. Today the building is composed of two floors, the ground floor in stone and the first floor in brick, with two orders of trifore windows.

In 1506 the building was bought by the Piccolomini-Mandoli family, one of the city’s oldest dynasties, who refurbished the palazzo in the new Renaissance style. In 1770 it passed to the Saracini family and by order of Marcantonio Saracini the facade was enlarged and curved in line with the street. The works started by the Saracini family only reached their conclusion in 1824 with Marcantonio’s son, Galgano, who adorned the interiors with a considerable collection of art and furniture numbering some 12,000 pieces. Galgano in fact instituted a museum within the palazzo in 1806, which was open to visitors and art students. With the extinction of the Saracini family in 1877 the building was inherited by the Chigi family.

The palazzo’s last occupant, Count Guido Chigi Saracini, embarked on a fresh programme of refurbishments with the aid of the architect Arturo Viligiardi. In 1932 the Count granted part of the palazzo as the seat of the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, an international centre for advanced musical studies. The success of the Accademia was immediate and far reaching, thanks also to the contribution of musicians of considerable importance who came to Siena to help the Count with organising the academy’s courses. Among these was Alfredo Casella, who helped the Count found the academy. Today the academy can boast having taught a number of world class musicians such as Claudio Abbado, Salvatore Accardo, Carlo Maria Giulini and more.

The rococo music room of the palazzo, the Sala dei Concerti, has been hosting a prestigious winter season of concerts ever since 1923. The season takes its name from the motto of the Chigi family, Micat in Vertice. The Settimana Musicale Senese festival, which was founded in 1939, has made a sizeable contribution to the rediscovery of the music of Vivaldi over the decades. The Accademia Musicale Chigiana gained the status of a Fondazione in 1961, when it was made heir to the whole of the Count’s estate. Since the Count’s death in 1965 the Accademia has continued to flourish, thanks also to prestigious sponsors such as the Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation and the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

The Count’s impressive art collection is still kept within the Accademia. The collection is particularly rich in Italian masters, particularly of the Senese School, such as Sassetta, Sodoma, Beccafumi, Botticelli. There are also a good deal of objects ranging from ivory to silver, porcelain and a collection of Italian ceramics from the 16th to the 18th century. The Accademia Chigiana also owns a vast literary and musical library numbering some 70,000 volumes, some of which are particularly rare. Three conditioned rooms of the Accademia are given over to the collection of musical instruments, particularly string instruments.
Aldo Bennici is the current director of the academy.

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