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SIENA Art and monuments - Palazzo Piccolomini and Palazzo delle Papesse

On Via Banchi di Sotto, opposite the former Jesuit convent that today houses the University of Siena, stands the magnificent Palazzo Piccolomini, undisputedly Siena’s finest Renaissance construction, erected by Giacomo and Andrea Piccolomini Todeschini – nephews of Pope Pius II. This building was once the town house of this noble dynasty, which grew to considerable power and influence from the 12th century when they began to act as bankers to the Papal Court in Rome. The original project of the building was probably a joint effort by Bernardo Rossellino, the favourite architect of Pope Pius II, and Enea Silvio Piccolomini. The works, which started in 1469, were supervised by Pier Paolo del Porrina. The elegant and proportioned facade of the palazzo is in stone on three floors, decorated with two coats of arms of the Piccolomini family as well as by bifore and guelph cross windows, surmounted by a cornice. The capitols of the columns that line the interior courtyard are without doubt by Marrina, who completed them between 1509 and 1510.
The opulent design of the building is reminiscent of both Palazzo Ruccelai, designed by Leon Battista Alberti, and the Palazzo Piccolomini in Pienza, designed also by Rossellino. When the Piccolomini line finished, towards the end of the 17th century, the Consorteria Piccolomini decided to rent the palazzo to the Collegio Tolomei (founded by Celso Tolomei in 1629 as an institution for educating young nobles), which continued to occupy the building until the beginning of the 19th century. When the Collegio moved to other premises, in 1824 the palazzo was granted to the Scrittoio delle Regie Fabbriche and was occupied by government offices. Since 1858 the building has housed the Archivio di Stato state archives, which contain a conspicuous collection of artistic and literary documents, including the so-called ‘Galleria delle 103 Tavolette Dipinte’ the covers of the Biccherna e Gabella accounts books of the city of Siena from the 13th to the 18th century. The palazzo has undergone a number of refurbishments over the last century, including an enlargement to cater for the growing needs of the Archivio. Currently the building contains 108 offices, laboratories and deposits.

No far from Piazza del Campo, along the prestigious Via di Città, stands the Palazzo Piccolomini known also as Palazzo delle Papesse. This palazzo was built by order of Caterina Piccolomini, sister of Pope Pius II, between 1460 and 1495, to designs by Bernardo Rossellino. In typical Florentine Renaissance style, the palazzo is on three floors, with the ground floor sheathed in studded stone and bifore windows opening up on the floors above. In 1884 the palazzo was acquired by the Bank of Italy and has since undergone a number of refurbishments, including the decoration of some first floor rooms with neo-Renaissance frescoes. A terrace on the second floor offers a fine view of the so-called facciatone, the facade of the Duomo, while the whole of the city can be observed from the covered roof terrace on the summit of the palazzo.
Following a meticulous restoration, in November 1998 the palazzo was reopened to the public as a contemporary arts centre, financed by the Siena town council together with private sponsors. The centre’s intense programme of exhibitions, teaching courses and other activities aims to promote contemporary art. The centre is divided into three areas: the exhibition area, the Bookshop on the ground floor (designed by the artist Luca Pancrazi), and the former strong room of the Bank of Italy, built originally in 1952 and which today acts as a temporary exhibitions space.

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