Basilica of San Francesco in Siena

The basilica of San Francesco in Siena is one of the most important basilicas in the city. Built between 1326 and 1475 in Neo-Gothic style, it houses priceless works of art inside.  

Basilica of San Francesco: troubled history, styles and forms 

The basilica of San Francesco was built at two different times: between 1228 and 1255 and later between 1326 and 1475. Initially a smaller church was built on the exact spot where the basilica now stands. Later, between 1326 and 1475, what had already been built was annexed and the basilica in its entirety was built.

Today the church stands in all its splendour amidst forms and lines in the Neo-Gothic style, designed and built in the 19th century. Leading the work were Giuseppe Partini, in charge of the interior, and Vittorio Mariani and Gaetano Ceccarelli, responsible for the façade. The church caught fire in 1655, making restoration work essential, however this did not begin until two centuries later. In the 1700s, Paolo Posi designed the bell tower, which was not built until 1765.

Inside the basilica there is a single nave covered by a truss roof and a transept. It has an Egyptian cross plan, so has no chancel or apse, but there is a central chapel. The really special feature of this basilica is the interior walls: made entirely of slabs of black and white marble, alternating with skill and precision to create a truly enchanting optical effect.

Due to the extension work, fire and changes made over the centuries, the interior today looks rather bare. However, the large nave and Gothic windows, particularly the two-light mullioned windows in the aisles and the four-light windows in the apse, lend linearity and simplicity to the basilica.

Originally the exterior of the church had the same marble as the interior, with black and white stripes. In the 19th century, the façade was entirely rebuilt and replaced with the façade still present today, made entirely of bricks. Today, the exterior of the basilica looks simple and sober. The only detail that makes the church stand out is the central rose window reclaimed from the original 15th century façade. 

Numerous works are preserved at the side of the aisles. On the left, you can admire the Renaissance portal created in 1450 by Francesco di Giorgio Martini. The marble bas-reliefs are recovered from the old church that was originally built and later extended. The fresco ‘Crucifixion’ by Girolamo di Benvenuto is preserved inside the basilica.

The right side of the nave, also skilfully decorated, features three paintings from the 16th-17th century by Giuseppe Nicola Nasini, Alessandro Casolani, Vincenzo Rustici and Giovan Battista Ramacciotti. There are numerous frescoes including those by Andrea Vanni that embellish the basilica of St. Francis. The main chapel is designed by Giuseppe Partini, and is embellished by a marvellous stained-glass window made by Leopoldo Maccari in the 19th century. 

The most striking part of the basilica is undoubtedly the eight chapels located on either side of the main chapel. In the first chapel is a fresco taken from the cloister of the convent painted by Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio. In the second, there are two wonderful frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

In the fourth is a fresco by Pietro Lorenzetti. In the fifth is the ‘Madonna and Child’ by Andrea Vanni while in the sixth is the marble funeral monument of Cristoforo Felici created in 1463 by Urbano da Cortona. Finally, in the seventh is a bas-relief by Giovanni D’Agostino.

Basilica of San Francisesco: contrade and flags 

Contrada or district flags can be found in many churches in the city of Siena. In the basilica, numerous flags hang from the walls of the nave. The basilica of San Francesco is located exactly between two districts: the contrada della Giraffa and the contrada del Bruco

These two districts boast two very important chapels, the Cappella Maggiore and the cappella estiva delle Sacre Particole (summer chapel of the Sacred Particles). Hanging at the entrance are four contrada flags. The flags of all the Contrade are displayed at special religious or civic events, or events linked to the Contrada calendar. 

Basilica of San Francesco: opening hours and prices 

The Basilica of San Francesco is open to the public every day 07:30-12:00 and 15:30-19:00

Admission to the basilica is  free of charge.

Masses are celebrated every day at 08:30 and 18:00. Sundays at 10:00, 11.15 and 18:00.

The basilica is located at Piazza S. Francesco 5.

On the 17th of each month, mass is celebrated by the brothers at additional times. Respectively at 08:30, 10:00, 11:15 and 18:00 to mark the Eucharistic miracle. From 21:00 Eucharistic adoration is celebrated at the basilica. 

The basilica of San Francesco represents a true jewel of the city of Siena. A visit here shapes a journey to be discovered, with unmissable works of art and many details to savour that will leave you awestruck. 

I Comuni di Terre di Siena