Siena Cathedral and Wagner: a story of love at first sight

Siena Cathedral and Wagner: a story of love at first sight

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The gothic Siena Cathedral architecture also enchanted Wagner who chose it as the setting for ‘The Parsifal’.


Your feet are those that descend from Via Camporegio.

Move them slowly, because you have a big ship to watch.

It is the Duomo of Siena, majestic and almost poised to protect the houses above.

When he disappears from sight, I know you will hurry them, you want to get to see him closely.

Via di Città, via del Capitano, and then finally, the widening of the square.

Tum, tum, tum .. the heart accelerates the beats.

Will it have been the race?

The marbles of the façade, the winged lion, the bull, the horse, the white and the black, the interweaving of the moldings.

The look rebounds, the wonderful theory of the facade does not make it stand still.

No that it was not the race.

The beauty of the Duomo of Siena has still exerted its charm.

He did it also in 1880.

To remain abducted, then, it was Richard Wagner.

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Duomo of Siena, façade
duomo siena wagner
Duomo of Siena, façade details



Wagner had been working at Parsifal for a couple of years when he arrived in Siena, taking up residence at Villa Torre Fiorentina.

On the very day of their arrival, the Wagner spouses, as if magnetised, go to see the Cathedral.

The spell fires immediately.

His wife Cosima describes with these words the intense impression that the Cathedral exercised on her husband: “Richard is moved to tears, he says it is the strongest impression he has ever received from a building”.

The interior of the cathedral, so solemn, all played on gothic forms in black and white, inspire Wagner for the scenographic apotheosis of the Parsifal.

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Cathedral of Siena, the dome
duomo siena wagner
Duomo of Siena, black and white architecture


Every time he is in Siena, Wagner returns to visit the Duomo.

The hexagonal space under the dome’s drum is matched to the scene of the Monsalvato Castle, where the Graal is kept.

An inscription in particular affects the Composer: “Castissimum Virginis Templum Caste Memento Ingredi”.

It is at the beginning of the central nave and warns the visitor to enter chastely in the very chaste temple of the Virgin.

Wagner explores the black and white labyrinth of the columns, raising his eyes to the dome.

The dense and dreamlike light that it collects, we can still admire today.

duomo siena wagner
Duomo of Siena, the stars on the blue vaults


To understand the importance that the Duomo of Siena has for the Parsifal of Wagner, we briefly retrace this work.

The Parsifal refers to the archaic myth of the Fisher King, the king who lost his virility due to a mysterious wound.

In the early Middle Ages, the myth translates into the legend of the Sacred Graal Cup.

In Wagner, the Graal is kept in the Castle of Monsalvato where King Amfortas, due to a serious wound, can not counter the Magician Klingsor who takes possession of the cup and the lance of Longinus. The young Parsifal manages to find Longino’s spear and heal the wound of King Amfortas.

In the Moorish castle of Monsalvato, Parsifal celebrates with the cup of the Grail a regeneration ritual for the knights of the temple.

This is the scene that took shape in Wagner’s mind, when he entered the Duomo of Siena.

duomo siena wagner
Duomo of Siena, the nave


Visit the Cathedral of Siena, visiting hours and ticket

A post about enygmatic floor marquetries of Siena Cathedral



“Soggiorni senesi tra mito e memoria” – Roberto Barzanti, Attilio Brilli – Silvana Editoriale

duomo siena wagner
Duomo square, a door



Ciao, mi chiamo Serena e Amarisla è il mio progetto dedicato alla Toscana e ai Giardini, un taccuino di viaggio con i miei racconti e consigli. Sono nata e cresciuta a Milano, ma da 12 anni vivo in Toscana perchè ho dato ascolto a un sogno: trasferirmi dalla città alle colline senesi..

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