One of Europe’s first hospitals, Santa Maria della Scala was endowed by Siena’s wealthiest medieval families, who also commissioned artworks to decorate the building. View the original frescoes and altarpieces inside the chapels and oratories of this historic hospital, now a museum, on a tour of Siena’s most important sights.
Across the square from the city’s soaring cathedral, the Maria della Scala hospital is a large complex of chapels and buildings where passing pilgrims, as well as Siena’s poor and orphaned children, were housed from the 12th to the 18th century. The most influential families in Siena donated funds and works of art to the hospital to demonstrate their piety and power. Though the external frescoes are now lost, many interior works remain.
Santa Maria della Scala is one of the top attractions in Siena, and a highlight of most walking tours of the historic center, along with the main square (Piazza del Campo) and cathedral. Siena is a popular stop on day trips to Tuscany’s Chianti region from Florence and Rome, along with Pisa or the hill towns of Tuscany. Full-day sightseeing itineraries usually include a stop for lunch and wine tasting.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Some areas of Santa Maria della Scala are not accessible to wheelchair users, or require staff assistance. Contact the museum staff in advance for complete information.
- Exploring Santa Maria della Scala requires a fair bit of walking, so choose comfortable shoes.
- Photography without flash is allowed inside the complex.
How to Get There
Santa Maria della Scala is on Piazza Duomo (the square in front of the cathedral) in Siena’s pedestrian-only historic center, and can only be reached on foot.
When to Get There
The complex stays open late on Thursdays most of the year, so time your visit for evening to avoid the daytime crowds.
Highlights of Santa Maria della Scala
Inside Santa Maria della Scala is a fresco cycle that depicts the history of the hospital. Also on view are a number of frescoes and altarpieces centered on the life of the Virgin, and original details from Jacopo della Quercia’s Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) in Siena’s Piazza del Campo. The complex also houses the National Archaeological Museum, a section dedicated to the history of Siena, a Children’s Museum, and other permanent and temporary exhibits.