SANTA MARIA DELLA SCALA HOSPITAL
Constructed along the Via Francigena, Santa Maria della Scala was one of the first hospitals in Europe, with its own organization set up to care for pilgrims, assist the poor and provide for abandoned children.
The Hospital was instituted by the canons of the Duomo, although a Sienese medieval legend speaks of a mythical founder named Sorore, a cobbler who died in the year 898. Initially managed by the canons of the Duomo and later by the friars of the Hospital, in the Fifteenth century the important complex was placed, after long disputes, under direct control of the Municipality.
From the beginning of the Fourteenth century, a statute regulated Santa Maria’s operation and autonomy, and it proved to be so efficacious that it was taken as model by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, who sent their emissaries to Siena to study its management and organisation.
Following bequests and donations between the late Thirteenth and the early Fourteenth centuries, the Hospital began to divide and organise its own landed property into large agricultural estates known as grance. They represented a huge patrimony that covered extensive areas of the Val d’Orcia, Val d’Arbia, Masse, Crete and Maremma, and, as a whole, represented the largest concentration of land of the Sienese state. For nearly five centuries, they constituted the main source of sustenance of Santa Maria’s economic structure, until the property was alienated in the second half of the Eighteenth century.
Santa Maria della Scala also played a major cultural role and could be well regarded as Siena’s third artistic pole along with the Palazzo Pubblico and the Cathedral. The effort of the clients of this prestigious institution also in the artistic field proved from the beginning to be constant, almost always at very high level, embracing the manifold aspects of the millennial activity performed by the Hospital, from the great cycle of frescoes with the Stories of the Virgin painted on the external façade (unfortunately lost) by Simone Martini, Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti (1335), to the series of frescoes of the great Pilgrims’ Hall and the decoration of the vast apse area of the church painted in the Eighteenth century by Sebastiano Conca.
Santa Maria della Scala is no longer in use as a hospital and the City Council has been recovering the old complex that is recognised as one of the most significant multivalent projects at a European level, which can effectively answer the needs of the great Sienese art collections as well as the growing demands in the fields of education, research and tourism.
A first itinerary, opened in 1995, leads visitors through the most significant parts of the museum such as the Pellegrinaio (Pilgrim’s Hall), the Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy) with Lorenzo Vecchietta’s paintings, the Cappella del Manto (Chapel of the Mantle) with Domenico Beccafumi’s lunette, the Cappella della Madonna (Chapel of the Virgin Mary), and the church of the Santissima Annunziata.
New areas of the complex have been progressively restored and opened to the public, such as the medieval fienile (hayloft) with the restoration workshop of Jacopo della Quercia’s Fonte Gaia, the evocative hall of the Company of Saint Catherine of the Night, the new Archaeological Museum, as well as the new exhibition spaces of Palazzo Squarcialupi.