The ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala is a beautiful museum complex located in Siena, in the Piazza del Duomo, and dates back to the 12th century. Between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was one of the first xenodochia, that is a resting place for travellers who arriving along the Via Francigena on their way to Rome and the Holy Land. It was managed by monks who offered accommodation and food. This Spedale is one of the first European examples of a shelter for pilgrims and abandoned children: it had its own autonomous and well-structured organisation, initially entrusted to the canons of the Cathedral and subsequently secularised under the control of the Municipal Authority. Also, in the artistic field, the hospital played an important role in the history of Siena. Great artists worked to embellish it, such as Simone Martini who frescoed the great cycle of the Stories of the Virgin (now lost), as well as Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti and later Sebastiano Conca.
Inside, you can see the Old Sacristy, also known as the Chapel of the Cappella del Sacro Chiodo (Chapel of the Holy Nail), where there are perfectly preserved frescoes. The sacristy leads to the Church of the Santissima Annunziata, which dates back to the 13th century, where the Cristo Risorto (Risen Christ) by Lorenzo Vecchietta is located. This takes you to the Pellegrinaio, the heart of the complex, built in the mid-14th century and frescoed with a cycle of paintings dedicated to the history of the hospital, painted by Domenico di Bartolo, Lorenzo Vecchietta and Priamo della Quercia. The Pellegrinaio is a long, large room designed to shelter all the needy and the pilgrims who turned to the hospital. It was built in 1328 and represents the first hospital ward. Inside, there are also precious treasures: gold, silver and precious stones kept in very ancient chests, about which a story has been passed down, telling us that these were objects put together by Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine, during her search for the cross of Jesus.
Continuing on, you will find yourself in a small courtyard, the Sala della Corticella, a connection that delimited the end of the covered road used to bring people and supplies to the hospital. From this point, some of the corridors branch off, leading to other places, such as the medieval barn and the room in which the original marbles and casts of the Fonte Gaia by Jacopo della Quercia are kept. These tunnels are very charming and the niches, the streets and the internal rooms create a sort of "city within the city".
Near the halls of the tunnels, there are real labyrinths, in which the Archaeological Museum is located and where Etruscan and Roman artefacts are kept.