Italy - Tuscany - Pisa

Pisa 1

LINKS to other pages in the Italy website and the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

Home Page
1 : Barga
2 : Pisa
3 : Lucca
4 : Portovénere
5 : Florence
6 : Siena
7 : Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
8 : Apuan Alps
9 : Guest Book:


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PISA. The area was first settled by the Liguri and was then inhabited by the Etruscans. The development as a city occurred the Roman era and the present layout of the most ancient part of the city centre is the clearest proof of their presence. At that time, Pisa was a coastal town and an important Roman port.

The later history of Pisa is marked by an impressive series of successes: the early fights against the Saracens established Pisa's dominant position in the Mediterranean; the active participation in the Crusades led to a great expansion of its maritime trade and opened Pisa to the culture of the Moslem world; the foundation of a powerful Republic and of one of the oldest European Universities During the 14th century, Pisa continued to suffer battles and revolts.

The date that all Pisans remember is the October 9th 1406, when the hated Florentine army entered the city and Pisa was placed under the rule of Florence where it remained until the creation of the Italian state in 1861.

In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries Pisa continued to grow. Its University is one of the most prestigious in Italy and Europe and it is where the famous scientist Galileo Galilei was a student and later a professor.

The city was badly damaged by bombing during World War II, but it is now being totally restored and brought back to its ancient splendor.

The Campo dei Miracoli ("Field of Miracles") is a wide, walled area at the heart of the city and is recognized as one of the main centers for medieval art in the world. Partly paved and partly grassed, it is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Duomo, the Leaning Tower (the cathedral's campanile), the Baptistery and the Camposanto. It is otherwise known as Piazza dei Miracoli or 'Square of Miracles'. In 1987 the entire square was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Baptistery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, stands opposite the west end of the Duomo. The construction of the round Romanesque building was begun in the mid 12th century. It was built in Romanesque style by an architect known as Deotisalvi ("God Save You").

It was not, however, finished until the 14th century, when the loggia, the top storey and the dome were added in Gothic style by Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano. It is the largest baptistery in Italy. Its circumference measures 107.25 metres.

Taking into account the statue of St. John the Baptist (attributed to Turino di Sano) on top of the dome, it is even a few centimetres higher than the Leaning Tower. The immensity of the interior is overwhelming, but it is surprisingly plain and lacks decoration.

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The heart of the Campo dei Miracoli is the Duomo, the medieval cathedral, dedicated to St. Mary. It is a five-naved basilica with a three-naved transept.

It was begun in 1064 by the architect Buscheto, the originator of the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style in architecture. The mosaics of the interior show a strong Byzantine influence, while the pointed arches point to Muslim influences.

The façade, of grey marble and white stone set with discs of coloured marble, was built by a master Rainaldo. The massive bronze main doors were made in the workshops of Giambologna, but visitors actually enter through the Portale di San Ranieri (St. Ranieri's Gate) opposite the Leaning Tower. Made in around 1180 by Bonanno Pisano, this doorway was actually moved from its original place opposite the Baptistery when Giambologna's doors were erected.

The cupola, at the intersection of the nave and the transept, was decorated by Riminaldi showing the ascension of the Blessed Virgin. Galileo is believed to have formulated his theory about the movement of a pendulum by watching the swinging of a huge incense lamp (not the present one) hanging from the ceiling of the nave. The impressive granite Corinthian columns between the nave and the aisle came originally from the mosque of Palermo, captured by the Pisans in 1063. The elaborately carved pulpit (1302-1310), which also survived the fire, was the masterpiece of Giovanni Pisano. It was packed away during the redecoration and was not rediscovered and re-erected until 1926. It shows nine scenes from the New Testament, carved in white marble with a chiaroscuro effect. It contains a bold, naturalistic depiction of a naked Hercules The church also contains the mummified body of St Ranieri, Pisa's patron saint, and the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII, carved by Tino da Camaino in 1315. The building, as several in Pisa, is also slightly tilting since the construction.;(right)

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The interior is faced with black and white marble and has a gilded ceiling and a frescoed dome. It was largely redecorated after a fire in 1595, which destroyed most of the medieval art works. The impressive mosaic (left and below) in the apse, of Christ in Majesty, flanked by the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Evangelist, which was completed by Cimabue in 1302, survived the fire however. It evokes the mosaics in the church of Monreale, Sicily.

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The coffer ceiling of the nave was replaced after the fire of 1595. The present gold-decorated ceiling carries the coat of arms of the Medici.

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The visit to Pisa continues on the next page.
Please click on the 'Next' button (lower right).

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