Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa

In the Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, western Tuscany, to visit the cathedral, baptistery and, of course, the famous leaning tower.

Piazza dei Miracoli

The Piazza is dominated by the cathedral, construction of which began in 1064. Whilst it is Romanesque in style it also shows clear Byzantine influences, especially in the interior mosaic decoration.

The apse mosaic depicts Christ in Majesty holding an open book in his left hand with the inscription EGO SUM LUX MUNDI (I am the light of the world). With his right hand he is giving benediction. He is flanked by the Virgin, who has raised her hands in intercession, and St John the Evangelist. The head of St. John was completed by Cimabue in 1302 and this was to be his last work as he died in Pisa in the same year.

Apse mosaic, Pisa Cathedral

The cathedral contains a carved pulpit made by Giovanni Pisano between 1302 and 1310. Unfortunately, it was damaged in a fire in 1595 and has suffered somewhat from subsequent restoration work. Nevertheless, it is one of the most magnificent of the Pisano pulpits.

Giovanni Pisano ‘Cathedral pulpit’ (1302 – 10)

The Baptistery is a spectacular construction and is the largest in Italy. Building started in 1152 and it was completed in 1363 and so it is an example of the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style. 


Baptistery interior

The interior is quite plain with a large octagonal font at the centre dating from 1246. The main feature is the pulpit which was sculpted by Nicola Pisano, the father of Giovanni, between 1255 and 1260. It is a hexagonal construction, raised on seven columns. At the base of three of these columns are sculpted lions.

Nicola Pisano ‘Baptistery pulpit’ (1255 – 1260)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the campanile or bell tower of the Cathedral, is the most famous feature of the Piazza, due to the fact that it has a nearly four-degree lean, the result of unstable foundations.  The tower began to lean during its construction in the twelfth century, due to the soft ground which could not properly support its weight. By 1990, the tilt had reached 5.5 degrees; however, the structure was stabilized by remedial work between 1993 and 2001, and the tilt has now been reduced to 3.97 degrees.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Along the northern edge of the complex is the Camposanto Monumentale – the cemetery building. ‘Campo Santo’ translates as ‘holy field’, as legend says that it was built using sacred soil from Golgotha, brought back to Pisa after the Third Crusade.

The walls of the structure were completely covered in frescoes. The earliest, attributed to Francesco Traini, were painted in 1336 – 41. Frescoes depicting ‘The Last Judgement’ and the ‘Triumph of Death’ in the south-western corner were painted in the years after the Black Death and are usually attributed to Buonamico Buffalmacco. In the north gallery there is a cycle of ‘Scenes from the Old and New Testaments’ by Benozzo Gozzoli, whilst in the south arcade are ‘Stories of Pisan Saints’ (1377 – 1391) by Andrea Bonaiuti, Antonio Veneziano and Spinello Aretino as well as ‘Stories of Job’ by Taddeo Gaddi from the end of 14th century.

In July 1944, a bomb fragment from an Allied air raid started a fire in the Camposanto, which burned for three days, causing the timber and lead roof to collapse. This severely damaged everything inside the cemetery, including the frescoes. Subsequent restoration work has stabilised them but most are now in poor condition.

Buonamico Buffalmacco ‘The Three Dead and the Three Living (left) and ‘The Triumph of Death’ (c.1338 – 39)

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘The Vintage and Drunkenness of Noah’ (early 1470s)

Benozzo Gozzoil ‘The Building of the Tower of Babel’ (early 1470s)

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