Italian culture and history: Pisa and Piazza dei Miracoli
- WTI Magazine #128 Jun 20, 2020
Pisa, located in the Italian region of Tuscany, is famous all over the world for its monumental piazza del Duomo, included by UNESCO in the World Heritage List in 1987. Symbol of the power of the Repubblica Marinara in Pisa, it was renamed “Prato dei Miracoli” by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio for the extraordinary beauty of it architectural jewels. The popular definition of “Piazza dei Miracoli” (square of miracles) derives from the nickname attributed by D’Annunzio.
The square holds, on a vast stretch of green field, four intense white works of art of medieval monumental art: the very famous Campanile or Leaning Tower, the Camposanto, the Battistero and the Duomo. Situated on the extreme north-western area of the city, the complex was built long ago near an ancient fluvial port, on the shores of a river which no longer exists today, the Auser.
The Cathedral, dedicated to St. Mary of the Assumption, was constructed in 1064 to celebrate the greatness of Pisa, at the time a powerful maritime Republic. “The temple made of marble white like the snow”, as is written on the tombstone of its architect, Buscheto di Giovanni Giudice, is a church with five naves with three-way transept, topped with a splendid dome surrounded by an open gallery. The originality of the construction has given life to a new style, defined “Pisan Romanesque”, uniting classic, Islamic, Lombard and Byzantine elements, as testimony of the political and commercial contacts which connected the Repubblica Marinara of Pisa to the Mediterranean. The Cathedral’s interior is rich with significant works of art, among which the pulpit (or pergamo) by Giovanni Pisano, considered one of the greatest works of Italian Gothic art.
The Baptistery of St. John the Baptist was built in front of the Cathedral, it, too, is in Romanesque style, construction began in 1153 by Diotisalvi and was completed in the Fourteenth century, when Gothic elements were added. It is the largest baptistery in the world: its circumference measures slightly more than 107 metres and a height of almost 55 metres. But the most extraordinary characteristic is probably the outstanding acoustics inside the majestic cylinder of the Baptistery. An interesting fact: the beautiful pulpit next to the presbytery was created by Nicola Pisano, Giovanni’s father, who created the Cathedral pulpit.
The Camposanto, the monumental cemetery, is located on the northern edge of the square, construction began in 1277, it is surrounded by an outer wall made of marble and with the internal structure of a monastery. This is precisely from where the word “camposanto” (sacred field) originates. According to legend, in fact, it is said that “sacred soil” from Palestine was scattered in the central open-air area after the Second Crusade. The building is an actual museum of art and archaeology: the halls hold a rich collection of Roman sarcophagi, in which several important citizens of Pisa from the past are buried. Large part of the frescos which decorated the Camposanto were destroyed by a fire in 1944, but thanks to a painstaking restoration, visitors today can admire the “The Triumph of Death” by Buonamico Buffalmacco, which includes a grand representation of the Last Judgement.
The bell tower Campanile, also known as the Leaning Tower, completes the picture, it is recognized worldwide as the symbol of Pisa. The structure, leaning because of sinking soil which halted its construction for a long time, was started in 1173, resumed in 1275 and completed in the second half of the Fourteenth century. The tower has a cylindrical structure with blind arches in the lower part which continue towards the top with a series of six loggias which copy the motif of the Cathedral. Inside, the spiral stairs, with 294 steps, lead to the top of one of the most famous towers in the world, where it is possible to admire the bell chamber and the wonderful landscape.