Everyone knows the Tower of Pisa, the city of Pisa is not just the Tower, nor the marvellous Piazza dei Miracoli where it stands, with its Cathedral, Baptistery and Monumental Cemetery.
Pisa, in the past an Etruscan settlement and subsequently a Roman Colony, and later sill, the ancient a proud Maritime Republic, rises close to the Tirrenian Sea on the banks of the river Arno, that flows through in the Middle Ages gave it its period of maximum splendour: the numerous civilian and religious edifices, the squares, the typical narrows alleys running perpendicular to the Arno, testify, in the historic centre’s forma urbis, to a remarkable economic and political stability.
Traces of the Roman and medieval settlements were completely lost, partly because of bombing during the Second Word War, but there are still ample stretches of the town walls, built between 1154 –1155 and the Mid – Fourteenth Century.
In the XI Century Pisa intensified trade in the Mediterranean Sea, conquered Sardinia and the towns of Reggio Calabria, Palermo, Bona and Al Mahdiya in Africa, and furthermore could boast of many victories against the Muslim ships.
Oriented towards Ghibelline politics, Pisa was the only free Commune in all of Tuscany to openly support the Swabian sovereigns (Frederick I Barbarossa, Henry VI, Frederick II, Manfredi and Corradino) and were thus in contrast with the Papacy, and excommunicated in 1241 for having captured and consigned to the Emperor Frederick II a few high – ranking priests on their way to Rome to take part in a council.
The gradual decline of the city was decreed by its rival Genoa with the defeat of Meloria in 1284 and subsequently also by Florence. The loss of Sardinia and predominance over the sea placed Pisa in a kind of isolation from which it only emerged around 1500.
Everyone knows the Tower of Pisa, the city of Pisa is not just the Tower, nor the marvellous Piazza dei Miracoli where it stands, with its Cathedral, Baptistery and Monumental Cemetery. Pisa is many other things as well. It is the city of the ancient Etruscan and Roman Port at San Rossore, one of the most recent and important archaeological discoveries made yet.
It is the city where the art of modern sculpture was born, and these valuable works can be admired in the National Museum of San Matteo. Il is the city of the Maritime Republic, thanks to the trading activities of which Leonardo Fibonacci brought the Arabic number system to Italy and Europe, and it is the city of medieval walls surrounding a historic centre rich in monuments and works of art of extraordinary value, starting from Piazza dei Cavalieri. Pisa is one of most famous university cities in the world, whit its ancient University, the Normal High School , the School of Sant’Anna, the CNR laboratories.
It is the city of the lungarni (the banks of the river Arno), much loved by romantics poets for its climate and traditions of tolerance: from Byron to Shelley, from Giacomo Leopardi to Alessandro Manzoni.
Pisa is also a city strongly characterised by environmental treasures, fist of all its Marina, a tourist place established during the years of Belle époque and Liberty, and the Environmental Park of San Rossore, with its homonymous estate, also know as a equestrian competition ground and breeding centre among the most important in Europe. All this, and much else besides, mates Pisa a unique city in the vast panorama of the so-called art cities, and it offers tourists and visitors an infinite selection of attractions, from historic-artistic ones to holidays.
The Tower in Pisa is the bell tower of the Cathedral.
Its construction began in the august of 1173 and continued (with two long interruptions) for about two hundred years, in full fidelity to the original project, whose architect is still uncertain.
In the past it was widely believed that the inclination of the Tower was part of the project ever since its beginning, but now we know that it is not so. The Tower was designed to be "vertical" (and even if it did not lean it would still be one of the most remarkable bell towers in Europe), and started to incline during its construction.
Both because of its inclination, and its beauty, from 1173 up to the present the Tower has been the object of very special attention. During its construction efforts were made to halt the incipient inclination through the use of special construction devices; later colums and other damaged parts were substituted in more than one occasion; today, interventions are being carried out within the sub-soil in order to significantly reduce the inclination and to make sure that Tower will have a long life.
In all this story it is possible to find a meaningful constant, the "genetic code" of the Tower: its continual interaction with the soil on which it was built. Today's (1999) works for the safeguard and the conservation of the Tower with very advanced methodologies are designed to fully respect this constant.
Tower official web site
History Embedded in a Marble Inscription
The history of the Cathedral of Pisa is reported by a series of epigraphs embedded on its façade, enabling one to determine the events related to this monument: the period, the founder, the circumstances and the means of construction. The inscriptions testify that the Cathedral had been erected with the citiziens’ will since 1064, when Pisa, at the climax of its political, economic and military development, was the strongest marine power in the Western Mediterranean area. Among the victories over the Saracens, the sacking of Palermo provided an extraordinary booty permitting the beginning of the new Cathedral construction, which was the tangible proof of the city’s power.This type of ’panelled caption’ includes the tomb of Buscheto, the architect of the extraordinary engeneering and aesthetic features of this "snow-white marble" building, which, according to the inscription, "had no precedents".Further building, consisting of enlargement to the aisles and the façade construction, is ascribed to Rainaldo, who in another epigraph, was described as "careful member and Master builder of the Opera del Duomo".
The Cathedral is cruciform in plan and has a very elongated main body, divided into five aisles by two double rows of columns with a semicircular apse at its end. Its transept intersects the main body and is divided by two colonnades into three aisles, which apses as well. In the middle of this cross there are those two distinct structures with two and four colonnades respectively on different module. The singular structure produces an effect of multiple visual directions, and echoes the layout of contemporary mosques. The intersection is surmounted by another dome, elliptical in plan and with Islamic influence.
In 1152 began the construction of a new Baptistery, which was comparable to the Cathedral as regards location, size, materials and style. At that time the Cathedral had already been consecrated and liturgical services were officially held inside it. Although under ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the Baptistery, as well as the Cathedral, was built with the cooperation of all the citizens, which proved evident when, after 15 days of drudgery, the internal monolithic columns were erected.
Like the Cathedral, the round-shaped Baptistery is surrounded by columned arcades, and is made of white marble inlaid with grey bands. The carvings on the main portal, framed by columns with floral patterns, and the arcaded gallery echo the Cathedral. Later it was completed by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano with arcades and pinnacles.Inside, eight monolithic columns, competing in height with those in the Cathedral, are alternated with four pillars and form a central area in which is placed an octagonal baptismal font by Guido da Como, flanked by Nicola Pisano’s Pulpit (1260).A spiral staircase, which became a reoccurring element in the Tower, leads up to the women’s gallery which is roofed with a barrel vault and looks into the central area through a series of round- headed arches.
The roof consists of a double dome: the internal dome is a dodecagonal truncated pyramid, whereas the external one is barrel vaulted and surmounted by a cupola. The space and shape layout are very original. They contribute to the harmonious aspect of the monumental complex and reflect the Byzantine and Islamic influences of the Cathedral dome and the Gothic style of the works by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.
As reported by the Statutes of the Commune of Pisa, in 1275 the Podestà and the Elders - city government institutions - committed themselves to take all necessary steps in order that the Archbishop cede the land contiguous to the church and to the Square, with the aim of building a cemetery.However, the Archbishop Federico Visconti did not cede the needed land or gardens. Moreover, he claimed to be the designer of the plan: with an official document he ordered to move the Roman sarcophagi, which had been re-used as graves by illustrious Pisan citizens and which were scattered around the Cathedral, to a sequestered and enclosed place. In this way the area occupied by graves, could be set apart for ’public use’.In 1278 the construction of a proper public square begun under the supervision of the ’Operai’ appointed by the Commune governors: the Camposanto was built next to the Cathedral and the Baptistery, and its long marble wall enclosed to the north and definitively shaped the monumental area.
Museo dell'Opera di Pisa
Piazza dei Cavalieri
This square, known in the time of the Pisan Republic as the Square of the Seven Roads, is thought to be the site of the Forum of Roman Pisa. It was the centre of politics of the Pisan Republic when it was transformed by Cosimo I de Medici into the seat of the new military order of «The Knights of Saint Stephan with the aim of eradicating any trace of the city's past independence. Its present appearance is therefore the fruit of radical renovations of the surrounding palaces, for the most part designed by the Florentine architect Giorgio Vasari in 1562. In the square's centre can be seen a fountain beneath the statue of Cosimo I in the robes of Grand Master of the Order of Knights, both the work of Pietro Francavilla in 1596. Behind the statue rises the Palazzo della Carovana dei Cavalieri. This, the old republic's Hall of City Elders was entirely transformed by Giorgio Vasari with its present facade which recall, both in style and subject, various buildings along Via dei Mille and Via Ulisse Dini. The building now houses the Scuola Normale Superiore, the elite University founded by Napoleon Bonaparte who modelled it after the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. Within its walls have studied many of Italy's most famous personages, such as the poet, Giosuè Carducci and the physicist Enrico Fermi. Opposite and to the left of the Scuola Normale stands the Palazzo dell'Orologio which was transformed into its present structure for the infirmary of the Knights by uniting by bridge the two crumbling towers of the Count della Gherardeschi. In Canto XXXIII of his Inferno, Dante Aleghieri recounts the story of the fate of the suspected traitor, Count Ugolini. Tradition holds that it was in one of these towers that, in 1288, he was left to die of starvation, along with the other males of his family whose corpses he fed upon.
Beyond Via Corsica, after the Oratorio di San Rocco, you will find the former Collegio Puteaneo, founded in 1605 by the Archbishop, Antonio Dal Pozzo to lodge the students of the city of Biella attending the University. Its facade is adorned by the original frescoes of Stefano Marucelli, as is the Palazzo dell'Orologio. On the southern side of the square stand the monumental Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici (Palace of the Council of Twelve), the ancient site of the city magistrature which was completely refurbished in 1596 according to a project by Pietro Francovilla. Later the building became the Court of the Knights of Saint Stephan. In its interior can be seen a hall with walls frescoed in architectural motifs and ceiling engraved and painted by Ventura Salimbeni of Siena. To the right of the Scuola Normale, the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri (10) completes the tour of the square. Its construction, begun in 1565 following the plan of Giorgio Vasari, was completed in 1593 with the addition of the facade designed in rich architectural motifs by Don Giovanni de Medici. Its hall-like interior is closed overhead by a richly engraved and gilded wooden ceiling including paintings of the greatests artists of the de Medici era. Particularly interesting are the banner-trophies and various parts of ships seized from the Turks by the Knights during their policing operations in the Tirreno Sea in order to guarantee safe passage there. Beside the sacristy is a collection of costumes and memorabilia commemorating the activities of the Knights.
The small Church of Santa Maria della Spina is a remarkable example of Pisan Gothic. It was built in 1230 on the banks of the river Arno next to an important bridge, called Ponte Novo, that used to join the streets Santa Maria and Sant’Antonio. The bridge was destroyed during the 15th century and was never rebuilt. Being the church close to the bridge, it was given the name of Santa Maria de Pontenovo, changed in 1333 to Santa Maria della Spina, when it preserved the reliquary of a thorn of the Saviour’s crown (spina = thorn). Today the reliquary is in the church of Santa Chiara.
Originally the building was a small oratory constituted by a loggia. In 1322, due to the interest of the Commune of Pisa, the works to enlarge it began; they were finished about fifty years later, under the supervision of the Pisan architect and sculptor Lupo di Francesco.
The vicinity to the river has always determined a constant threat to the stability of the church. In fact, as attested by numerous documents, from the 15th century the church underwent many restorations aimed at repairing the damages from the subsiding of the ground and at consolidating the architectural structures. However, the most radical intervention was carried out in 1871, when the whole building was completely dismantled and rebuilt on a level about one meter higher. On this occasion, many statues were removed and replaced by copies, while the sacristy was lost. The result was that the church was altered in its proportions and shape.
The Guelph Tower of the old Citadel
The tall Guelph tower rises in one of the most scenic areas of Pisa, the Cittadella Vecchia (Old Citadel). Its unique profile has attracted for centuries people visiting the town or simply walking along the Arno.
This part of Pisa, characterised by ancient remains usually ignored, is actually the witness of centuries of history. In fact, at the beginning of the 13th century, after the many and important victories of its fleet over all the Mediterranean Sea, the Republic of Pisa reunited in this place all its busy shipyard activities. The choice fell on the western-most part of the city, near the monastery of San Vito (an important religious institution now completely lost apart from the church of San Vito remodelled many times over the centuries), where harbour structures already existed from the previous century.