Located in the famous Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), between the Baptistery of San Giovanni and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or the Duomo di Pisa, is a masterpiece of the Romanesque style, representing the tangible proof of the prestige and wealth achieved by the Maritime Republic of Pisa at its height.
The building of Pisa Cathedral was started in 1064 by the architect Buscheto, at the same time with the reconstruction of the Basilica of Saint Mark, in Venice, as part of the race between the two maritime republics to create the most beautiful and sumptuous place of worship. The cathedral was consecrated with great pomp on September 26th, 1118, by Pope Gelasius II.
In the first half of the 12th century, the cathedral was enlarged under the direction of architect Rainaldo. He designed a new facade, built by the sculptors Guglielmo and Biduino. The work ended in 1180, as documented by the date on the bronze knockers made by Bonanno Pisano for the main door.
Following the disastrous fire of 1595, the roof of the church was redone and the three bronze doors of the facade were executed by the sculptors from the workshop of Giambologna, including Gasparo Mola and Pietro Tacca.
Another intervention took place during the 19th century, involving both the internal and the external decorations, when many of the artworks, especially the sculptures on the facade, were replaced by copies, with the originals being located in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
In September 2015, a restoration project started, that will be completed in time for the 950th anniversary of the Consecration, in 2018. The restoration concerns the maintenance and preservation of the plastering of the dome and the side walls of the presbytery. By the time the work will be finished, the church will return to its maximum splendor.
The exterior of the cathedral is decorated in alternating grey and white stripes of Arab influence. The facade, decorated with colored marble inserts, was built by the architect Rainaldo.
The interior is divided into a central nave flanked by two side aisles on either side, with the transept and apse in three naves. The wooden ceiling, painted and decorated with gold leaf, was built in the 17th century by Domenico and Bartolomeo Atticciati.
The 27 paintings that cover the tribune behind the high altar, depicting episodes of the Old Testament and the life of Christ, were executed between the 16th and 17th centuries by the greatest Tuscan painters.
Among the other paintings housed by the church, we could mention the Madonna delle Grazie with Saints by Andrea del Sarto, the Madonna enthroned and Saints by Perin del Vaga, the Disputa del Sacramento by Francesco Vanni, the Cross with Saints by Giovanni Battista Paggi and Madonna with Child attributed to Berlinghiero Berlinghieri.
HOW TO GET THERE
Pisa Centrale train station is about 2 kilometers away, and the nearest bus station is in Via Contessa Matilde 62, about 200 meters away from the cathedral, on the bus Lines 21 and Navetta E.
In Pisa, however, the distances are small, and you can get from about any point in the city to the Square of Miracles in no more than 30 minutes on foot. If you need a map for exploring the city, use the one below.