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 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 construction of the 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 was completed 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 on 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.
The exterior of the Cathedral is made of alternating grey and white stripes of Arab influence. The facade is decorated with colored marble inserts.
The three portals on the facade are surmounted by four orders of loggias, divided by frames with marble inlays, behind which single, double and triple lancet windows open.
On top of the facade, there is the statue of the Madonna and Child, and on the corners of the cornices, the four evangelists. The ellipsoidal dome topped by a lantern recalls the Islamic architecture.
The interior, covered with black and white marble, has five naves delimited by monolithic columns of gray marble and Corinthian capitals. The wooden ceiling, painted and decorated with gold leaf, was built in the 17th century by Domenico and Bartolomeo Atticciati.
Behind the main altar, in the presbitery, there is the large mosaic of Christ enthroned between the Virgin and Saint John, of Byzantine influence. The work belongs to Francesco of Pisa, and was completed by Vincino of Pistoia, with the depiction of the Madonna on the left side, at the beginning of the 14th century.
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 inside 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 Disputation of the Holy Sacrament 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 railway station is located about 2 kilometers away from the Cathedral, and the nearest bus stop is in Via Contessa Matilde 62, about 200 meters away from the church, on the bus Lines 21 and Navetta E.