Combo ticket valid for the museums and monuments of Pisa's Cathedral Square:
- Monumental Cemetery
- Sinopie Museum
- Museo dell'Opera / Cathedral Museum
- ATTENTION: Admission for the Leaning Tower NOT included; you can purchase it separately clicking here.
** The Museo dell'Opera will remain closed for restoration starting on May 17th 2014; expected duration of works: two years.
Piazza dei Miracoli – Miracles Square
It was the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938) who called the cathedral square in Pisa “Piazza dei Miracoli,” capturing the amazement and admiration that had seized onlookers for centuries as they glanced the pure whiteness of the monuments rising out of the lush green of the turf. The walled, partly grassed area is regarded as one of the main centers for medieval art in the world and was declared UNESCO world heritage site in 1987. Four great religious edifices dominate it: the Duomo (Cathedral), the Baptistery, the Camposanto building, and the Leaning Campanile (Bell Tower).
The sacred buildings seem to be rising astonishingly far away from today's bustle of the city center. But a careful historical interpretation and the contribution of some recent archaeological findings explain the choice of place. Pisa gained its greatness during Etruscan times, when it was located at the intersection of rivers and roads as well as in close, but safe, proximity to the Mediterranean sea. Pisa's countryside offered a wide range of produce as well as wood and stone for its buildings, thus boosting the settlement of some important manufacturing facilities.
A river used to flow close to the Square, first along the northern edge, then bending south into the Arno River – the Auser. Close to today's railway station of Pisa-San Rossore, the Auser River hosted a river port that worked for one thousand years, from the Etruscan to the late Roman age. This port was brought back to light in the late 20th century after a long period of oblivion, placing the Cathedral square back into the civil and religious heart of ancient Pisa.
Today's Piazza dei Miracoli was the religious center of the city since Pisa's origins, which date to before Constantine's peace pact of 313 AD. Older sacred buildings stood where the monuments we admire today are – these date back to the mid-centuries of the Middle Ages, when Pisa was at the peak of its glory after its triumphs at sea. The city asserted its supremacy over the region and all over the world, going so far as to claim for itself the role of a “new Rome.” Such boundless pride gave birth to the plan to rebuild near an earlier cathedral, the remains of which have been discovered during recent archaeological excavations.
The new church of Saint Mary was founded in 1064, the year of the triumph of Pisa against the Saracens in Palermo. The “temple of snow-white marble,” as the author of the funereal inscription calls it for its architect Buschetto, represented the whole civil and religious community. It had to reflect its fame and power to the eyes of the world. To this end, epigraphs were placed on the façade to celebrate the main maritime victories, pieces of Roman monuments were fitted on the sides to highlight the greatness of Pisa as the “other Rome,” and the facade was richly decorated with ornamental features, such as the outstanding Arab-inspired polychrome lozenges. Finally, the rooftop was adorned with the magnificent bronze griffin of Islamic origin (taken from Palermo), the original of which is now on display at the Museo dell'Opera.
The Baptistery was built in 1152 according to a design by Diotisalvi in front of the Cathedral, and lined up with its facade. It is a building that according to the latest studies recalls many aspects of the Holy Sepulcher as well as of the mosque of Omar in Jerusalem, a fact that goes back to the influences and relations between the architecture of Pisa and the Middle East. The whole city was involved in the construction of the building designed to host the baptismal font for the people of Pisa. The contemporary chronicler Bernardo Maragone says that one of the eight pillars came from the Isle of Elba and from Sardinia, and was placed inside the Baptistery by the inhabitants of the Porta Aurea neighborhood in 1163.
The Bell Tower
The anonymous architect of the Bell Tower echoed the circular plan of the baptistery in 1173. The roundness of the tower recalls the curves of the apses of the cathedral and shares the recurring motif of pillars and small arches with the other monuments in the square. The tower is composed of eight floors supported by blind columns of Carrara marble. The 58 m-high tower began to tilt from the first years of its construction, due to a subsidence of the ground. It was secured between 1990 and 2001.
The Cemetery and the Museo delle Sinopie-Sinopie Museum
The Bell Tower seemed to complete the group of monuments of the Cathedral – but in the 13th century, while construction continued and the buildings were enriched with works of art, archbishop of Pisa Federico Visconti had two new buildings added to the site of the square. Pope Alexander IV had the New Hospital built to the south in 1257 – as a token of the reconciliation with the Apostolic See after over fifteen years of crisis. Designed to help pilgrims, the poor, and the sick, the building is today home of the Museo delle Sinopie.
A new cemetery was begun in 1277 to group the tombs, which until then had been scattered all around the Cathedral. This plan led to the building of the Cemetery, an extraordinary four-sided cloister, which closes the Piazza dei Miracoli on the north side with its marble facade. Conceived for the “burial of the dead and the instruction of the living,” it is decorated with a magnificent series of frescoes. The preparatory sketches, the so-called, “sinopie,” are now kept in the Museum.
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo – Cathedral Museum
The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo was opened in the ancient Episcopal seminary in 1986. The impulse for the museum project was to create a place where the public could gain an understanding of the development of art in Pisa, and in particular of medieval sculpture. Created during the centuries of construction of the square, the masterpieces had been scattered in different places, including the Museo Civico, which was then named Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, or lost in storage rooms after the Second World War.
After a thorough examination of every piece, decisions were taken on where to exhibit them, and all the sculptures that turned out to have originally come from the buildings of the square were moved to the new museum. The Treasure of the Cathedral – silver accessories and church vestments, books of Liturgy – and a brief overview of its fixed furnishings are also located in the museum. A special section accommodates the Egyptian, Etruscan, and Roman antiques which were exhibited in the galleries of the Cemetery during the early 19th century.
Designed as the residence of the canons of the Cathedral, who resided there from the end of the 12th century until the early 17th century, the building is composed of two L-shaped rectangular brick bodies built around a cloister. The building went through a series of uses, owners, and stages of reconstruction, before the Opera della Primaziale Pisana acquired it in 1979 to convert it into a museum.