ArtSmart Travel/ Pisa by Barbara Rizza Mellin
Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa, Italy (1064)
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is ubiquitous; we see
it on pizza boxes, in commercial ads and in cartoons. But we rarely stop to
think about what it really is. Beyond the fact that it leans about 13 feet out
of plumb, it is a most remarkable building—elegant, beautiful, and representative
of grand medieval splendor.
Actually a campanile (bell tower), it is one of four main
components of the Campo dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), which also includes
the Cathedral, Baptistery and Camposanto. Despite the fact that construction
continued for centuries, all of the structures in the square present unified architectural
elements: blind and open arches, precious marble facades, decorative mosaics, Greek-inspired
columns and Eastern influences. The
buildings were intended to reflect the socio-economic status of a wealthy
citizenry, who had prospered in trade with “the Orient” and were ready to
display their good future and commemorate their naval prowess to the world with
these glorious edifices.
Begun in 1064 under the direction
of Buscheto, the Cathedral, a perfect example of Italian Romanesque architecture,
was built to celebrate a victory of the Republic of Pisa over the Muslim navy
at Sicily. Faced with rows of marble, the cathedral features seven blind arches—
three with doorways— supported on columns with carved acanthus-leaf capitals,
and topped with intricately pieced mosaics. Bronze doors created by followers
of Giambologna replaced the original 12th century doors in the late
16th century. Unlike many
Medieval Cathedrals, there is no Last
Judgment tympanum. Rather, there are four upper stories with front galleries
created by arch-topped freestanding columns. The repetition of arches and
columns is the identifying characteristic of all elements on the Campo.
The interior of the Cathedral
continues that repetition as two tiers of column-supported arches line the
nave. The capitals, here, present both
Corinthian and Byzantine designs. At the
end of the nave before the large mosaic of Christ
Enthroned above the apse, hangs Galileo’s Lamp, the 16th century
chandelier, whose swinging is said to have inspired the Pisan scientist’s
thoughts about the pendulum. The interior also holds Giovanni Pisano’s famed carved
pulpit, considered the sculptor’s finest work. Created between 1302 and 1310, the nearly
round pulpit is covered with dynamic sculpted images from the New Testament.
Paintings and frescoes by such renowned artists as Cimabue, Ghirlandaio, and
Andrea del Sarto also decorate the interior.
In 1153, after defeating the
Christian Republic of Amalfi, the Baptistery was started to commemorate that
event. While this structure harmonizes
with the cathedral in style and building materials, it also shows evidence of Gothic
and Byzantine influences, such as the addition of pointed arches and the ribbed
dome. A huge bronze statue of St. John the Baptist, dating to the early 15th
century tops the dome. Nicola and Giovanni Pisano supervised the project and
contributed sculptures to both the exterior and interior.
The campanile (bell tower) begun in
1173 likewise continues the design of the Cathedral with its first floor of
blind arches topped by six stories of column-supported open arched loggias. The
repetition is surprisingly elegant, giving all the buildings a delicate, lacey
appearance. Slightly smaller in diameter than the circular tower, the bell
chamber, is particularly decorative with its striped marble, alternating blind
and open arches, and ornamental trim circling the top like icing on a wedding
cake. The tower showed early signs of instability, and construction was halted
periodically to try to correct the problem created by shifting terrain.
The fourth component of the Campo
is the Camposanto, or cemetery. Begun by
Giovanni di Simone in 1277, the long rectangular building borders sacred soil
brought back from the Holy Lands by the Pisan fleet. The Camposanto was badly damaged during World
War II, when it was bombed in 1944 and its lead roof collapsed. What could be
saved has been restored, and today the Camposanto contains sculptures,
sarcophagi and frescoes of artistic importance.
Also found on the Campo dei
Miracoli is the Museo Dell’Opera del Duomo, housed in the former residence of
Cathedral canons, who lived there in the 12th century. Opened in
1989, the museum displays treasures collected in Pisan trade with the East and
works of art from Medieval Pisa.