Religious Architecture in the City of Pisa

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When most people mention the city of Pisa, they immediately think of the famous leaning tower of Pisa, however, that is not the only interesting piece of architecture that this interesting City has to offer. The Cathedral of Pisa, apart of a larger complex known as the Campo dei Miracoli, or field of Miracles, is a standout piece of architecture, that allows for the glimmer of the past that the city of Pisa once was. The city of Pisa owes its historical significance largely to its port, which allowed for a large amount of trade to flow thru the city. Not only that but as Islam began to move out of West Africa and into Europe, it was necessary that the small town create a fleet of warships, of the fleet that would soon lead to many great navel successes (Scutz 340). The city provided the perfect place for a new cathedral to be constructed.

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The cathedral of Pisa is often considered to be a window to the past, to show the power that the city of Pisa once held as a Maritime power of the Mediterranean. Before Pisa had become a major influence, Venice had been the largest power in the Mediterranean. In order to demonstrate the new-found power and wealth held by the City of Pisa, it was decided that a church was to be built, in honor of the Virgin Mary (Conti 98), who was the “protectress” of the city of Pisa (Kostof 314). Construction of the building began in 1063, not long after the naval battle of Palermo, in which the city was able to gain enough loot to help pay for the construction of the new cathedral (Schutz 340). The cathedral was erected at the edge of the city, surrounded by green fields, this way it was able to be unobstructed and “unrestricted” by the surrounding urban city (Schutz 340). The building was dedicated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II, even when the cathedral was far from finished (Kostof 314). iThe original architect of this Cathedral is credited to a man named Buscheto, who combine many different architectural styles to create the current cathedral of Pisa (Conti 101).

In a time of ever-evolving architectural ideas and styles, the cathedral of Pisa brings ideas from many different spheres of influence to create a piece of architecture that has survived centuries. The main style ever present throughout the cathedral is that of Italian Romanesque, however, the first Architect Busheto took many ideas and qualities from Lombardic, Arabic and even Armenian architecture (Conti 101). Romanesque architecture is especially noted for having a richly decorated exterior, that helps to define openings along the surface of the exterior walls (Clark 45). The construction of this cathedral took over 100 years, beginning in 1063, and finally being completed in the second half of the twelfth century (Schutz 340). The cathedral is built almost entirely out of dressing stone, as well as marble, with many columns made out of marble or granite, which had been taken and reused from earlier Roman construction (Kostof 314). However, there are even more things about this cathedral, that both drew me to it and that I have found to be very interesting.

Though often not immediately thought of when one mentions the city of Pisa, the cathedral, also known as the cathedral of Santa Maria (Clark 120), is an important part of the town’s history. The Cathedral of Pisa is one of the largest of its time, with a length of 312 feet, and the nave being nearly 46 feet (Schutz 340). Not only that, but the transept arms are unusually long, they instead are more like small roman bacillus (Kostof 314). This is quite interesting as most churches of the time are designed to be in the shape of a Roman cross, and the unusually long transept arms would make the idea of a cross to be a little off-kilter. Yet, even for its large size, it was originally designed to be much shorter (Schutz 340). Not only is this interesting, by the Cathedral of Pisa has the only cathedral square in Italy that is not paved, instead, but it also has a grass lawn (Conti 97). Overall this building is very interesting and provides a beautiful idea of what Italian Romanesque architecture was capable of.

The City of Pisa, often renowned for a single piece of architecture, offers a rich history both when it comes to religious architecture, but as well as when talking about its past maritime success. The Cathedral of Santa Maria allows for us to get an idea of the great city of Pisa at it’s prime, as well as the many different architectural influences that allowed Italy to be very fluid in their architecture (Kostof 314-316). The Cathedral of Pisa allows for curves and dips of the architecture that is both pleasing to the eye, but also a way to marvel at what people from the past were able to create, a majestic cathedral to last centuries.

Works Cited

  1. Clark, Williams W. Medieval Cathedrals. Greenwood Press, 2006, Westport.
  2. Conti, Flavio. The Grand Tour: Centers of Belief. Translated by Patrick Creagh, HBJ Press, 1978, Boston.
  3. Kostof, Spiro. A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals. Revisions by Greg Castillo, Original Drawings by Richard Tobias, Oxford University Press, 1995.
  4. Schutz, Bernhard. Great Cathedrals. Photographs by Albert Hirmer, Florian Monheim, and Joseph Martin, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2002, New York. 
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Religious Architecture in the City of Pisa. (2021, Oct 12). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from

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