Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, piazza del Duomo

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Opera Primaziale pisana)
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Opera Primaziale pisana)
Conceived by the genius of Busketo (whose remains rest in a Roman sarcophagus, part of the façade) and built starting from 1063, it was dedicated to the Assumption in honour of the victorious battle of Palermo, which took place between 13 and 18 August of that year. Its style, defined as Pisan Romanesque, is unique, and we find examples of it mostly in Tuscany, Sardinia, Corsica, and even in Campania and Puglia. The façade is a masterpiece by of Rainaldo (although many friezes and capitals are attributed to Guglielmo and Biduino), developed on blind arches, decorated with lozenges and inlays, topped by four levels of walkable loggias. Of great value are the bronze portals, made to a design by Raffaello Pagni to replace those destroyed in the fire of 1595, and the Virgin with Child, a work by Andrea Pisano (c. 1343), which is located on the cusp of the façade. The church is about 100 meters long and 70 meters wide and is known as the third largest church in Europe from the eleventh century, after St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls of Rome. The elliptical dome, designed by Busketo and decorated around 1380 by Piccio di Landuccio, is inspired by the great Byzantine domes, primarily that of Santa Sofia (Turkey). The apse is a triumph of colours and play of lines and stylistically dialogues with the nearby Leaning Tower. Of great interest is the bronze door by Bonanno Pisano (1179-1181), also called gate of San Ranieri, the only survivor of the original parts following the fire of 1595.

Inside: With five naves, divided by monolithic granite columns from the island of Elba. Three arches, two pointed and one round, reveal the beautiful apse mosaic of Christ Pantocrator by Francesco da Pisa, Vincino da Pistoia and above all Cimabue. The Moorish taste is evident in the arches of the side naves, so much so that the Cathedral was often compared to the great Mosque of Cordoba. Elegant eighteenth and nineteenth-century paintings (by Bezzuoli, Bilivert, Lomi, Tempesti, etc.) narrate the story of Pisa and, among the side altars, we find works of great importance, such as the Madonna with Child by Andrea del Sarto (first half of the 16th century) in the second altar of the right aisle and the beautiful Virgin by Perin del Vaga, in the first altar of the southern transept. The ceiling carved with lacunars and decorated with gold leaves, finished in 1602, is a work by Domenico and Bartolomeo Atticciati and replaces the original one with trusses lost during the fire of 1595.
  • Right wing of the Transept: above, the mosaic of the Madonna in glory by Francesco Traini (XIV century) watches over the urn in polychrome marble, made by Giovan Battista Foggini in 1687, resting place of the body of San Ranieri, patron saint of the city. On the left, in the shadows, part of the sarcophagus of emperor Arrigo II of Luxembourg, sculpted by Tino di Camaino in 1313 (partly preserved in the Museo dell'Opera), once behind the main altar. The painted angels are by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
  • Main altar and Stand: along the sides is the fifteenth-century wooden choir, on which works by Andrea del Sarto and Sogliani stand out. The eighteenth-century altar is dominated by the large Crucifix bronze by Giambologna. Behind, the large stand reveals masterful works by Beccafumi, Sogliani, Sodoma and Salimbeni. The floor is in opus alexandrinum from the mid-twelfth century and again behind the altar there is a porphyry vase, part of the booty of the first Crusade, considered one of the vessels used for the celebrations of the wedding at Cana.
  • Left wing of the Transept: at the top is the mosaic of the Annunciation by Francesco Traini, in the centre the large silver ciborium designed by Giovanni Battista Foggini. Between the columns we can see paintings by Aurelio Lomi and near the main altar, the icon of the Virgin and Child, attributed to Berlinghiero Berlinghieri (1226), known as the Madonna Under the Organs, one of the sacred symbols of the city.
  • The Pergamum (or pulpit) of Giovanni: a masterpiece by Giovanni Pisano, the Pergamum was started in 1301 and finished in 1310. During the fire of 1595, to save it, it was completely disassembled and its pieces were put in different places, until the reconstruction took place, unfortunately with some alterations, in 1926. On the first level there are large column-bearing lions with caryatids and telamon columns. Prophets, sibyls and apostles in continuous movement frame the stories of the life of Jesus: from the Annunciation to the Last Judgment. The work is defined as the greatest example of medieval expressionism.
Galileo Galilei's lamp: 'with the sagacity of his ingenuity he invented that very simple and regulated measure of time by means of the pendulum, not previously perceived by anyone else, taking the opportunity to observe it from the motion of a lamp, when one day he was in the Cathedral of Pisa; and making very exact experiences of it, he ascertained the equality of its vibrations' (Vincenzo Viviani. Historical Account, 1654). At the centre of the nave hangs the bronze chandelier by Vincenzo Possanti, a work that replaced the original lamp (now in Campo Santo) that Galileo Galilei observed in the Cathedral in 1581 (when he was only 17 years old). His reflections led him to formulate the theory known as isochronism of the pendulum, according to which the oscillation time of pendulums of equal length is constant, whatever the amplitude of the oscillation. In reality this theory is valid only if the oscillations are of small amplitude, but it was still the basis for the studies to come.
The Pisan New Year: inside the Cathedral, near the string course above Giovanni Pisano's Pergamum, there is a shelf supported by a ovum: on 25 March, at 12 noon, it is hit by a ray of sunshine that enters from a small window on the southern transept. This event determines the passage from the old to the new year in Pisan style, i.e. respecting the ancient ab incarnatione calendar, which calculates the days of the year starting from the day of the Annunciation of the Virgin and the ancient Equinox. Therefore, Pisa enters the new year 9 months early. This custom, today celebrated with great fervour, is documented at least since the 10th century and was abolished in 1749 by Grand Duke Francesco Stefano di Lorena, as it created many confusions in public documents.

The legends:
  • The devil's nails: according to a legend, the devil noticed the majestic Cathedral and tried to destroy it, but he did not succeed and all that remains today of that attempt, engraved on a block of bare marble on the northern side of the church (5 arches from the façade towards the transept), are its claws: counting the row of small holes several times, the result obtained is never the same. Another version argues that achieving the same result leads to death.
  • The lizards of the students: according to a legend, by touching the two bronze lizards, placed between the leaves of the main portal of the façade, on the left, more or less at one meter and twenty in height, the students succeed in passing the exams.
  • The column of women: again on the façade, on the second level of walkable loggias, on the right, there is a red porphyry column, which when observed gives the guarantee to all women to be protected from the betrayal of their partner for at least 24 hours.

Santa Maria, 50 p.1
Recapito 349 5819255
Santa Maria, 78 p.1
Recapito 389 2320250
Piazza del Pozzetto, 7 - Pisa
Recapito 338 7291090
Via Santa Maria, 187
Recapito 050 560572
Piazza Arcivescovado, 3, 56126 Pisa PI
Recapito 0508312134
Via Santa Maria, 179
Recapito 050 561810
Via Maffi Pietro Cardinale, 36
Recapito 050 551685
Via Roma, 70
Recapito 050 552275,050 562352
Anima Mundi XIV edizione
Gloriae Dei Cantores
Cattedrale di Pisa
Cattedrale e Camposanto di Pisa