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Pisa - Leaning Tower - view
Pisa - Duomo - interiorPisa - Duomo -  columnsPisa - Leaning Tower -  view

Pisa, found astride the River Arno in Tuscany, is famous the world over for its leaning tower. The city offers much more than just its peculiar bell tower however: in Piazza dei Miracoli, where the leaning monument is located, are the Duomo di Pisa and the Baptistry of St. John, both stunning examples of Pisan Romanesque architecture.

Located between the Arno River and the Serchio River, Pisa’s founding is shrouded in mystery, as the Romans who later settled in it already referred to Pisa as an ancient city. Due to its proximity to the coast, Pisa quickly developed as a maritime power, reaching a golden age in the 11th century. The city’s naval strength could rival that of Venice, Genoa and Amalfi, three of the most powerful maritime republics in Italy at the time. Pisa was also an important commercial centre, both by land and sea, allowing a stream of wealth to enter the city.

Things to see

Leaning tower of Pisa

The Leaning tower of Pisa, located in the Piazza dei Miracoli, is the city’s most famous attraction that is recognized the world over. In actuality, it is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, also known as the Duomo di Pisa. Its crookedness is due to the instability of the ground, the slow decline noticeable even before the tower’s completion.

Construction began in 1174, although it is unclear as to who designed the final plans. Unfortunately, the process had to be halted shortly after the completion of the second floor due to the fact that the Republic of Pisa was at war with Genoa, Lucca and Florence, some of the biggest powers of pre-unified Italy. Construction resumed in 1272 under the direction of Giovanni di Simone, the architect of the Piazza dei Miracoli. The seventh and final floor was not completed until 1320, with the bell chamber finally added in 1372. Each floor has a bell corresponding to one of the notes in the major scale.

The tower underwent several renovations, particularly to its structure to make sure that its continuous decline did not lead it to topple altogether. It was completely closed to the public in 1990, where the biggest renovation efforts were taken to even it out, reopening again in 2001. Today, visitors are able to visit the tower and climb to its top to enjoy a beautiful panorama of the area –assuming a private tour was booked well in advance.
Cathedral of Pisa

Found in the middle of the Piazza dei Miracoli is the Duomo di Pisa, a stunning masterpiece of Pisan Romanesque architecture. Indeed, this is the structure which launched the style throughout Pisa, later spreading through Tuscany. Like the leaning tower of Pisa, which is actually the bell tower of the cathedral, the building has visibly sunk into the ground, resulting in a slight incline.

Construction began in 1064 under the direction of the architect Buscheto; it was meant as a display of Pisa’s power and wealth, and possibly a challenge to other great cities, such as Venice. The cathedral was consecrated in 1118 however by the mid 12th century it was already being expanded by the architect Rainaldo, to whom we owe the façade we see today. Over the years, the cathedral underwent several renovations and interventions, namely following the fire in 1595 that destroyed much of the roof and front.

The interior was also subject to a number of changes over time, most notably the addition of “quadroni” (large paintings) that decorate the walls. The inside of the Cathedral is also embellished by detailed mosaics and exquisite ceiling frescoes. Furthermore, there is an impressive collection of sculptures and artworks such as marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano and bronze crucifixes by Pietro Tacca.

Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence - Duomo - top view
Florence - DuomoFlorence - Duomo - side viewFlorence - Duomo - night view

At the end of the 13th century, the city council decided to replace the old Cathedral Santa Reparata by a new one, the actual cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. The project was first given to the architect Arnolfo di Cambio the construction had only started when he died in 1302. Then the architect Giotto pursued it along with several other architects after him.

A great problem appeared when it came to build a dome and it was finally the architect Filippo Brunelleschi who solved it and created a beautiful dome. The dome is octagonal and measures 112 meters and it took no less than 140 years to finish the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore.  As the dome is octagonal, Brunelleschi dedicated one team per side, so 8 different teams worked on this dome, they used approximately 4 millions of bricks. Bricks were put in “spina di pesce”, it means as a shape of fish bones, so not straight and it made the dome very strong. Brunelleschi thought his cupola for the dome very carefully. During the construction, no outside scaffoldings were used to build the dome but internal structures were built month after month while it was growing up. The construction was finished in 1436 but the lantern on the top of the cupola was only set in 1461.

Things to see

Giorgio Vasari was chosen to decorate the dome inside. He decide to paint the Last Judgement, however he died three years after he started the project. After his death, the work was given to Federigo Zuccaro. The Last Judgment was finished in 1579.

The dome can be climbed and visitors can appreciate a wonderful view over the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore and Florence roofs.

The façade which can be admired today is more recent and was realized during the 19th century.

More than a church, the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore became a sign of the rich and prosperous city of Florence. Since the Renaissance, the dome and the cathedral were the symbol of the city of Florence.