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Square of Miracles: Heart of the City

The Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa, or the Square of Miracles, was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO 25 years ago. The square is not located in the center of the city as you might imagine but to the north-west of the fortified wall, almost out of the town; there probably wasn’t enough space to use at the time the project got underway so this is the site decided upon. Since the times of the Etruscans, the three structures found in the piazza have been considered central to religious life, symbolizing the main stages of a human’s life: the Baptistry represents birth, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta life and the graveyard, of course, alludes to death.

What about the Tower of Pisa? Well, we haven’t forgotten it but the famous and so called Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually considered a part of the cathedral since it is really its bell tower.

The square is surrounded by a beautiful green lawn where tourists and university students can lie down and relax in this amazing setting.

The name Piazza dei Miracoli, or “Square of Miracles” as mentioned above, has given to the square after the First World War when Gabriele D’Annunzio in his work “Forse che sì, forse che no, 1910” cited it with these words: “The Ardea rotated over the sky of Christ, over the meadow of Miracles”.

Its building began in the XI century and, after various changes, was completed only in the XIX century, when the architect Alessandro Gherardesca gave the square its final present appearance.

Some History

The Square took form in 1064 with the creation of the centerpiece of the entire complex: the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The cathedral symbolizes the maximum expression of Pisan Romanesque influenced at the same time by various stylistic elements: at the time, Pisa was a Maritime Republic (XI-XV), and sailors travelled around the Arab world and remained smitten by all the beautiful things they saw.

Years later the enlargement of the fortified wall began (the church at the beginning wasn’t inside the walls) and the building of the baptistry began only in 1152. The baptistry was located directly in front of the Cathedral with a diameter equal to the facade of the cathedral. About 20 years later, works also started on the bell tower, now known as the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and in 1277 work stated on the graveyard.

Before the Florentine siege in the 15th century, you could enter the square through the Porta del Leone, but this was closed by the Florentines when they built the currently used door called Porta Santa Maria. During the era of Medici and Lorraine dominance in the region, the four monuments were surrounded by the construction of many other buildings; these were knocked down only at the end of the 19th century when the architect Alessandro La Gherardesca reorganized the square to give it its current structure.

The most recent changes were made during the Fascist era: the monument She-Wolf of Rome was added on the lawn north of the bell tower and 17 cypresses were planted east of the square, in memory of the soldiers that died in the war.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta - Duomo

Emblem of Pisan Romanesque architecture, the cathedral was designed by the architect Buscheto in 1604 and shows, in its brightness, the influence of various styles and cultures: Byzantine but mostly Islamic components which testify of the power of the Maritime Republic of Pisa at that time. During the trips in North Africa and Middle East, Pisan sailors could admire the characteristics of the different worlds they visited and were deeply influenced by them. Look at the columns within the Duomo: they will remind you of similar ones you find in many mosques! Despite a fire in 1956 within the Cathedral, many important works are still preserved within, including:

- the great mosaic of St. John the Evangelist in the apse (1302) by Cimabue

- the Pulpit, a masterpiece by Giovanni Pisano (1302-1310)

- Bas-reliefs executed by apprentices of Giambologna

- Works by Beccafumi and Andrea del Sarto in the chancel.

The Baptistery

The works for the realization of the Baptistry, the biggest in Italy, started in 1152 under supervision of the architect Diotislavi; the structure is set in front of the Cathedral and was entirely revisited by Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni around the mid-thirteenth century. They changed the baptistry by adding Gothic elements, a lodge and a cupola. In the middle of the baptistry, the Baptismal Font by Guido Bigarelli is set center stage with natural illumination coming from a hole in the ceiling, now covered by the Cupola. The Pulpit by Nicola Pisano (1255-1260) has stories from Christ’s life on the five panels, while the columns represents the Virtues. We can easily notice a classical style in the work, and for this reason Nicola Pisano is considered by many as a precursor to the Renaissance.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

The construction of the Tower of Pisa dates back to 1173. It fame is owed to its inclination, caused by the shifting ground in the subsoil and for this reason works were often interrupted throughout its construction. In 1275, the tower was enlarged with the addition of three levels while the belfry was added only in 1350. The Leaning Tower is 55 meters high and is inclined 5° southward. One has to climb up 294 steps to reach the top. Each of the levels has galleries and arcades except for the last one, where there are 7 bells. The tower was closed from 1990 to 2001 because of instability but is once again open today to visitors.

Want to visit the Tower of Pisa? Here you can buy the tickets!

The Graveyard - Camposanto

The graveyard is an ancient monumental cemetery set on the north side of the Square of Miracles. Begun in 1277 by the architect Giovanni de Simone, it is a rectangular structure with an inner cloister with Gothic arcades. As ancient tradition would have it, the graveyard was built on dirt carried back from the Holy Land, in particular from the place where Jesus was crucified. Within the cloister you’ll find many sarcophaguses and Roman graves, used exclusively for the burial of prestigious men, while beneath the floor are graves of the nobles of Pisa. Here you can admire a lot of artworks including: the Pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, the Lamp by Galileo Galilei, frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli and Buonamico Buffalmacco with the famous Triumph of Death, a tabernacle by the Della Robbia and many more.

The city offers many other enchanting monuments, churches and museums to visit but the Piazza dei Miracoli on its own represents a single great reason to head to Pisa. The beauty of the square itself and its many monuments are to be enjoyed, we recommend taking a whole day to discover them all - so what are you waiting for?

View our photo gallery of Pisa Explore the Square of Miracles through our pics! »

Author: Sara Turini - Discover Tuscany Team


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