The Baptistery is one of the four buildings that constitute the monumental complex of Piazza dei Miracoli and it is famous in Pisa because Galileo Galilei was baptised here in 1564. It was started on August 15, 1552, but its completion in the course of time was characterized by changes carried out into different periods.
The original project of the Baptistery belonged to the architect Diotisalvi, who was thought as one of the possible planners of the Leaning Tower, but the works were soon interrupted and restarted one century later under the supervision of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano with radical alterations in comparison to the early ideas. The building was finished at the end of the XIV century.
This is the reason of the particular mix of architectural styles that characterizes the Baptistery and that is possible to find also in other works of the Piazza dei Miracoli.
The last work that made this building appear as it is today, dates to the XIX century, when some copies of ornamental sculptures (statues and busts of saints and prophets) were carried out. The originals of these sculptures were brought inside the Museo dell'Opera of the Dome and they are still preserved there.
The Baptistery has a circular layout and it is covered with white marble. The Romanesque-Pisan style is prevalent, even though decorations and mullioned windows with two openings put into evidence a certain Gothic influence. Its pyramidal dome is divided into one part made of red bricks and another made of white leaded laminas.
It culminates with a little dome above which there is a bronze statue representing St. John the Baptist. The enemies of the Seaport Republic accused the Pisans not to have finished the cupola to save money.
Today it is known that the decision not to paint the whole dome red was due to the Dome's secondary function as a tower-beacon at night. The seaside cities housed numerous structures that acted like huge meridians and that exploited the reflections of the moon on their white slabs to be visible to ships at great distances.
The inside of the Baptistery was deliberately planned bare to favour an extraordinary echo that created a mystical and suggestive atmosphere.
At the centre of this structure, there is the Font conceived for the "total immersion" rite which was then very common. It is a work by Guido Bigarelli da Como, who carried it out in 1246, and it is constituted of a big heptagonal pool with four little pools within.
Even if this structure has a simple layout in line with the austerity dominating the inside of the Baptistery, it was influenced by its author's Byzantine technique, as revealed by the inlays enriching it.
Nicola Pisano carried out the pulpit of the building between 1255 and 1260. It represents an innovation of that period as regards the sculptures, mainly because of the deepness and the physical accuracy of the figures, which preannounced the progressive disappearance of the Romanesque style.
In effect, the Pulpit shows decorations and reliefs that foreshadowed the recovery and the new interpretation of the classical style that deeply renovated the Italian art in the following centuries. Inside the six main squares, some scenes of Jesus's life and of the Last Judgment are depicted.