Pisa — The Dome of Pisa

The Dome of Pisa was started in 1064 under the supervision of the architect Bruschetto di Giovanni. It was finished in 1100. There are some important works inside, such as the Pulpit by Giovanni Pisano and some paintings by Andrea del Sarto, Beccafumi, Sodoma and Sogliani.

The facade and the apse were built in a second stage around the year 1130, probably, in the ambit of an enlargement project committed to the same Bruschetto, even if some documents confirm that it was Reinaldo who followed the works.

It is possible, though, that Reinaldo was in charge of creating the sculptural decoration of the new part of the cathedral. In 1596, after a devastating fire, the Dome of Pisa underwent radical renovation works.

Fortunately, the flames did not damage either the Pisano's Pulpit or the Cimabue's Mosaic on the apse.

The Dome was also the protagonist in the life of the scientist Galileo Galilei: it is said that it was just inside the cathedral that the physician sensed the "law of the pendulum" observing a lamp oscillating.

With its Latin cross shape and green and white marble stripes covering, the Dome of Pisa testifies the economic and cultural splendour of the ancient Seaport Republic. The Dome became an example of the Romanesque-Pisan style with time and it was also influenced by the relationships between Pisa and the Arab world. In effect, on the inside, which is divided into one nave and four aisles, it shows a great number of columns recalling the mosques that the Pisan sailors certainly had the chance to admire during their travels in North Africa and in the Middle East.

It is also to be noted that its architect somehow wanted to anticipate the Renaissance trends planning a monumental complex out of the old city area, which allowed him to work also on the territory surrounding the Dome. Its classical-style facade, moreover, suggested the innovative idea to create didactic pictorial cycles inside the building instead of outside, as it was customary at the time.

One of the most suggestive works inside the Dome is certainly the Pulpit, or the "pergamo", by Giovanni Pisano, who realized it between 1302 and 1310. Its complexity is evidenced not only by the arches that prop its sides up and by the sculptures that substitute the supporting parts, but also by the particularly rich iconography of the panels. Its portals are much appreciated, too, with their bronze panels where reliefs were made by the pupils of the Gianbologna.

The mosaic with the image of St. John the Evangelist by Cimabue can be admired near the apse. The area of the presbytery is enriched with works by Andrea del Sarto and Beccafumi, while the transept is decorated with wonderful XVIII-century canvases.

The History of Pisa Dome

The Dome of Pisa, founded in 1064 and dedicated to S.Maria Maggiore, is a real architectural masterpiece of the Romanic period. The first project for the building was made by the architect Buscheto, who managed to modify the current stylistic forms through a completely innovative and autonomous language.

According to the tradition, the construction of the Cathedral was financed by the spoils coming from the seizure of some Saracen ships in Palermo's port.

To Buscheto (praised in an epigraph on the facade) we owe the inside division into five naves according to the early Christian model of the great Roman churches, enriched by the use of modern Romanic elements as the women's gallery overlooking the central nave and the roofing with groined vaults of the little naves (the central nave, originally covered by a trussed roof, has now a lacunar dating back to the end of the 16th century).

For the use of really slender piers with an Islamic flavour in the pointed curve arches that divide the side naves, the inside of the Cathedral is more similar to the shapes of a mosque rather than to those of an early Christian Basilica.

The outside does not show the inside division into five naves: the piers allow the lifting of the mainstay of the groined vaults which are thus all on the same level and closed outside by a common slant of the roof. Pisa's Cathedral was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasio II, however its construction finished only around the middle of the 12th century.

A few years after the consecration, the new architect Rainaldo made some changes to the original plan: the front part of the building was lengthened with the addition of three spans in the central nave and a new facade was designed, which foresaw the inclusion (realised later) of the original motive of the overlapping loggias that was particularly successful in the Romanic period in Tuscany (beside the resumption of this motive in the neighbouring buildings of the Baptistery and the Steeple, one should think about the facade of Saint Paul's Church in Ripa d'Arno, consecrated in 1148, and S. Michele in Foro Church in Lucca, which was started in 1143, and S.Martino's Cathedral, made by Guidetto in 1204).

The facade was completed by the sculptor Guglielmo, author of the two pulpits made for the Cathedral between 1159 and 1162, but taken to Cagliari's Cathedral in 1313 to leave room for the new monumental pulpit of Giovanni Pisano.

The sculptor, son of Nicola Pisano, was active in the building yard of the Cathedral (where he also made a half reproduction of the Madonna with Child, previously located in the lunette of a gate of the transept, now in the Opera Museum) and the Baptistery.

Among the important works of art that are inside the Cathedral of Pisa, only to mention a few examples, there are the so-called "Bronze gate of St.Ranieri" made by the sculptor Bonanno Pisano, visible along the outside part of the Southern transept (the gate made by the same artist for the facade in 1179 has been lost), the tomb of Arrigo VII made by the sculptor Tino di Camaino, the mosaic in the apses of the 14th century (the drawing of St. Giovanni was made by Cimabue), beside the frescoes and the paintings of artists of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries (Andrea del Sarto, Beccafumi, Sodoma, Francesco Mancini, Placido Costanzi, etc….).