The origin of the name, Pisa, is a mystery. While the origin of the city had remained unknown for centuries, the Pelasgi, the Greeks, the Etruscans, and the Ligurians had variously been proposed as founders of the city (for example, a colony of the ancient city of Pisa, Greece). Archaeological remains from the 5th century BC confirmed the existence of a city at the sea, trading with Greeks and Gauls. The presence of an Etruscan necropolis, discovered during excavations in the Arena Garibaldi in 1991, confirmed its Etruscan origins. Ancient Roman authors referred to Pisa as an old city. Strabo referred Pisa’s origins to the mythical Nestor, king of Pylos, after the fall of Troy. Virgil, in his Aeneid, states that Pisa was already a great center by the times described; the settlers from the Alpheus coast have been credited with the founding of the city in the ‘Etruscan lands’. The Virgilian commentator Servius wrote that the Teuti, or Pelops, the king of the Pisaeans, founded the town thirteen centuries before the start of the common era.
Medieval Maritime Empires
The economic growth of Europe around the year 1000, together with the hazards of the mainland trading routes, made possible the development of major commercial routes along the Mediterranean coast. The growing independence acquired by some coastal cities gave them a leading role in this development. These cities, exposed to pirate raids (mostly Saracen), organized their own defense, providing themselves substantial war fleets. Thus, in the 10th and 11th centuries they were able to switch to an offensive stance, taking advantage of the rivalry between the Byzantine and Islamic maritime powers and competing with them for the control of commerce and trade routes with Asia and Africa. In 1016 an alliance of Pisa and Genoa defeated the Saracens, conquered Corsica and gained control of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Pisa reached the pinnacle of its glory between the 12th and 13th centuries, when its ships controlled the Western Mediterranean. Rivalry between Pisa and Genoa grew worse in the 12th century and resulted in the naval Battle of Meloria (1284), which marked the beginning of Pisan decline. Pisa maintained its independence and control of the Tuscan coast until 1409, when it was annexed by Florence.
The Piazza dei Miracoli
The Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), formally known as Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square), is a walled 8.87 hectare (23 acre) area located in Pisa, Tuscany, Italy, recognized as an important center of European medieval art and one of the finest architectural complexes in the world. Considered sacred by the Catholic Church, its owner, the square is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile, and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). Partly paved and partly grassed, the Piazza dei Miracoli is also the site of the Ospedale Nuovo di Santo Spirito (New Hospital of the Holy Spirit), which houses the Sinopias Museum (Museo delle Sinopie) and the Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo).
Cathedral of the Assumption
The Cathedral of the Assumption, at the center of the Piazza dei Miracoli, is the medieval cathedral of Pisa. A masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, in particular Pisan romanesque, it is the visibile testimony of the prestige and wealth achieved by the Republic of Pisa at the height of its power. Construction on the cathedral began in 1063 (1064 according to the Pisan calendar of the time) by the architect Buscheto, and expenses were paid using the spoils received fighting against the Muslims in Sicily in 1063. It includes various stylistic elements: classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine, and in particular, Islamic, as proof of the international presence of the Pisan merchants at that time. The church was erected outside the protective city walls of the high middle ages, a symbol of a Pisa that was so powerful it had no fear of being attacked. The cathedral was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II, who belonged to the Caetani family which was powerful both in Pisa and in Rome. The rich exterior decoration contains multicolored marble, mosaic, and numerous bronze objects from the spoils of war, among which is the griffin which was taken in Palermo in 1061 and later placed on the eastern part of the roof.
Battistero di San Giovanni
The Pisa Baptistery of St. John (Battistero di San Giovanni) is largest baptistery in Italy, it is 54.86 m (180 ft) high, with a diameter of 34.13 m (112 ft). The Pisa Baptistery is an example of the transition from the Romanesque style to the Gothic style: the lower section is in the Romanesque style, with rounded arches, while the upper sections are in the Gothic style, with pointed arches. The Baptistery is constructed of marble, as is common in Italian architecture. Construction started in 1152 to replace an older baptistery, and when it was completed in 1363, it became the second building, in chronological order, in the Piazza dei Miracoli, near the Duomo di Pisa and the cathedral’s free-standing campanile, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. The baptistery was designed by Diotisalvi, whose signature can be read on two pillars inside the building, with the date 1153. Constructed on the same unstable sand as the tower and cathedral, the Baptistery leans 0.6 degrees toward the cathedral.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre pendente di Pisa) or simply the Tower of Pisa (Torre di Pisa) is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, known worldwide for its unintended tilt. It is situated behind Pisa’s cathedral and is the third oldest structure in the city’s Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) after the cathedral and the Pisa Baptistry. The tower’s tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Knights’ Square in Pisa
Palazzo della Carovana (also Palazzo dei Cavalieri) is a palace in Knights’ Square, Pisa, Italy, presently housing the main building of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. It was built in 1562–1564 by Giorgio Vasarifor the headquarters of the Knights of St. Stephen, as a renovation of the already existing Palazzo degli Anziani (“Palace of the Elders”). The name, meaning “Palace of the Convoy”, derives from the three-year period undertaken by the initiates of the Order for their training, called “la Carovana”. The Order of Saint Stephen (Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire, “Holy Military Order of St. Stephen Pope and Martyr”) is a Roman Catholic Tuscan dynastic military order founded in 1561. The order was created by Cosimo I de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany. The last member of the Medici dynasty to be a leader of the order was Gian Gastone de Medici in 1737.
The objective of the order was to fight the Ottoman Turks and the pirates that sailed Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century. The Turks and the pirates were making dangerous inroads on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea where Cosimo had recently inaugurated the new port of Livorno. Cosimo also needed a symbolic fight to unite the nobility of the different cities that combined to form his new grand duchy (including Florence and Siena), and to demonstrate his support of the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, the creation of a Tuscan military order would also strengthen the prestige, both internal and international, of Cosimo’s new state.
Pisa is an interesting place to visit although the long lines make actually entering the historical venues difficult. I hope you enjoyed the post, please leave a comment.
The Four Maritime Republics of Medieval Italy: http://explorethemed.com/Venice.asp?c=1
Leaning Tower of Pisa: http://www.towerofpisa.org/
Pisa Baptistery: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/pisa-baptistery
Sinope Museum: http://www.opapisa.it/en/square-of-miracles/sinopie-museum/