Pisa's Piazza del Duomo, also known as Piazza dei Miracoli (Piazza of Miracles) is located north of the Arno river along a no longer existing tributary, the Auser. Unlike the paved piazza's typical of Italy, the Piazza del Duomo is an expansive green grassy field dominated by three monumental works of architecture in luminous dressed stone and white marble. They are the renown cathedral, baptistery, and campanile. While these three functions had been merged in to one church in northern Europe, their existence as three individual entities is typical of Italian practice of this era. A fourth structure, a walled cemetery, provides an edge on the north side of the site.
The Piazza del Duomo, has archaeological origins that date back to at least the 6th century B.C. Remains of a Paleo-Christian church also exist below the foundations of the cathedral we know today. By the mid 11th century the maritime republic of Pisa was rich from trade and spoils gained from conflicts with the Arabs in Sicily and Sardinia as well as from neighbors up and down the coast. Pisans at this time were proudly referring to their city as the "New Rome". To commemorate these events and the city's protector, the Virgin Mary, a cathedral was commissioned in 1064 from an architect known as Buscheto, or Busketos. The cathedral was dedicated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II, though it was far from complete. With the subsequent commenced construction of the baptistery, 1152, and the campanile, popularly known as the "Leaning Tower of Pisa" 1173, the three dominant objects which define the Piazza del Duomo were established, marking the grassy field as a monumental sacred space apart from the ever growing walled city. In 1278 Archbishop Federico Visconti donated the riverfront land just to the north of the site, along the river, for the construction of a campo santo (cemetery). This walled structure added a district edge to the otherwise open site. Located near one of the primary entrances to the Pisa, the Piazza del Duomo was often the first site the visitor saw upon first entering. And an impressive one it is still today.
In February 2005 and July 2006 teams from Development of Integrated Automatic Procedures for Restoration of Monuments (DIAPReM) research centre of the University of Ferrara, ISTI-CNR Pisa and the Department for Architectural Design of the University of Florence conducted a High Definition Survey of the Piazza del Duomo. The data was acquired from 30 area set-up positions and was focused on the exterior parts of the Cathedral, the Campanile and the Baptistery. The 3D survey was coordinated and georeferenced with a topographical survey conducted by the DIAPReM team as well. The final 3D laser scan survey data was registered within the topographic survey with an average error of 3mm and fused into a master dataset (point cloud) that contains a total of 256,653,388 points.
The Piazza del Duomo and its historic monumental architecture are subject to a large number of visitors and as a result require consistent maintenance and attention to conservation. The structures are largely unscarred by weather and age. However, most of the buildings onsite, most famously the campanile, are leaning towards the southeast due to foundations inadequate for the unfavorable soil conditions. This has prompted a number of sometimes ill-advised attempts over the years to correct the problems, such as depositing a large amount of concrete in the foundation of the campanile during Mussolini's reign, making the problem worse. Today, interventions to stabilize the campanile's leaning condition and to ensure that it has a long life are carried out with greater scientific, conservation, and engineering understanding.
Like the cathedral, the baptistery (1152-late 1300s) reflects a fusion of Islamic and Byzantine architectural styles with Christian and Roman ones, a product of this period of crusades. However, it also displays the Gothic influence that would later come to dominate Europe's Christian architecture. The baptistery is made of white marble with grey bands, and is surrounded by columned arcades, again much like the cathedral. It is 54.85 meters tall and has a diameter of 38.8 meters. Eight large monolithic columns inside help to support the structure.
The campo santo was founded in 1278 for use as a cemetery for Pisa's elite. Frescoes within the structures exhibit some of the finest examples of Medieval art, strongly influenced by the Dominicans. Located next to the baptistery and the cathedral, the long marble walls of the campo santo concretely shape the monumental area of the Piazza del Duomo.
Though nominally called Romanesque, the Cathedral of Pisa (1064-1110) exhibits aspects of Roman, Islamic, Byzantine, and trans-Alpine architectural influence. Stylistically it is without precedent. Inscriptions on its white marble facade describe the history of the cathedral and the circumstances of its construction. The cathedral is cruciform in plan and is situated on an east-west axis with the primary apse facing east. The plan is more Early Christian, or even Roman, than Romanesque in character. Each arm of the transept has its own apse, like two small basilicas attached to a larger one. Recycled classical columns were used to support the interior.
The campanile, ('Leaning Tower of Pisa') with its infamous inclination, is the one of the most well known monuments in the world. The tower has been leaning since shortly after its initial construction in 1173 due to unstable substrate soils. The circular shape and great height (currently 55.86 m on the lowest side and 56.70 m on the highest) of the campanile were unusual for their time, and the crowning belfry (likely constructed during the 14th century) is stylistically distinct from the rest of the construction. This belfry incorporates a 14 centimeter correction for the inclined axis below. The siting of the campanile within the Piazza del Duomo diverges from the axial alignment of the cathedral and baptistery, and it has been suggested that its placement might have been due to astrological factors.
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