Piazza del Duomo, Pisa
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Piazza del Duomo, Pisa

Site Information

Country: Italy
State: Pisa, Tuscany
Location: 43° 43' 21" N - 10° 23' 47" E
Field Documentation Date(s): February 1st, 2005
Project Release Date(s): February 11th, 2008
Time Range: 1064 CE - 1500 CE
Era: Romanesque, Medieval, Early Renaissance Italy
Culture: Pisan, Tuscan, Christian
Site Authority: Opera della Primaziale Pisana
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage Site
world map with location

Photograph of the Cathedral and Campanile taken from the west

Site Description

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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.

Cathedral
Though nominally called Romanesque, the Cathedral of Pisa (1064-1110) exhibits aspects of Romanesque, Islamic, Byzantine, and trans-Alpine architectural influence. Stylistically it is without precedent. Inscriptions on its white marble façade 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.

Baptistery
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.

Campanile
The campanile with its infamous inclination is the one of the most well known monuments in the world, but, unlike the cathedral, baptistery, and campo santo, the history of its construction is less well known. We do know for certain that it was founded in 1173, from inscriptions at the base near the entrance door. However, as the tower has been leaning since shortly after its initial construction due to unstable substrate soils, numerous attempts at reconstruction and stabilization of the campanile in the succeeding centuries have made it difficult to establish a definitive set of construction dates. 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.

Campo Santo
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 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.
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History

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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.

By the early 15th century, Pisa had fallen into political and economic decline and soon the little republic came under the military and economic domination of Florence. Pisa's monuments were carefully maintained and improved by the Florentines, particularly the Medici family, during the years of Cosimo the Elder (1434-1464), and more importantly during those of Cosimo I (1537-1574), who accorded Pisa a central role in Medici politics. Careful stewardship continued under the auspices of the Opera Primaziale Pisana, as it had since the first decade of the 13th century following transfer of site authority duties from the archbishop's office to the city. The Opera Primaziale Pisana continues to be the authority responsible for the Piazza del Duomo's maintenance and care up to the present day.
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Aerial perspective of the Piazza del Duomo, created from laser scan data

Project Narrative

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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 3D laser scan survey was executed with a Leica/Cyrax HDS 2500 and two Leica/Cyrax HDS 3000. The Leica/Cyrax HDS 2500 was used from eleven area set-up especially for the longer range shots from the outer limit of the square. The 19 Leica/Cyrax HDS 3000 area set-up positions were mostly chosen close to the objects which allowed better detail scan. The point cloud data was processed by the Visual Computing Lab of ISTI-CNR at Pisa using alignment, registration, merging and decimation arriving at a triangular meshed surface. The software used for processing was entirely developed by Visual Computing Lab of ISTI-CNR and applied experimentally. Finally, the model was prepared to be accessible on the web. In June of 2007 Oliver Monson of CyArk captured additional high resolution, high dynamic range photographic data. This data has since been applied to the model.
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3D model of the Piazza del Duomo

Preservation

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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.
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Area Descriptions

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Baptistery
Camposanto
Cathedral
Tower

Baptistery

Baptistery Description:

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.


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Camposanto

Camposanto Description:

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.


return to area list


Cathedral

Cathedral Description:

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.


return to area list


Tower

Tower Description:

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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References:

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  1. ICOMOS advisory board (1987). The ICOMOS report for UNESCO. http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/395.pdf
  2. ISTI-CNR Visual Computing Lab: Digital Cathedral of Pisa
    http://vcg.isti.cnr.it/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=87&Itemid=27
  3. Nenci, Cinzia; Giovannetti, Lucia; et al. (uncertain date).
    Official website of the site authority, Opera Primaziale Pisana. http://www.opapisa.it

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Credits:

more     - Marcello Balzani
            Architecture Faculty NubLab

     - Guido Galvani
            Architecture Faculty NubLab

     - Alessandro Grieco
            Architecture Faculty NubLab

     - Stefano Settimo
            Architecture Faculty NubLab

     - Cecilia Traina
     - Federico Uccelli
            Architecture Faculty NubLab

CyArk
     - Hannah Bowers
            Content Creator

     - Mark D'Angelo
            Content Creator

     - John Mink
            Lead Researcher

     - Oliver Monson
     - Giuseppe Bentivoglio
     - Gianluca De Felice
     - Francesco Pacini
     - Clara Baracchini
     - Marta Ciafaloni
     - Gugliemlo Maria Malchiodi
     - Marco Callieri
     - Matteo Dellepiane
     - Valentino Fiorin
     - Claudio Montani
     - Paolo Pingi
     - Frederico Ponchio
     - Roberto Scopigno
     - Stefano Bertocci
     - Marci Bini
     - Francesco Tioli
     - Giorgio Verdiani
     - Gabriele Del Fra
     - Marco Nardini