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The earliest mention of the cathedral dates from 748, although there must have been an older bishop’s Church, given that a bishop is known in Pisa from 313 AD. Recent archaeological investigation revealed the remains of a large ecclesiastical building, earlier than the Romanesque cathedral, but only dating from the 10th century, therefore not the building mentioned in Longobard documents.
The Romanesque cathedral in Piazza dei Miracoli was founded in 1064. Tradition relates that this was soon after Pisa’s victory over the city of Palermo. Until 1100 work was directed by the architect Buscheto, but for the final stages, when the nave was lengthened and the facade built, the new magister was Rainaldo. In 1118 the Cathedral was consecrated by Pope Gelasio II, probably before completion.
The church is built in the shape of a Latin cross, with a central nave terminating in an apse, four aisles and a transept. A particular feature of the external walls, built from marble from several localities, is the amount of re-used material, with architectural elements and inscriptions from Roman times. The north and south walls are built in different kinds of stone, corresponding to work under Buscheto and completion under Rainaldo.
The lower part of the facade is divided by six round dead arches resting on columns and capitals. The two central columns that flank the main door are carved with foliage spirals. The rhombs under the arches and the spaces above them are decorated with polychrome inlays. Above, the facade is organised in four tiers of colonnades, many columns of which were replaced in the 1500s and the 1800s. The carved freize above the first gallery, of hunting scenes, can be attributed to the workshop of Guglielmo and Rainaldo.
The bronze doors of the facade were cast by variousFlorentine artists in the 17th century, but the San Ranieri door at the back, facing the Tower, was cast around 1180 by Bonanno Pisano, the only door to survive the fire in 1595.
The cathedral is shaped likea Latin cross, with a central nave terminating in an apse and four side aisles and a transept of three aisles.
The central nave is flankedby monolithic granite pillars with 11th and 12th century capitals. A women’s gallery runs above, with triple mullioned openings that continue around the transept. The eliptic dome, with a fresco of the Virgin in Glory and Saintsby Orazio Riminaldi (1627-1628) strides the central span. The gilded cofferedceiling over the nave, transept and presbytery was carved by Domenico and Bartolomeo Atticciati between 1596 and 1602.
Fourteen 15th century windows light the walls of the nave, decorated with stories of the Old Testament.
By the transept pilaster is the splendid pulpit by Giovanni Pisano (1302-1310). It is octagonal in shape, with nine plutei or panels carved with stories from the life of Christ and the Virgin and the Last Judgement, resting on ledges with Prophets and Sybils and carved capitals, and statues symbolizing the Virtues of the Church. Admirable too, is the large mosaic in the apse, of Christ blessing with the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist, the work of Francesco and Lapo, with St. John’s face completed by Cimabue in 1302. Among medieval works are the 13th century Madonna di sotto gli organi, attributed to Berlinghiero Berlinghieri from Volterra, a fresco of the Madonna and Child by the San Torpè Maestro, on the triumphal arch and the Cosmatesque marble inlay floor (mid 12th century).
There are many valuable frescos, paintings and 16th to 17th century furnishings on the side altars and in the presbytery.
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Cathedral of Pisa - Cathedral of Santa Maria