Pisa - 20 December 2013 - Karina Mamalygo
The Cathedral Square has also been known as Piazza dei Miracoli “the Square of Miracles” since Gabriele D’Annunzio’s novel Forse che sì forse che no was published in 1910. He refers to “L’Ardea roteò nel cielo di Cristo, sul prato dei Miracoli”, which means: “The Ardea rotated over the sky of Christ, over the meadow of Miracles.” The Russian Nicolaj Stepanovič Gumiljov, a great admirer of D’Annunzio, dedicated a poem to this beautiful city and its Gothic and Romanesque palaces decorated with Tuscan marble “Oh amber marble from Sienna, Oh candid marble from Carrara!”
The cathedral square is the greatest of the architectonic jewels of Pisa and it is here that you will find the masterpieces of the Pisan School. The Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunta (the Assumption of the Virgin Mary) can be seen as the visible incarnation of the Catholic concept of the assumption of the Virgin into the sky. The white marble from Carrara combined with the lightness and transparency of the work on the cathedral’s façade and sides express the idea of her purity and the Assumption. The marvellous spectacle of St John’s Baptistery in white and gold, with its terracotta roof appearing as an enormous bell. The creator of this architectonic miracle, Diotisalvi, had a name that went hand-in-hand with his work since it means “may God save you”.
The Leaning Tower (or the bell tower) has become a symbol of the city and was the result of a very particular request since its commission required it to be eligible to be considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The tower has eight storeys and houses seven bells, each with an individual name and a different musical tone. The most famous bell is called Pasquareccia which was rung at the death of count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons and nephews who had been locked up without food or water in a tower after a unsuccessful attempt to seize power in the city. This tragic story has been told many times: Dante refers to it in the Divine comedy (Inferno, canto 33) and it has also been represented in theatre, painting, music and sculpture.
The Camposanto, the monumental cemetery, was the final addition to the complex. It is mentioned in literary sources in the 14th century. It is claimed that the city’s Archbishop at the time of the Crusades Ubaldo Lanfranchi, brought back a shipload of earth from Golgotha and had it laid here. After this, a walled Cemetery was built and over the next two centuries its walls were decorated with frescoes by many artists. The most famous of these fresco cycles are the Triumph of Death and the Last Judgement, which most critics tribute to the Pisan master, Buonamico Buffalmacco who was well known for his spirited and lively character. In his book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Giorgio Vasari tells a number of curious stories about Buffalmacco, as does Boccaccio in his Decameron.
The square took on its current appearance in the 19th century when the architect Alessandro Gherardesca’s had any building that had been erected during Medici rule demolished since he was sure that in the Middle Ages the square had the appearance we now see today. The Square of Miracles was declared part of UNESCO’s world Heritage in 1987.