The cathedral complex in Pisa contains one of the most recognizable structures in the world, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. While this oddly tilted structure has a fascinating history and is quite beautiful, it is only one part of an architectural ensemble that has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Pisa Duomo—or Pisa Cathedral—is the focal point of the square, which is called Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles).
Duomo Di Pisa is a magnificent medieval cathedral dedicated to St. Mary of the Assumption, and the cathedral complex in Pisa is dominated by this gleaming white marble masterpiece of Romanesque medieval architecture. It boasts five naves, with a triple-naved transept. The Pisa Cathedral contains many great works of art, but perhaps the most breathtaking is the elaborate carved pulpit by Nicola Pisano, with assistance from his son Giovanni. Pisano the elder also designed the ornate pulpit in the gothic Siena Cathedral. During renovations after a 1595 fire, it was put in storage and forgotten until rediscovered in 1926.
Construction on the Pisa Duomo started in 1063, and its design is attributed to the architect Busheto. Mosaics in the interior are Byzantine in origin. While not as extensive as the mosaics found in the churches and mausoleums of Ravenna that also comprise a World Heritage Site, they are nonetheless impressive. A beautiful mosaic of Christ in Majesty with St. John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary on either side is in the apse, and is similar to the mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral in Sicily.
The Corinthian granite pillars in the Duomo Di Pisa were once in the mosque of Palermo, Sicily when the city recaptured Palermo after the Arab occupation in 1063. The dome is adorned with frescoes and the ceiling is gilded and includes the coat of arms of the Medici family, who were as almost as important here as they were in Florence. There are several tombs in the Duomo Di Pisa, including the tomb of St. Ranieri, the patron saint of the city and patron saint of travelers. Traveling, especially seafaring and mostly for conquest, was an important element in the history of the city, as it is located so close to the sea. This is the main reason that many features in the Pisa Cathedral were originally located in some other structure elsewhere in the world.
As beautiful as the interior of the Pisa Duomo is, the exterior is equally magnificent, perhaps more so. It boasts a façade of gray and white marble and stone with splashes of colored marble. This “Pisan Romanesque” style can be seen in nearby Lucca as well as many other places throughout Tuscany. The massive bronze main doors were made in Giambologna’s Rome and Florence workshops.
If you step back to the edge of Piazza Duomo, you can see that the Pisa Cathedral has tilted a bit, as have several other structures in the city, most prominent of which, of course, is the Leaning Tower. From this perspective, you can get a view of the cathedral complex in Pisa and all the structures around it that surely justifies the whole as a total work of art. This view shows you the full ensemble—the grand cathedral, the lovely quirky tower, the ornate Baptistery of St. John the Baptist, and the treasure of the Camposanto that was almost miraculously restored after near complete destruction in World War II.