Pisa – the Duomo – medieval Italy

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Cathedral of Pisa (the Duomo)

Cathedral of Pisa (the Duomo)

This is the cathedral of medieval Pisa, in Italy. The architects built the cathedral in the Romanesque style around 1064 AD. The rounded arches are typical of the Romanesque style. So is the floor plan of the building, with many little bits sticking out all over.

Façade of Pisa's Duomo

Façade of Pisa’s Duomo

The outside of the cathedral in Pisa is covered with white marble. It’s just across from the later baptistery and the famous leaning tower.

Elevation of Pisa's cathedral inside the nave.

Elevation of Pisa’s cathedral inside the nave.

In some ways, the Pisa cathedral is similar to Islamic mosques in Syria and Egypt and Spain. Probably architects visited those buildings for ideas, or saw drawings of them. For instance, the front of the Pisa cathedral has lots of rows of columns. That’s like the Great Mosque of Kairouan across the Mediterranean, which was built about 800 AD. And the Pisa cathedral has striped arches, like the Dome of the Rock from the 600s, or the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which was built about 700 AD.

A lot of the limestone and marble blocks for this cathedral were taken from older Roman buildings. You can still see Roman inscriptions (often upside-down) built into the walls of the cathedral.

A Roman inscription turned upside down and used in the wall of Pisa's cathedral

A Roman inscription turned upside down and used in the wall of Pisa’s cathedral

Partly this was because the people of Pisa didn’t have any money to spare when they were building this early cathedral. But it was also partly to show that the old polytheistic religion of the Romans was gone, powerless, and now Christianity was stronger. Christians could tear down old Roman buildings and use them for churches and the old Roman gods were powerless against them.


Video of the cathedral, the tower, and the baptistry

Both the mosque at Kairouan and the mosque at Cordoba also reuse Roman stones in a similar way, and for the same reasons.

Learn by doing: find a way to reuse something old
More about Pisa: the Baptistery

Bibliography and further reading about Romanesque architecture:

Romanesque architecture
More medieval architecture
Main medieval page
Quatr.us home

By | 2017-07-31T09:36:31+00:00 July 31st, 2017|Architecture, Medieval|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Pisa – the Duomo – medieval Italy. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 31, 2017. Web. January 19, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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