Saturday, July 9, 2016

Today's Cathedral: Pisa

The famous cathedral of Pisa was built from the profits of crusade. In 1063 the Pisans sacked Palermo in Sicily, then a Muslim city, and brought back a pile of loot. They used this to begin construction of their cathedral the next year. In 1087 the Pisans joined with the Genoese to mount a great raid against the Muslim city of Mahdiya in what is now Tunisia. The Italians sacked the city and then forced the Emir, besieged in his citadel, to pay them 30,000 gold dinars to go away, besides promising to never molest Christian ships again. This second treasure is what allowed the completion of the huge cathedral by 1118.

Although much else about the cathedral has changed over the centuries, the front facade still follows the original plan. The original architect, Bucheto, is buried just inside the door.

I love these repeating arches.

Roof detail.

By comparison the sides of the cathedral are quite plain.

Side view, with the famous leaning tower.

Construction of the bell tower began in 1173, and it was completed in 1372. It was already leaning quite badly by then, which is why the top of the tower angles back against the tilt. Galileo's student and biographer Vincenzo Viviani wrote that his master dropped light and heavy balls from the top of this tower to disprove Aristotle's theory that the acceleration of a falling body is proportional to its weight. Sadly most experts think Viviani made this up. Galileo never mentioned having done this, although he wrote extensively about his other experiments rolling balls down inclined planes. On the other hand Galileo was a show-off, so he might well have done it some time by way of making a dramatic demonstration to his students.

The Pisa Griffin. This used to stand on top of the roof at the east end, but now it is in a museum and a replica adorns the church. It stands about 3 feet (1 m) tall. This is an Islamic work and must have been looted in one of the Pisans' raids on Islamic cities, perhaps the 1087 attack on Mahdiya.

The interior of the cathedral. Galileo probably did formulate his theories about the motion of a pendulum by watching a lamp swing from the ceiling here, although sadly that lamp is gone.

Some sources say the columns were taken from a mosque in Palermo.

The pulpit was carved by Giovanni Pisano in 1302-1310. Which makes me wonder, what good did it do a man who was born, lived and worked in Pisa to have the name Pisano? How did it distinguish him from anyone else?

The church was badly damaged by a fire in 1595, and most of the interior art dates to the 17th century. However the mosaic in the apse dates to the 14th century.

The 17th-century ceiling.

The doors also date to the 17th century, made in the workshop of Giambologna.

What an astonishing place.

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