Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture of Pisa
Neta Bodner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0061


The maritime Republic of Pisa was one of the central cities of Europe in the High Middle Ages. The port of Pisa was a gateway for international commerce and a junction for Mediterranean travel. Pilgrims, merchants and crusaders waited in Pisa for embarkations to North Africa and the Holy Land, making the city a multinational crossroads. Pisa’s financial and political flowering was expressed in monumental architecture throughout the 11th to the 13th centuries. In the northwestern corner of the city, in today’s Piazza del Duomo, the Late Antique Church of Santa Reparata was replaced by a grand Romanesque cathedral (1064). West of the cathedral a monumental round baptistery replaced an octagonal Late Antique one (1153), perhaps as homage to Pisa’s participation in the First Crusade. In the 13th (or 14th century according to new scholarship) a monumental cemetery known as the “Camposanto” was built north of the cathedral. The great buildings of the Piazza were founded in the height of political and naval power in the 11th to 13th centuries, but received sculptural and fresco decoration even in the greatest time of turmoil until the end of the 15th century. In 1325 Pisa lost dominion over Sardinia and ultimately lost its freedom. Following a failed rebellion in 1405 the city was taken over by Florence. Despite the loss of power and even freedom artistic patronage in the Piazza continued. The art and architecture of the Piazza del Duomo monuments has been a major focus of scholarly attention. However, research has also addressed other medieval churches such as San Michele in Borgo (1016), San Matteo (1027 or 1028), San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno and San Zeno (both documented after 1027), the Hospitaller octagonal church of San Sepolcro (c. 1113) and the oratory of Santa Maria della Spina (founded 1230). Major scholarship has been dedicated to other aspects of Pisa’s past—commercial, social, religious, and political. Scholarship of these complementary historical issues is included here only when it pertains directly to architecture and urbanism. Research of architectural ornament—especially sculpture and fresco—also feature only when analyzed in the broader context of the building. Architectural furnishings in Pisa, such as Nicola Pisano’s pulpit or Guido Bigarelli da Como’s font in the baptistery, are some of the most celebrated pieces of Italian sculpture. Scholarship of these often directly complements the study of their respective architectural settings.


Different approaches are found in overviews of Pisan architecture. Some scholarship is ordered alphabetically according to churches, such as Renzoni 1999 and Tronci 1643. More historical approaches, predominantly von der Höh, Marc 2007, are organized around the written sources—poems, chronicles, and inscriptions—as they pertain to churches. A division into historical periods, found in Rohault de Fleury 1866 and Tolaini 1992 is most useful for considering the changes in architectural approach in Pisa along the medieval timeline. Susini 2017 groups her article thematically, according to newly instated functions for historic church-spaces. An environmental-historic approach is used in Gattiglia 2014, looking not only at specific buildings but also at environmental factors such as rivers as a factor in Pisa’s urban development. Redi 1991 likewise analyzes environmental factors, but also includes invaluable primary sources regarding their medieval state. Redi also presents a host of written and archaeological sources about city walls, urban fabric, building materials and techniques, and Pisa’s churches. Herlihy 1973 does not directly address architecture or any specific buildings, but his study on urban growth in Pisa in the High Middle Ages provides important social and economic context to the architectural patronage of the same age.

  • Gattiglia, Gabriele. Mappa: Pisa in the Middle Ages: Archaeology, Spatial Analysis and Predictive Modeling. Rome: Edizioni Nuova Cultura, 2014.

    Overview of archaeological digs in Pisa and its surroundings. The book incorporates archaeological analysis with examination of environmental conditions, including maps of rivers and wetlands. Part 3 of the book, dedicated to the urban fabric, includes religious architecture, domestic settings, and urban infrastructures.

  • Herlihy, David. Pisa in the Early Renaissance: A Study of Urban Growth. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1973.

    A dated but still-relevant study of Pisa’s urban growth in the 13th and 14th centuries. The book’s main source is a notarial chartulary, complemented by extensive appendices on population, contracts, and pricing. While the main focus is urban growth in social, industrial, and economic definitions these can serve as background for future scholarship on the parallel physical urban development of the city.

  • von der Höh, Marc. Erinnerungskultur und frühe Kommune: Formen und Funktionen des Umgangs mit der Vergangenheit im hochmittelalterlichen Pisa (1050–1150). Hallische Beiträge zur Geschichte des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit 3. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2007.

    This important book is a large, comprehensive examination of the medieval written sources. Von der Höh shows how architecture, identity, politics, and commemoration intertwined in medieval Pisa. The book is organized according to the primary texts with the chapters on inscriptions and on “the city as a site of commemoration” most relevant to architectural history.

  • Papini, Roberto, ed. Catalogo delle cose d’arte e di antichità d’Italia: Pisa. Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1912.

    Descriptive catalogue, mostly ordered according to individual buildings. Especially detailed description of the exterior, interior, and details of the Piazza, the Camposanto, and its antique collection.

  • Renzoni, Stefano. Chiese di Pisa: Guida alla conoscenza del patrimonio artistico. Pisa, Italy: Edizioni ETS, 1999.

    Alphabetical catalogue of churches in Pisa, providing short and concise historical and architectural data on each building.

  • Rohault de Fleury, George. Monuments de Pise au Moyen âge. Paris: A. Morel, 1866.

    This seminal study remains one of the most comprehensive and useful overviews of medieval buildings (Part 1), sculpture (Part 2) and painting in Pisa. The first volume, dedicated to architecture, is chronologically ordered into three parts: Lombard, Romanesque, and Gothic. The text is complemented by hand-drawn facades, plans, sections, and artistic details, expanded upon in a full “atlas” volume of images.

  • Susini, Fabiana. “Chiese non più chiese: il caso urbano di Pisa. “IN_BO. Ricerche e progetti per il territorio, la città e l’architettura 11 (2017): 384–398.

    Short article tracking contemporary uses for historic churches in Pisa. The article is ordered according to the types of new functions (performances, teaching, conferences, or exhibitions).

  • Redi, Fabio. Pisa com’era: archeologia, urbanistica e strutture materiali (secoli V-XIV). Pisa, Italy: Liguori, 1991.

    The book addresses natural and man-made influences on the organization of urban space in Pisa. The first part is dedicated to Pisa’s medieval urban fabric on the basis of archaeological and written evidence. The chapters are divided according to source types: archaeological evidence regarding the medieval Piazza del Duomo, material testimony, written documents. The second part of the book is devoted to construction techniques and materials, as well as typological classification.

  • Tolaini, Emilio. Le città nella storia d’Italia: Pisa. Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1992.

    Useful overview of history and urban development ordered chronologically. The book provides important visual data such as maps and architectural plans, reconstructions, and historical images. The historical analysis is connected throughout with architectural and urban developments.

  • Tronci, Paolo. Descrizione delle Chiese, Monasteri et Oratori della Citta di Pisa. Pisa, Italy: Archivio dell’Opera del Duomo, Archivio Capitolare, C152/153, 1643.

    Overview of Pisa’s churches, monasteries, and oratories by the Pisan canon Paolo Tronci ordered alphabetically. The descriptions are accompanied by dozens of illustrations in aquarelle. A new scientific edition (Tronci, Paolo. 2018. Descrizione delle chiese, monasteri, et oratori della città di Pisa. Edited by Stefano Bruni. Pisa, Italy: Edizioni ETS) includes articles on Paolo Tronci and the original manuscript.

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