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"Completing the picture" Baptistery - Battistero di San Giovanni Tip by toonsarah

  Pisa Baptistery
by toonsarah
  • Pisa Baptistery - Pisa
      Pisa Baptistery
    by toonsarah
  • Pisa Baptistery - detail - Pisa
      Pisa Baptistery - detail
    by toonsarah
  • Pisa Baptistery - the roof - Pisa
      Pisa Baptistery - the roof
    by toonsarah
  • Pisa Baptistery - pulpit - Pisa
      Pisa Baptistery - pulpit
    by toonsarah
  • Pisa Baptistery - interior - Pisa
      Pisa Baptistery - interior
    by toonsarah

The Baptistery completes the trio of buildings that make up the cathedral complex. It is situated immediately opposite the west facade of the cathedral and although not as spectacular as the latter repays closer examination. Il Battistero di San Giovanni or Baptistery of Saint John, to give it its full name, was founded in 1152 to be a worthy addition to the cathedral and a further sign of the city’s wealth and magnificence. Its construction was partly funded by the citizens themselves; in 1163 it was ordered that on the first day of the month every family of Pisa should pay one denaro to continue the building of the monument.

At 107.24 metres in circumference, and slightly taller than the Leaning Tower, it is the largest Baptistery in Italy, so in scale it certainly delivers on the city’s ambitions. It is built of the same white marble as the cathedral, edged with grey, and with it creates a harmonious scene. The lower part is 12th century Romanesque (with round arches) and the upper parts are predominantly 13th century Gothic (with pointed arches – photo 2). Its dome is covered in red tiles on the west side and in lead slabs on the east side (see photo 3).

Inside it is rather sombre and plain, but there is some attractive stained glass and a magnificent pulpit carved in 1255-60 by Nicola Pisano, father of the Giovanni who was to carve the one in the cathedral. Its high reliefs (photo 4), which depict scenes from the life of Christ, are strongly influenced by Roman art such as the sarcophagi which can be seen today in the Camposanto.

The baptistery is renowned for its perfect acoustics. You can whisper on one side of the corridor, and a person on the opposite side can hear you perfectly. This is apparently demonstrated every 30 minutes by the staff on duty, but unfortunately we hadn’t realised this until after our return from Pisa and so missed hearing this phenomenon.

According to a legend told amongst the city’s students, the Baptistery is a place to be feared. If as an undergraduate you walk around the Baptistery, you will never get your degree. I also read of a similar legend relating to ascending the tower; clearly the students here are a superstitious lot.

See my Campo dei Miracoli tip for some information about tickets

Address: Piazza Duomo
Directions: In the Campo dei Miracoli in the northwest corner of the old town – follow Via Santa Maria to its end

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Sep 16, 2009
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