We start in Pisa, where we visit a one-of-a-kind place: the “Primatial”Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a building rich in history and strong Byzantine features. The church is a masterpiece of the Romanesque style, and is evidence of the prestige and wealth achieved by the Maritime Republic of Pisa at the height of its power.
Begun in 1063 using a design by Buscheto, many styles can be seen in the church, including Classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine and Islamic, a testament to the international presence of Pisan merchants in those days. The cathedral was built outside the city walls to symbolize that the power of Pisa needed no protection. Consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II, by the mid-1100s it was enlarged by the architect Rainaldo, who is attributed with designing the façade. Inside, the appearance is the result of repeated restorations. The earliest interventions came after a disastrous fire in 1595, with the roof being redone and three bronze doorways being installed in the façade. Amongst the various changes, there was also the removal of Giovanni Pisano’s pulpit, which was only reinstalled in 1926, though in a different position. Later restorations were made in the 1800s that focused on the interior and exterior decorations.
Just like the tower, the basilica is also noticeably sinking into the soil. Before leaving, we suggest admiring the 27 paintings in the gallery behind the main altar, made in the 16th and 17th centuries by some of the greatest Tuscan painters of the era, including Andrea del Sarto, il Sodoma and Domenico Beccafumi.