The Camposanto has a very long and intriguing history. The Camposanto is said to have been built around a shipload of sacred soil from Golgotha, brought back to Pisa from the Fourth Crusade in the 12th century. An inscription near the right gate tells us that the construction of the Camposanto started in year 1277 and finished in the late 15th century.
The main architect of the Camposanto was a man named Giovanni di Simone – the same architect who worked on the Leaning Tower during its later stages. The Camposanto quickly became the burial place of the Pisan upper class and remained as such for several centuries.
The completion of the Camposanto also meant that the fourth and final structure in the cathedral square had been raised. With this, the Piazza dei Miracoli we know today stood finished.
Second World War
One of the things the Camposanto is known for is its many frescoes. Tragically, many of the frescoes have been destroyed or damaged. In 1944, during the Second World War, incendiary bombs dropped during an Allied air raid set the roof on fire.
The burning wood rafters caused the lead of the roof to melt. The molten lead caused severe damaged to everything inside the cemetery, destroying most of the sculptures and sarcophagi as well as most of the frescoes.
After World War II ended, as massive restoration project began. The roof was restored as closely as possible to its pre-war appearance and the frescoes were separated from the walls to be restored.
Once the frescoes had been removed, the preliminary drawings, called “sinopie”, were also removed. These under-drawings are now displayed in the Museum of the Sinopie, on the opposite side of the Square.
Why visit Camposanto ?
The full name of the site is Camposanto Monumentale – the Monumental Cemetery. Many claim that this walled cemetery is one of the most beautiful in the world. After having visited it, it’s hard to argue against such a claim. The locals also refer to this place as Camposanto Vecchio – “the old cemetery” – as a way of differentiating it from the later established urban cemetery in Pisa.
The outer walls of the Camposanto are composed of 43 blind arches with two doorsways. The right entrance is crowned by a gracious tabernacle, designed in typical Gothic architecture. It contains the Virgin Mary with Child, surrounded by four saints. The piece is originates from the second half of the 14th century and was constructed by a follower of Giovanni Pisano – the man who made the amazing Pisa Cathedral pulpit.
The Camposanto has a total of three chapels. The oldest ones are the chapel Ammannati and the chapel Aulla. The last chapel is found in the middle, known as Dal Pozzo. The small dome one can see to the east belongs to this chapel which also has a beautiful altar dedicated to St. Jerome.
The Camposanto is not like a normal cemetery, where the majority of the tombs and graves can be found in the courtyard. Here most of the tombs are located under the arches and under the floor, though a few can be found on the central lawn.
The Camposanto is not all graves and tombs, but it’s also filled with other funerary monuments. Visitors can enjoy several Roman sculptures and sarcophagi, most from the 3rd century.
The Roman sculptures were mostly brought to the Camposanto for decoration purposes in the early 14th century. Together with the Roman sarcophagi, these ancient artworks formed one of the most important collections of Classical art in Europe.
Famous wall paintings
What the Camposanto is perhaps even more known for is its many outstanding frescoes – its wall paintings. The first painting was applied already in 1360 and many more have been added along the years. The last one was applied almost 300 years later, in mid 15th century. Perhaps the most famous one is “The triumph of death”, by Buonomico Buffalmacco.
One thing that surprises many as they visit the Camposanto is that there is a large rusty chain hanging next to the beautiful frescoes. This chain is actually an old chain from the Pisa port, takes by the Genoese and later returned to Pisa in 1860.
It’s just one of the many signs of the strong naval traditions in Pisa, so don’t be surprised to find more similar features in the city of Pisa.
Camposanto is located in central Pisa, on Italy’s west coast. The cemetery is situated on the famous Piazza dei Miracoli. For the exact location of Camposanto, check out the location map to the right.