Pisa Baptistery history
The baptistery was the second building to be constructed in the Piazza dei Miracoli, after the Duomo Cathedral but before the tower It was built to be a worthy addition to the cathedral and a further sign of the city of Pisa’s wealth and magnificence.
The structure is almost 55 meters high, which is actually slightly higher than the Leaning Tower. At a mighty 107 meters in circumference, it is the largest baptistery in whole Italy, so in scale it certainly delivered on the city’s ambitions.
The construction of this magnificent building started in mid 12th century, as a replacement for an older baptistery. Inscriptions on a pillar inside the building tells us that it was built by an architect known as “Diotisalvi” – the same man who built the Church of the Santo Sepolcro, located in central Pisa.
While the vast majority of the construction project was founded by the city of Pisa, rumors say it was partly funded by the citizens themselves. In 1163, an order was given that on the first day of the month every family of Pisa should pay one denaro to the construction project.
Just like many of the other structures here at Piazza dei Miracoli, construction took longer time than expected. The baptistery stood finished in mid 14th century, as several events interrupted the construction phase.
Why visit Pisa Baptistery ?
The fact that the construction spanned over 200 years actually shows in the way it is designed. The outside of the baptistery is contains different architectural styles, depending on which style was popular at the time.
The lower levels of the baptistery are made up of an open gallery, supported by classical pillars and round arches – very similar to the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower. This is a typical sign of Italian Romanesque architecture.
However by looking at the upper levels, the round, smooth figures have instead transformed into very sharp angles. The arches are also pointing upwards, towards the sky. This is a typical sign of Gothic architecture, a style which became very popular during the later stages of the construction phase.
The outside of the baptistery is decorated by several beautiful ornaments and sculptures. The main portal is flanked by two classical columns, covered in beautiful relief.
Just above the entrance hangs a relief depicting several episodes in the life of Saint John the Baptist. On top of that relief, several smaller sculptures can be seen. The middle one represents Christ, flanked by the Madonna, Saint John and several angels and evangelists. The entrance crowned by a large statue of the Madonna with the child.
While exterior of the baptistery is highly decorative, the same cannot be said about its interior. Unlike the interior of the Pisa Cathedral, the baptistery is surprisingly plain and lacks ornamentation. The few decorative elements that do exist are however extraordinary.
The baptistery is known for its brilliant stained glass windows and its massive baptismal font. The octagonal font at the centre dates from 1246 and is so large it could qualify as a swimming pool. This due to the fact that the baptism conducted here was done by immersion. In the middle of the font stands find a beautiful bronze statue depicting Saint John the Baptist. The full name of Pisa’s Baptistery is actually Baptistery of Saint John.
Another piece to keep an extra eye on is the beautiful pulpit. The pulpit was sculpted in mid 13th century by Nicola Pisano, father of Giovanni Pisano – the artist who made the pulpit in the cathedral. By comparing the two, one can see distinct similarities in the way they are made.
Both pulpits are made up of a number of pillars and several pieces of beautiful relief. The one in the baptistery depicts several scenes from the life of Christ.
However, what the baptistery is most known for is not any tangible feature. It is famous for its perfect acoustics. One can stand below the edge of the dome and sing a note for several seconds, and the sound will travel around and around the dome for many more seconds.
Likewise, applause creates a similar remarkable echo effect. This is usually demonstrated by the staff on a regular basis, so make sure not to miss hearing this wonderful phenomenon.
A perfect shot
Anyone looking for a great camera shot should look to reach the upper balcony. The windows there can provide an interesting view over the the Duomo Cathedral, the Leaning Tower and the rest of Piazza dei Miracoli.
The leaning baptistery
Today, the Baptistery, together with the rest of the Piazza dei Miracoli, has become Pisa’s and one of Italy’s most important tourist sites. What many people don’t know is that the Baptistery, just like the the cathedral and the tower, leans. It only leans around 0.6 degrees towards the cathedral, so it can be hard to spot for the human eye.
Pisa Baptistery location
Pisa Baptistery is located in central Pisa, on Italy’s west coast. The baptistery is situated on the famous Piazza dei Miracoli. For the exact location of Pisa Baptistery, check out the location map to the right.