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Castel Sant’Angelo history

castel sant angeloThe beautiful Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, has a fascinating history. The latter name derives from its founder; the roman emperor Hadrian.
The construction of this great building started in year 135 AD and finished just 4 years later.

This also included the magnificent bridge in front of the castle – excluding the angel statues which were added later. Hadrian never got to see his mausoleum completely finished, as he died one year before its completion.

The emperor’s ashes were placed in the mausoleum, together with those of his wife and his first adopted son who died at young age.

A mausoleum for emperors

castel sant angeloThe mausoleum became a resting place for not only Hadrian, but also several of his successors. The last one to be interred in the building was Emperor Caracalla in year 217 AD. While the original structural design of the mausoleum is uncertain, historians believe it was composed of a square base with a large cylindrical body, crowned by a statue of Hadrian riding a chariot.

Expansions

castel sant angelo nightHowever, as one can see today, the Castel Sant’Angelo neither consists of only a cylindrical body, nor does it have a chariot statue at the top. This is due to the fact that the building has been serving several purposes throughout its history. This has in turn which has lead to several expansions of the building.

Exactly how the mausoleum used to look like during its peak is hard to say, as the original design is still uncertain. However, a report from the 6th century which describes the building has made historians believe that only the Colosseum surpassed it in splendor.

Barbaric invasion

passetto di borgoThe first change took place when the mausoleum was turned into a fortress during the decline of the Roman Empire. The fortress could however not stop the barbaric invasions and the sacking of Rome in the early 5th century.

Unfortunately, the sacking meant that the majority of the mausoleum decorations were stolen and much of the tomb content became scattered. The mausoleum took further damage when Rome was sacked once again in the 6th century.

Strategically located

Up until the Middle Ages, Castel Sant’Angelo was owned by various Roman families until the Papal state acquired the fortress in 1377. The Vatican saw great potential in the old fortress, as it was strategically located at the northern entrance to Rome – close to both the Vatican City and the Tiber River.

Passetto di Borgo

castel sant angelo nightIt didn’t take long for Pope Nicolas the 3rd to convert it into a proper castle. The pope also connected the castle to St Peter’s Basilica with an elevated passage. The passage is known as Passetto di Borgo and still exists today. The passage is located on the west side of the castle.

Visitors will see it as a wall-like structure leading all the way to Vatican City. The fortified passage is located on top of this wall and allowed for a quick and secure passage between the two buildings, in case of an emergency.

A bloody place

castel sant angelo statueThe Papal state did not only use this structure as a castle, but also as a prison where many noted Italians have been imprisoned.  Several executions took place in the small inner square and sometimes the mutilated bodies were displayed on the bridge in front of the castle in deterring purposes.

Gunpowder adaptations

Throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, Castel Sant’Angelo kept serving as a military fortification. In order to adapt to the use of new fire weapons, several expansions took place.

castel sant angelo statueThe bastions located in each corner dates back to this period and was meant to house artillery for defensive purposes. The walls were also surrounded with a moat filled with water from the river Tiber.

Why visit Castel Sant’Angelo ?

Castel Sant’Angelo is a beautiful site, full of history. The castle is crowned by a large statue at the top. The statue was also added during the Renaissance and depicts an angel. This angel honors an old legend which has given the castle its current name.

The legend

The legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared at the top of the mausoleum in year 590. After he appeared, he sheathed his sword as a sign that the plague which had tormented Rome finally had come to an end.

castel sant angelo statueThe original statue was made in marble, but was later replaced with the bronze replica that stands today. The original statue can however still be found at the open court inside the castle.

The museum

The castle really only lost its military function in 1925, when it was renovated and began to serve as a national museum, which it still does today. While the museum is certainly worth a visit, you should definitely explore Castel Sant’Angelo itself.

Lots to discover

The many different roles the castle has played are all here for its visitors to discover; all the way from the funeral passage of Hadrian to the beautifully-frescoed interiors from the Papal expansions as well as the defensive battlements of the Renaissance.

Anyone interested in history and architecture, will certainly enjoy a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo. It is also possible to access the top of the castle. It will give provide great view over Rome in general and the St Peter’s Basilica in particular.

Castel Sant’Angelo location

Castel Sant’Angelo is located on the banks of the Tiber in the heart of RomeItaly. The castle is situated close to the Vatican City. For the exact location of Castel Sant’Angelo, check out the location map to the right.

Castel Sant’Angelo Video

Parc Güell history

parc guell lizardParc Güell, built between 1900 and 1914, was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site. The idea behind the site came from Count Eusebi Güell. The Count wanted to build a type of gated community for Barcelona aristocracy – consisting of 60 houses surrounded by an extraordinary park.

Antonio Gaudi

The designer of the park, Antonio Gaudi, was an Art Nouveau and Modernist architect situated in Barcelona. He was a master of combing color and natural shapes into something out of this world.

Arguably, no other architect in history has ever had such an absolute influence on a city as Antonio Gaudi has had on Barcelona. There are great works of his Modernist style all over the city and this beautiful park is one of his most interesting works.

A change of plans

parc guell viewThe gated community Count Eusebi Güell had planned for did not work out. Due to poor response from potential clients, only two of the planned 60 houses ended up being built – neither of them designed by Gaudi.

One of these two buildings was intended to be a show house, but as no buyers came, Gaudi decided to buy it himself. He moved in with his family together with his father in 1906 and lived there on and off until his death in 1926. The building is today known as “la Torre Rosa” or “Casa-Museu Gaudi”.

A public park

Even though the gated community became an epic failure, the park remained a private garden of the Güell family until the 1920s. By then, the family handed over the park to the municipality which transformed it into the public park we have today.

Why visit Parc Güell ?

parc guell natureAntonio Gaudi’s Parc Güell is a park which is truly one of a kind. Nowhere else is there a park where beautiful rough stone creations, ceramic tiles, and landscaping details creates such an amazing fantasy world, while at the same time not overpowering the natural setting of the park environment.

Inspired by nature

Throughout the park, Gaudi’s strong influence by natural shapes is evident. Here visitors can find walkways supported by twisting rock pillars that seem to be growing out of the ground like trees.

One can also find several animal inspired sculptures, the most prominent one being the dragon found at the entrance to the park. The dragon is adorned with beautiful colored tiling, called “trencadis”, which Gaudi often used in his creations.

Terrace area

The focal point of the park is however the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench shaped as a sea serpent. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a great social atmosphere for all the visitors.

parc guell mosaicMany people rate Park Güell as a must see when visiting Barcelona; not only to enjoy the park but the amazing panoramic view of the city from the main terrace area. In 1984, Barcelona’s most magical park became listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List; a true testament to how extraordinary this fascinating site is.

La Torre Rosa

One of the houses that did end up being built – La Torre Rosa – is today museum. The museum has notable examples of furnishings designed by Gaudi and other personal memorabilia. This house is definitely a must see for everyone interested in Gaudi and his architectural style.

Parc Güell location

Parc Güell is located in Barcelona, in eastern Spain. The park is situated on the hill of El Carmel in the Gràcia district of the city.  For the exact location of Parc Güell, check out the location map to the right.

Parc Güell Video

Casa Milà history

Casa Milà was commissioned as a residence by Pedro Milà. He was a wealthy businessman who had been enchanted by one of Gaudi’s previous buildings; Casa Battló. What he ended up with was an even more unconventional building, as Gaudi took his creativity one step further. Gaudi´s design was so unorthodox that even the local government objected to some aspects of the project, as it didn’t follow the normal building codes.

Art Nouveau masterpiece

This wonderfully strange building was constructed between 1906 and 1910, a key time in the history of Barcelona as the city opened up to modernization. It was also a period where the Art Nouveau was at its peak. It is a style of art and architecture which embraces vivid decorative shapes and prefers curves over straight lines.

The movement spread all over the world, even to the strict catholic and rather old-fashioned Catalan region. One of the movement’s front figures became the Barcelona based architect Antonio Gaudi. This building is rated as, not only one of Antonio Gaudi’s most intriguing and spectacular buildings, but as a crown jewel of the whole Art Nouveau movement.

The Quarry

The building was originally named Casa Milà, based on the founder of the house, but it is more known as “La Pedrera” – meaning “the Quarry”. The nickname was given to the house already during the construction phase, when the crowds saw the beginning of the strange stone structure.

An innovative design

Gaudi’s building plan completely broke away from the norm of the district of Barcelona. He used a new and audacious building structure, supported by columns of stone and brick and an incorporated steel web instead of relying on load-bearing walls.

This gave Gaudi total freedom over the distribution of each floor, leaving him free to create completely irregular floor plans where even the height of the pillars and ceilings could vary. Even though Gaudi’s building technique was unique, he – and this building in particular – is most known for extraordinary shapes.

Why visit Casa Milà ?

Casa Milà is one of the most fascinating buildings in the world. By looking at the enchanting façade, visitors will see an impressive, varied and harmonious mass of undulating stone without any real straight lines. Gaudi is said to have envisioned the facade as a petrified wave. Many people think it is the hardness and solidity of the material in contrast with the sensation of movement in these waves that makes the façade so spectacular.

Ocean theme

Gaudi’s ocean theme is further evident when looking at the balconies. The balconies are beautifully decorated with exquisitely crafted iron, depicting underwater plants and vegetation.

Visitors paying extra attention to the balconies will almost be able to see how the vegetation is moving along with the water. Another ocean themed part is the sidewalk next to the building, which is covered in starfish ceramic tiles. The magnificent façade, together with the interior marine decorations, makes up a fantastic underwater landscape.

Spectacular roof

While the façade and the interior of the building is wonderful, one shouldn’t forget what can be found on the rooftop. On the roof stands chimneys and ventilation just as on any other roof. These are however designed by Gaudi in true Gaudi fashion with extraordinary shapes and vivid imagination. The unique components are made of broken tile shard mosaic, Ulldecona stone, marble and ceramics. There is also a level difference and several staircases on the roof, which makes it all look more like a landscape than a rooftop.

The staircases and chimneys have long fascinated visitors. The rooftop and its figures have been interpreted in many different ways; some have seen them as phantasmagorical figures and warriors while others have seen it as a dream landscape. The roof-terrace also provides its visitors with a nice great over the area.

Usage

La Pedrera is owned by the Catalonian Bank Caixa Catalunya, who bought, restored and opened up the building to tourists in the mid 1980ies. It has today become the head office of their cultural foundation which annually hosts a variety of exhibitions and cultural events.

UNESCO site

The building is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and it is the last example of Gaudi’s civil architecture. It is considered one of the most imaginative houses in the history of architecture.

Casa Milà location

Casa Milà is located in central Barcelona, in eastern Spain. The building can be found on the street Paseo de Gracia in central parts of the city.  For the exact location of Casa Milà, check out the location map to the right.

Casa Milà Video

Sagrada Familia history

The initiative to build a new grand church came from the bookseller and chairman of the Holy Brotherhood, José Maria Bocabella, in the mid 19th century. The church would be devoted to the child Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, which is why the church is named “Sagrada Familia” – “The Holy Family”.

Chief architect

The planning of the church began when the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar offered to design the whole structure. He planned a more typical gothic church, but was later forced to resign from his job due to fundamental disagreements with the founder Bocabella. A few months after del Villar’s resignation, a young architect by the name of Antonio Gaudi took over the work in 1883.

What Gaudi didn’t know at the time was that his new project would take up almost all his time and effort for the rest of his life. Once the construction phase started, he soon became obsessed with the project and set up an office on site which became his permanent residence.

Design

His plan was to build facades which would represent the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. The church would have a total of eighteen towers symbolizing the twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, and the Virgin Mary and Christ.

The one representing Christ would be the tallest and would stand 170 meters high, crowned by a large cross. The tower would be one meter less than the Montjuïc, a hill in Barcelona, as Gaudi said he didn’t want to suppress the work of God.

Antonio Gaudi

Gaudi devoted his last 15 years fully to the Sagrada Familia, until he by accident was hit a tram. This accident led to his death, a few days later in 1926 – 74 years old. What made Gaudi’s architectural style so exciting was his sense for shapes. Instead of designing buildings with straight lines, Gaudi worked much with loose vivid design.

The Casa Mila and the eastern façade of Sagrada Famila are perfect examples of this. Arguably, no other architect in history has ever had such an absolute influence on a city as Antoni Gaudi has had on Barcelona. There are great works of his Modernist style all over the city but the greatest of all his works is of course the impressive Sagrada Familia.

Post Gaudi

After Gaudi’s death, work continued as planned. However, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, work came to a halt and parts of Gaudi’s models and plans were destroyed. The present design is based on reconstructed versions of the lost plans as well as on modern adaptations.

Today, computer technology is being used to pre-shape the stones off site, rather than shape them on site by hand. This has significantly affected the pace of the construction and it’s now scheduled to be completed around 2020-2030.

Many believe the deadline is set to June 10th 2026, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s tragic death. On the subject of the extremely long construction period, Gaudi is said to have remarked “My client is not in a hurry.”

Why visit Sagrada Familia ?

The full name of this site is Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, but it is often simply called the Sagrada Familia. Many say that if you only have time to visit one site in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia should be it. It is easy to understand why when looking at it. Even though the church is still under construction, it has become a symbol for Barcelona and the Catalonian region.

Full of symbolism

If there is something the church is full of, except enchanting beauty, then it is symbolism. Themes throughout the detailed decoration include words from the Christian liturgy. For example, the towers are decorated with words such as “Hosanna”, “Excelsis” and “Sanctus”, but the most detailed parts of the church are the magnificent facades.

The façades

When completed, the Church will have three grand façades: the Passion façade to the West, the Nativity façade to the East and the Glory façade to the South. The latter is the one still under construction.

The Passion

The Passion façade, also known as the Façade of the Suffering Way, is most known for its unorthodox sculptures. The façade is actually designed by Gaudi during the time he suffered from a serious illness.  The work was carried out later in 1989 by the sculptor Josep Subirachs, based on Gaudi’s drawings. As visitors can see, the sculptor’ style is – in contrast with Gaudi’s – very much based around sharp edges.

The façade is based around telling the story of the suffering of Christ, showing different stages of the suffering with the help of sculptures, in an “S-shaped” pattern. Starting on the first level, to the very far left of the entrance, stands statues depicting the last supper. The next step in the “S-shaped” story telling is to the left of the entrance, where one can see how Judas the betrayer is kissing Jesus.

Behind them one can see a magic square, filled with different numbers. Before reaveling the square’s secret, try to find it out yourself. Can you solve the riddle of the magic square? On the pillar in between the entrances stands Jesus tied and tormented. The statues to the right depicts Peter’s denial and to the far right Jesus trial.

Above the trial stands the three Marys and above the entrance, Golgotha; the place where Jesus was crucified. To the left is a statue depicting the mounted solider Longino – the man who the legend has it pierced Jesus side with a spear.

Above him is several soldiers depicted while they were gambling for Jesus clothes, and to the right of them – the crucifixion. The last sculptures to the far right shows the entombment of Christ.

One little detail many people don’t notice can be found far above the entrance, at the archway between the towers. By looking closely to towards the right side, one can see a golden statue of the risen Christ. By taking a look at the main doors, visitors will see that they are filled with words from the Bible in various languages, including Catalan.

The Nativity

The Nativity façade was built before work was interrupted by the civil war. This is the façade which bears the most direct Gaudi influence. It consists of four bell towers and three large portals. From left to right stands the Portal of Hope, the Portal of Charity and the Portal of Faith. By looking towards the top of the portals, one can see that they symbolize grottos.

In fact, throughout the whole Nativity Façade, there is a clear theme of nature, as many of the sculptures symbolize vegetation, people and birds. This is a celebration to the ever changing nature and to the creators of all forms of life.

The Portal of Hope

The leftmost portal, known as the Portal of Hope, is covered in flora and fauna from the Nile. The portal shows the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and to the right stands Herod murdering innocent children. The portal also displays some hope, in form of Joseph standing together with his son above the doorway. In the top of the portal one can also see the marriage between Joseph and Mary.

The Portal of Faith

The rightmost Portal is known as the Portal of Faith. The sculptures’ surrounding the portal depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Family in their house at Nazareth and the presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple. In the very top visitors can see the Immaculate Conception – a Roman Catholic Dogma which says that Virgin Mary is without any original sin.

The Portal of Charity

The portal in the middle is the largest one. It is known as the Portal of Charity. In the middle of this portal stand two doors, supported by a beautiful pillar. Lower part of the pillar depicts a snake sinking its teeth into an apple. This is the symbol of original sin which is the reason Jesus came to earth. On the left side of the doors stands the Three Kings, bringing their gifts to the newborn Jesus, and on the other side the Three Shepherds.

The sculptures above the doors represents the birth of Christ and the top depicts how Jesus crowns the Virgin Mary Queen of Heaven. Above that, closer to the very top of the portal, stands the letters “JHS” – an anagram for Christ’s name.

The Portal of Charity is crowned with a large tree of life. On the pinnacle of the tree stands a large red “T”; the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet which reads “tau”, the initial of the name of God. On top of the T is a smaller X, which represents Christ. At the very top you can also see a white dove, which represents the Holy Spirit. Thus, the three persons of the Holy Trinity are represented at the top of the tree, symbolizing the creators of life.

Between the tree portals stands two massive pillars. The pillars are resting on the backs of turtles. Turtles have long been seen as a divine animal with connections to the heavens and the cosmos, known for their longevity.

Half way up, the columns bear the inscriptions ‘Joseph’ and ‘Mary’. The columns are crowned with palms to symbolize triumph and the coming of a new light. In the old days, palms symbolized the martyr and his or her triumph over death.

A lot to discover

As clearly shown, the whole church is absolutely full of symbolism. Giving all the details about all the symbols covering the church would need a smaller essay. One thing is for sure; visitors to Sagrada Familia will have a lot of things to discover!

Remember the Magic Square located on the Passion façade, behind Judas? In case you haven’t solved the riddle, the answer is that all the numbers adds up to 33; the age Jesus was when he died.

Visitor magnet

Today, even though it’s unfinished, the church has become a top tourist attraction, not only in Barcelona, but in whole Spain. The visitors are an important source of income as the project is not supported by any government or official church sources. An estimate of more than two million people visits the site each year.

For a small fee, one can enter the church and take an elevator – or climb the more than 400 steps – to an observation point. It provides a great view over the beautiful city of Barcelona.

Sagrada Familia location

Sagrada Familia is located in central Barcelona, in eastern Spain.For the exact location of Sagrada Familia, check out the location map to the right.

Sagrada Familia Video

Casa Batlló history

The wonderfully strange house that is Casa Batlló was originally built between year 1875 and 1877. In the early 20th century, the house was bought by the rich industrialist Josep Batlló who intended to tear down the old house and build a new one on the site. He contacted Antonio Gaudi who accepted the job of designing this new structure. Gaudi did however convince Batlló to keep the old structure and simply remodel it instead of tearing it down.

Reconstruction began

Between the years 1904 and 1906, Gaudi completely remodeled the interior, created a new façade and a new roof, while also adding extra height to the building. The project was strongly discussed by the local government, as many elements of the design completely broke away from the Barcelonan building norms and standards.

Completion

Fortunately, the project was allowed to be completed. Even though it is based on a previous structure, Gaudi basically constructed a whole new building. While Gaudi is the man behind the building and its design, he still had help from experts within the fields of carpeting, ceramics and iron works to complete the structure. The name “Casa Batlló” simply means “The house of Batlló”, based onits founder.

Why visit Casa Batlló ?

To no surprise, the Casa Batlló is most known for its outstanding façade. Casa Batlló is generally considered to have one of the most creative and brilliant urban façades in the world. The façade is, like everything Gaudi created, almost without any straight lines and a masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture.

The house of Bones

The lower levels are astonishing with tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. These large windows have given the building one of its nicknames, the “House of Yawns”.

By looking above the ground floor, at the large oval windows, visitors can see that the pillars look very similar to bones. This has, together with the balconies which also looks like pieces from a skeleton, given the house its other nickname; the “House of Bones”.

Gaudi trademark

Much of the upper façade is decorated with a beautiful Catalan mosaic made of glazed ceramic tiles, which makes the building look like something taken from a fairy tale. The glazed ceramic tiling is a typical trademark of Antonio Gaudi.

The roof further adds to the surrealistic feeling one get from looking at the house. Visitors getting a closer look at the roof will see that it is arched and that the scaly tiling very much resembles the back of a dragon or dinosaur.

Symbolism

A common theory about Casa Batlló is that it pays tribute to the legend of the Catalonian patron saint, Saint George, and his battle with the dragon. The spire like feature on the left side of the roof would then represent “Ascalon”, the sword of Saint George, which has been plunged into the back of the dragon. The bone-like features of the façade would represent the bones of all of the dragon’s victims or the bones from the dragon itself.

The world of Gaudi

Casa Batlló is not all about its exterior. There is of course a ton of other things to see on the inside as well. People say it’s the façade that catches ones attention – but it is the interior that captures ones imagination. Visitors to the inside of Casa Batlló can find undulating walls, beautiful tile and many other decorative elements.

A visit to the inside is highly recommended for anyone interested in architecture in general and Antonio Gaudi in particular, as it will provide a deeper understanding of the famous architect and his intentions. It is also a fantastic chance to escape and become lost in one of Gaudi’s dreamlands.

The Casa Batlló is today one of Barcelona’s most famous buildings and it can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage List; a testament to the uniqueness of this enchanting building.

In good company

Casa Batlló can be found on the street “Mançana de la Discordia”. On this street stand three fashionable buildings, made by three important modernist architects. While Casa Batlló is the most famous one, the others are still worth mentioning. On one side of Casa Balló stands Casa Amatller, designed by Josep Puig. Further down the same street, in the corner, stands Casa Lléo Morera, designed by Lluis Domènech.

The name “Mançana de la Discordia” means “Apple of Discord”. The name refers to Greek mythology where an apple, given by the goddess Eris “to the fairest”, lead to a dispute between three goddesses, eventually leading to the Trojan War. In this case it of course refers to the rivalry of three architects and their buildings, instead of the goddesses and luckily it hasn’t led to any war.

Casa Batlló location

Casa Batlló is located in central Barcelona, in eastern Spain. The building can be found on the famous street “Mançana de la Discordia”.  For the exact location of Casa Batlló, check out the location map to the right.

Casa Batlló Video

Leaning Tower of Pisa history

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built as a part of Piazza dei Miracolli and is the piazza’s third oldest structure, after the Cathedral and the Baptistry. More precisely, an inscription located to the right above the entrance to the tower, tells us that the construction started on august 9th, 1173.

A symbol for wealth

One of the purposes of the Leaning Tower was to serve as the bell tower for the cathedral. However, the main purpose of the Leaning Tower was to show the world the wealth and power of the city of Pisa.

During these times, Pisa with its mighty fleet was one of the strongest and most powerful Italian cities. They had successfully waged war all over the Mediterranean Sea and the new tower needed to reflect these victories. This is why the Leaning Tower of Pisa looks completely different compared to an ordinary bell tower.

The leaning tower

A few years after the construction started, the tower began to lean towards the southeast. This due to the fact that the tower was built on a poorly laid foundation, only three meters deep.

The tower was also built on weak, unstable subsoil which allowed the foundation to slightly shift direction. This caused one side of the tower to sink into the ground. When this happened, five years had passed since the start of the construction and the tower had progressed to the third floor. With this, the construction halted for almost a century.

Saved by war

The halt in construction was not because of the problems with the Leaning Tower, but because the inhabitants of Pisa were almost continually engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. The halt in construction allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. This most likely saved the tower, as without the interference of wars, the tower would almost certainly have toppled.

Completion

In year 1272, the construction of the Leaning Tower resumed. In an effort to compensate for the tilt, the engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other. With the new change, the tower began to lean in the other direction; instead of southeast it began to lean southwest. The completion of the Leaning Tower would however take another 100 years, as several smaller wars interfered. With the completion of the bell chamber in 1372, one of the most unusual monuments of all times stood finished.

Stabilization projects

The Leaning Tower is been subject to several restoration and stabilization projects; not only due to the towers instable nature, but also due to its age and exposure to wind and rain.

The first stabilization project was initiated in the 1960ies, when the engineers realized that the tilt was increasing in combination with a softer foundation. Many methods for stabilizing the Leaning Tower were discussed, including the addition of 800 tons of lead counterweights to the raised end of the base.

Later, in 1990, a massive restoration and stabilization project was initialized. During this project, the Leaning Tower was closed to the public and the bells were removed to relieve some weight. The plan was to straighten up the tower by removing 38 cubic meters of soil from underneath the raised end using special drills. In order to keep the Leaning Tower stabile during this daring project, several heavy cables were cinched around the third level and anchored several hundred meters away. Apartments and houses in the path of the tower were also vacated for safety.

In 2001, the project was finally completed and the Leaning Tower had been straightened by 45 centimeters, returning to the exact position it had in 1838. After these massive reconstruction and stabilization efforts, the tower was reopened to the public in December 2001 and was declared stable for at least another 300 years.

Why visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa ?

The 56 meter high Leaning Tower of Pisa is world famous, not only for its beautiful looks, but mainly for its heavy tilt. It is one of the heaviest leaning towers in the world – and for sure the most famous one.

Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the Leaning Tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but the tower now leans about 4 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is almost four meters from where it would stand if the tower were perfectly vertical.

If one feels ambitious, and isn’t afraid of heights, a trip to the top of the Leaning Tower is highly recommend. While almost 300 steps will take some time to climb, it provides a great view of Piazza dei Miracolli and the city of Pisa.

Today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the region’s number one tourist destination – attracting people from all over the world. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and without a doubt one of the world’s most famous towers.

Leaning Tower of Pisa location

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is located in central Pisa, on Italy’s west coast. The tower is situated on the famous Piazza dei Miracoli.  For the exact location of the Leaning Tower, check out the location map to the right.

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.

Main architect

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.

Founding

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.

Completion

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.

Beautifully decorated

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.

Interior

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.

The Pulpit

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.

Perfect acoustics

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 Cathedralthe 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.

Pisa Baptistery Video

Pisa Cathedral history

The construction of Pisa cathedral, also known as Duomo di Pisa, began in 1063 under the architect Buscheto. This man was also the founder of the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style in which the cathedral is built.

The cathedral is also inspired by several other architectural styles. By looking at the four rows of open gallery above the entrance, visitors can find several smaller round arches, which is a typical feature in Moorish architecture. The inside also shows signs of Byzantine influences, especially the beautiful mosaic.

As Pisa was a strong naval power, historians believe that these influences were brought into the city by different travelers and sailors. The cathedral is, and was at the time of its construction, one of the most impressive cathedrals in the world.

There is no coincidence that this beautiful cathedral is located here in Pisa, as Pisa used to be one of the most powerful cities in the Mediterranean area.

The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Mary of the Assumption.

Why visit Pisa Cathedral ?

Pisa cathedral is truly a beautiful site which has a lot to offer. One of its most striking features is without a doubt the impressive exterior. By looking towards the very top of the west façade, visitors can a statue of Mary with the child. On either side of her stand the four evangelists.

Another thing that makes the façade stand out is the massive bronze gates. A closer inspection of the gates will reveal that they are covered in beautiful relief, depicting different biblical stories.

Interior

While the white, shining outside of the cathedral truly is stunning, the same must also be said about its inside. Inside visitors can experience the massive nave and the beautiful aisle. The nave of the cathedral is flanked by granite Corinthian columns. Unknown to many is that these columns actually comes from the mosque of Palermo. The columns were captured by the Pisans and brought to the city in year 1063.

Great works of art

The inside also holds some of the greatest medieval works of art in the world, even though a fire in late 16th century destroyed the majority of them. One that survived the fire is the mosaic in the apse. The impressive mosaic depicts Christ in Majesty, flanked by the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Evangelist.

Stunning pulpit

However, the most striking piece of art is probably the elaborately carved pulpit, which also survived the fire. The pulpit was made by Giovani Pisano and is highly regarded as one of the masterworks of medieval sculptures.

The pulpit is supported by plain columns as well as statue-like column known as Caryatids and Telamons. The upper part of the pulpit contains reliefs depicting dramatic scenes from the New Testament – all the way from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion.

Cathedral tombs

The cathedral also contains several tombs of important persons. One of them is St. Ranierius – Pisa’s patron saint and the patron saint of all travelers. The cathedral also holds the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII. Pope Gregory VIII was also buried in the cathedral, but the fire in 1600th century destroyed his tomb.

Much to see

As one can imagine, there is a ton of things to see both on the cathedrals outside and on its inside. A fun fact which the majority of the visitors do not know is that the cathedral, just like the tower, tilts. It doesn’t tilt nearly as much as the Leaning Tower, but visitors standing on the sidewalk should be able to see it.

Pisa Cathedral location

Pisa Cathedral 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 Cathedral, check out the location map to the right.

Pisa Cathedral Video Guide

Camposanto history

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.

Restoration

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.

Architectural beauty

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 chapels

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.

Tomb location

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.

Roman decoration

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.

Naval traditions

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 location

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.

Camposanto Video

Piazza dei Miracoli history

The piazza is also known as Piazza del Duomo – the Cathedral Square – which is actually its real name. However, in 1910, the Italian writer and poet Gabriele d’Annunzio described the square in one of his books. He wrote; “The Ardea rotated over the sky of Christ, over the meadow of Miracles.” Ever since, the piazza is more known as the Piazza dei Miracoli.

Construction

The piazza and its buildings were constructed between the 11th and the 15th century. During this period, Pisa was one of the most dominant cities in Italy and the new piazza needed to reflect their power.

The city of Pisa spent huge amounts of money to construct a new religious complex. As the new complex was supposed to convey power and influence, they weren’t satisfied with only building a new cathedral. Instead they built no less than four amazing structures; the Duomo Cathedralthe Baptistrythe Camposanto Cemetery and the bell tower, also known as the Leaning Tower.

Symbolism

What many people don’t realize is that there is also a symbolic meaning in the different buildings. Together, they all represent the different periods in life. The Baptistry represents the start of life; birth. The Cathedral represents the life while the cemetery

Why visit Piazza dei Miracoli ?

The name of this outstanding square, Piazza dei Miracoli, translates to “the Square of Miracles.” Once one gets a good look at it, it’s easy to understand why.

This square is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful squares in the whole world.  Piazza dei Miracoli was rightfully so declared a World Heritage Site in 1987; not only for its beauty but also as it a way of recognizing it as one of the main centers for medieval art in the world.

A square full of life

Piazza dei Miracoli is not only visited for its beauty, but also for the many interesting buildings on the site, as it includes the Duomo Cathedralthe Baptistrythe Camposanto Cemetery and the world famous the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Few other squares can offer several masterpieces of that magnitude. It is not known as one of the greatest squares ever built without a reason.

The Meadow of Mircales

Even though many tourists visit the place, it almost never feels too crowded. The plain green fields together with the majestic white buildings always project an aura of peace and serenity.  It’s easy to understand why Gabriele d’Annunzio described this place as the Meadow of Miracles.

Piazza dei Miracoli location

Piazza dei Miracoli is located in central Pisa, on Italy’s west coast. The square is situated on the edge of Pisa’s medieval city. Entry tickets for the various buildings in the square are bought in the building on the south side. For the exact location of Piazza dei Miracoli, check out the location map to the right.

Piazza dei Miracoli Video