Pisa’s Campo dei Miracoli is made up of several monuments: the Duomo itself, the Leaning Tower, the Baptistery, the Museo delle Sinopie and the Camposanto. Of all this intensely touristy area, the only place where you’ll get some ghoulish peace and quiet is in the Camposanto, a rather lovely spot that is largely overlooked by the selfie-snapping hordes. It’s cheap to visit too costing a mere 5 to eight euros (depending on how gung-ho a tourist you are) compared to the 18 it costs to get jostled and feel queasy in the Tower.
You do the math.
Work was started on the Camposanto in 1277. For years the area around the Duomo had been used for prestigious burials and any Roman or Etruscan sarcophagi that were found around town (Pisa had an important port in Roman times) were brought there. But it was all willy-nilly. The people of Pisa decided that they really needed a proper edifice to use as a cemetery. And so work was started on this building that is as plain and simple outside as it is ornate and ghoulish inside.
Who knows if the Camposanto would have been like the Duomo if Pisa hadn’t been defeated by Genoa at the battle of the Meloria in 1289? But Pisa was defeated by Genoa in the Battle of the Melori in 1289 and the Camposanto isn’t like the Duomo. It’s more like a huge, rectangular gothic cloister, walled , roofed and frescoed, but open onto a central, vehemently verdant, don’t-tread-on-me type of lawn. The inner court is surrounded by elaborate arches with slender mullions and plurilobed tracery. And- get this- the place is full of burial places of all shapes and sizes and from all ages. Sarcophagi under the arcades, monuments around the walls, tombs under the very floors you walk on.
His mother caught him reading his iPad after lights out and cut off his hand and his swipe finger. RIP
Over the centuries the Camposanto became The Place. The Roman and Etruscan sarcophagi that were found around town were brought here, Pisa’s greatest hits, or rather the city’s most wealthy and illustrious citizens, were buried here. Romantic Era tourists ignored the Torre and flocked to the Camposanto to reflect on the real meaning of life- inevitable death. And Cassandra finds that there’s no arguing with that.
You’ll find the best, most vast and varied collection of skulls in the Camposanto
It seemed only natural to the citizens of Pisa that the Camposanto become their first museum on top of being their favorite cemetery. It was here that they brought the enormous chains that were taken as spoils of war by Genoa after the Battle of the Meloria in 1284, prized for centuries, and only given back when Italy was unified- in 1864. (See Cassandra’s Pisa, Leaning Tower post.)
Cassandra can assure you: you have never, ever seen chains this big anywhere before
Then along came the Second World War. The Camposanto was bombed by the Allies and its roof caught fire. The lead that covered the roof timbers melted and damaged everything that it touched, be it fresco or marble.
The damage from molten lead is still visible today.
After the War the roof was re-built and the frescoes were detached and restored. But if you want to see the most ghoulish of the lot, like the truly terrifying Trionfo della Morte-the Triumph of Death by Buonamico Buffalmacco- you are just going to have to wait for a bit.
Exercise your patience and come back in a few years, the most ghoulish frescoes are not currently visible. But at least they had the taste to choose color coordinated tacks for breaking the bad news.
Console yourself, he has the whole world plus the zodiac in his hands
Under the frescoes they found the preparatory line drawings or sinopie that are in the Museo delle Sinopie across the way. Go see them and keep in mind that chi si accontenta gode, as the Italians say, find a way to live with a certain sense of disappointment and you’ll live well. They invented that saying for tourists in Italy by the way.
Come on in, the door’s open on my sarcophagus