Spoils from the Third Crusade

Campo Santo

Probably my favorite site in Pisa, it is also known as Camposanto Monumentale (“monumental cemetery”) or Camposanto Vecchio (“old cemetery”) and it is located beside the Piazza dei Miracoli.

It is purported to be built around a shipload of soil brought over from Golgotha (Calvary, the site of the Cruficixion) by Ubaldo Lanfranchi, Archbishop of Pisa, from the Third Crusade in the twelfth century.

Not originally meant to be a cemetery — it was apparently meant to be a church — the project took nearly two centuries to complete. It was begun in 1278 by Giovanni di Simone, who perished in 1284 when Pisa suffered a naval defeat against Genoa, and it wasn’t completed until 1464.

Most of the tombs in the structure are part of the arcade, but there are also some in the central lawn.

The frescoes covering the walls make up an area of over 2600 square meters, which is greater than that of those found in the Sistine Chapel. The earliest were painted in the fourteenth century, while the latest were created in the seventeenth.

The building was, sadly, partially destroyed during WWII, when a bomb fragment landed on it and created a fire that burned for three days. The roof was lost, as were many sculptures and sarcophagi, and the frescoes on the walls were badly damaged.

Restoration work has been ongoing since the end of the war, and was most recently completed when the Triumph of Death, part of a cycle that also included scenes involving the Last Judgement and Hell, was reinstalled in 2018.

While it wasn’t completely empty when I visited — you can catch people in some of these photos if you look closely — it was pretty deserted. The place lends itself to solitude, though, with its vast, open spaces and fragmentary sculptures. I found it beautiful in the way that I find only cemeteries can be beautiful — carefully kept, quiet, and a little haunting.

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