Famous as the place Saint Peter landed in Italy, San Pietro a Grado is a handsome romanesque basilica, chock-full of frescoes. It stands a few kilometers from Pisa airport.

San Pietro a Grado is one of the top Romanesque Churches in Tuscany. The Basilica stands on the ruins of an ancient Roman port, though hundreds of years of silt deposits mean it’s now some 6 km distant from the shore. As its name suggests, its most famous visitor was Peter the apostle who arrived here in 44 AD from Palestine. Apparently he stayed in a building on the same spot where the church was later built.

San Pietro a Grado

San Pietro a Grado

It was from here that Christianity would spread throughout the territory, and in the centuries that followed it became an important stop-off point for pilgrims. The only reminder of this notable past is an altar once used by Saint Peter himself, a single column supporting a simple block of stone.

When the church was built, Pisa was already a strong and wealthy maritime republic and this edifice was an ideal way to flaunt their power. The exterior is both elegant and solid, with a frieze of blind arches and ceramic basins that catch the sun. These are copies; the originals are now at the Museo Civico San Matteo in Pisa).

Remains of the different stages of construction are still visible: Roman marble fragments are built into the northern wall, where the entrance is, and has rows of composite columns with Corinthian and Ionic capitals. It is a singular structure without a facade. Instead there are three apses on one side of the church, and one apse on the other.

What to see in San Pietro a Grado

The frescoes in the interior were commissioned for the 1300 Jubilee and are the work of Deodato Orlandi from Lucca, who following Giotto’s example, attempted to give spacial depth to his scenes. In a profusion of ochre and red, there are scenes from the life and death of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (the first crucified upside down, the second decapitated) and their burial. There are scenes from Constantine’s dream about the true cross, and the episode where Peter, walking across the water, doubted his faith and started to sink.

San Pietro a Grado, frescoes, details

San Pietro a Grado, frescoes, details

Situated immediately above the arches there are portraits of the popes still in excellent condition – 31 in total – documenting the succession from the first Pope, Saint Peter to Pope John XVII in 1007. Each has an identical pose with a hand raised in a gesture of blessing and a Bible in the other. The portraits are noted for their exquisite level of detail and colour.

san pietro a grado church

Church of San Pietro a Grado

Your friendly online guide to Florence and Tuscany. Get our insider travel tips delivered to your mailbox every month.

Share your love of Tuscany!

Explore more of Tuscany

  • Florence in May offer up some colourful possibilities to the curious visitor. There are beautiful gardens and villas to explore, flower festivals and a flag-throwing competition to be seen, and a whole event dedicated to...
  • It’s one of those places everyone dreams of going to. The question is what to do in Tuscany when you’re there. Don’t worry, this is a place that’s overflowing with sights, and unforgettable experiences. In...
  • Storybook villages in Tuscany are not in short supply. Small towns in enchanting locations, full of turreted towers, romantic archways, secret passageways and plenty of magical atmosphere. Go there and you feel you’re walking around...
  • In this 5 day itinerary travelling around Tuscany, we whisk you from the awe-inspiring Piazza dei Miracoli, to some of the world’s Medieval treasures and, of course, through some of the best scenery that Tuscany...
  • Love is always in the air in Florence. Maybe because there’s no shortage of romantic things to do here. From watching the golden sunsets on the river Arno, and strolling in the Bardini gardens to...