Pisa Cathedral is one of the most impressive churches in Tuscany, Italy. A masterpiece of Pisan Romanesque architecture chiefly famous for its bell tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

In the magnificent Piazza dei Miracoli  stands the awe-inspiring Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Take time to enjoy the countless details of this elaborate white marble edifice, and don’t miss Giovanni Pisano’s pulpit inside.

where is tuscany
Pisa Cathedral

Pisa Cathedral – One of the wonders of Italy

In 1063 Pisa’s fleet had just defeated the Saracens in Palermo, and the spoils of this conflict provided the funds to start building the Cathedral. At the time Pisa was one of the superpowers of the Mediterranean Sea and needed a Duomo that would match its prestige. The architect Buscheto combined Eastern architecture, Byzantine features and Lombard decoration to create a new style, called ‘Pisan Romanesque’. A style that  expanded from here to many areas under Pisan control.

Enlarged in 1118, it was the biggest Cathedral in Europe for almost a century, and the pride of the city. If you look on one side of the edifice, you’ll notice where the new part was added, in prestigious marble instead of the poorer sandstone from Livorno.

Highlights of Pisa Cathedral


The marble is so finely worked it looks almost like embroidery. The black and white alternation of marble is an Islamic feature, while the blind arches are a Lombard motif. If you visit Lucca, you’ll see the same kind of arches at the Church of San Michele in Foro. The striking elliptical dome, added in 1380 and inspired by the Moors, was the first of its kind in Europe at the time.

pisa cathedral
The facade – photo @djedj on pixabay

The bronze doors were made by Florentine artists in the 17th century, after the original wooden doors were destroyed in a fire in 1595 that severely damaged the Cathedral.

The Romanesque-Gothic Leaning Bell Tower is both quirky and elegant, and deserves all the attention it gets.


Inside you’ll find striped columns and a great deal of gold decoration. The Byzantine-style mosaic in the apse, a Christ in Majesty with the Virgin and John the Baptist, dates from 1302 and is said to have been completed by Cimabue. The spatial division recalls that of Islamic mosques and Byzantine churches, with the columns and the matroneo or womens’s gallery, while the golden ceiling was added during Medici’s rule in the 16th century. The original wooden ceiling was destroyed by the fire.

⇒ A visit to Pisa Cathedral is completely free! Check out all Pisa’s attractions that you can see for free.

There’re 68 monolithic columns brought here from Sardinia, that was under Pisa’s rule. The number represented how many churches were in Pisa at the time of the Cathedral’s construction. Notice the Medieval marble floor that was saved from the fire.

The marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano is Pisa Cathedral’s artistic highlight. It represented a new concept in Medieval sculpture: here the figures are detached from the background and seem to step out of the frame. They’re dynamic, alive. With the precise calculation of light and shadow (‘chiaroscuro’ effect) the artist created a real feeling of drama.

Giovanni Pisano has been called  ‘the first modern sculptor’ by Henry Moore and mixes French Gothic with Classical influences. These scenes from the New Testament would have been particularly impressive at the time, showing realistic physicality and dramatic poses.

If you visit the Baptistery, have a look at the pulpit. It’s the work of Nicola Pisano, Giovanni’s father, a pioneer in this new form of sculpture.

San Ranieri patron of Pisa and the ‘Luminara” Festival

The mummified body of San Ranieri, the patron of Pisa, is kept on the chapel on the left of the main altar. He was a Pisan merchant, and after a life of travels and pleasures, left everything behind and spent years in the Holy Land, dedicated to prayers and performing miracles. Later he came back to Pisa and died here in 1161. His relics were moved to the Cathedral in 1688, and a big celebration that involved thousands of candles was organised for the occasion. Since then every year on the evening of the 16th of June, Pisa looks magical under this special illumination of the city centre. The Leaning Tower is decorated with candles, too.

Check out all the best festivals in Tuscany!

The ‘lamp of Galileo Galilei’

Legend has it that Galileo, the founder of modern physics (born in Pisa in 1564), made one of his important discoveries right here in this church. While he was watching the swing of a bronze chandelier during mass, he noticed that it was taking exactly the same amount of time to swing back and forth, and came up with the theory of isochronism. The lamp that hangs in the Cathedral today is not the same lamp, but with the rich atmosphere of the cathedral, it’s not hard to imagine Galileo sitting in the pews.

Visit Pisa Cathedral – practical information and tips

The entrance to the Cathedral is free, but you still need to collect a ticket and book a specific time. 90 people are allowed to enter every 30 minutes, and when there’re too many people, they only let you in if you buy the ticket for the Baptistry or the Cemetery (5 euros per person). In high season we strongly recommend you go early to book a time for your visit.

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

Explore more of Tuscany

  • Tuscany is famous for its charming small towns, Medieval hilltop hamlets and scenic walled towns rich with atmosphere. Here you’ll find some of our favourite towns that we recommend adding to your itineraries. We’ve chosen...
  • Tuscany is famous for its hills and scenic hilltop towns. From all-time favourite San Gimignano and Cortona to lesser known gems like Massa Marittima, Pitigliano and Anghiari, each one has its own distinctive atmosphere. Many...
  • Masters of Florence, the series about the Medici dynasty, has just made its debut on Netflix. This period drama mixes together history, fiction and passion in fifteenth century Florence. In case you’re wondering who this...
  • 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...
  • The Chianti area is Tuscany’s main wine region. Located south of Florence, it’s remarkable for its rolling hills and sun-drenched vineyards. With scenic towns like Radda, Castellina and Castelnuovo Berardenga within its borders, it makes...