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Pisa’s Overlooked Treasure
March 7, 2015
It’s hard to fault anyone, especially a first time visitor, for becoming hypnotised by the imposing beauty of the major structures found in the historic Piazza dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles. From the world famous Leaning Tower to the imposing Cathedral and the majestic Baptistery this is truly a landscape of unforgettable architecture.
But almost hidden among these beauties is the simplicity of the soaring wall that surrounds one of the most hallowed burial grounds in all of Italy (marked as #222 of our Discovery Walk in Pisa). In Italian, Camposanto means “cemetery and behind this mighty wall is the Camposanto Vecchio or Old Cemetery of Pisa.
The burial ground here was created in 1278 during the Crusades when Pisa’s archbishop returned from Calvary, the hill outside ancient Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. He brought with him entire shiploads of soil from that sacred site so that Pisa’s most worthy residents could be buried in holy ground. Legend says that this dirt from the Holy Land turns a body into a skeleton in just one day.
The building and walls that now enclose this sacred site were completed around the end of the 13th century. Later, ancient and medieval artwork from throughout the city was relocated here, making the Camposanto with its beautiful frescoes an important museum.
A simple timber roof once covered the open area inside the walls but that roof, along with many precious frescoes, was destroyed during World War II. But today, after many years of loving restoration, the somber beauty of the burial ground and its many works of art and historical relics remains a wonderful if often overlooked jewel among the more recognized masterpieces in the Field of Miracles.