1902 Encyclopedia > Pisa


PISA, which has always been one of the most import-ant cities of central Italy, is situated on the banks of the Arno at a short distance from the sea, in the midst of a

1. Cavalieri di S. Stefano. 5. Palazzo Lanfreducci or Alia
2. Academy of Fine Arts. Giornata.
3. Royal Theatre. 6. Post Office.
4. University.

fertile plain backed by marble mountains wooded with pines and other forest trees. In the days of Strabo it was only two geographical miles from the sea-shore, but the continual increase of the delta at the mouth of the river has now trebled that distance. In the Middle Ages the Arno was still navigable for all ships of war then in use, and formed the safest of harbours.

The origin of Pisa is very ancient, and is involved in obscurity. The Romans believed it to date from the days of Troy, and also gave a legendary account of its foundation by colonists from Greece. Strabo mentions it as one of the bravest of the Etruscan cities. From Polybius we learn that in 225 B.C. it was already the friend of the Romans; and later it became their ally and was defended by them from the ferocious onslaughts of the Ligurian and Apuan tribes. Thus the Romans acquired great power over the city, and finally subjected it to their rule. In Caesar's time. according to some writers, in that of Augustus according to others, they established a military colony there. Nevertheless, excepting some inscriptions, sarco-phagi, statues, and columns, very few remains of Roman buildings have been discovered in Pisa. Little is known of the history of Pisa during the barbarian invasions, but it is an ascertained fact that it was one of the first towns to regain its independence. Under the Byzantine dominion Pisa, like many other of the maritime cities of Italy, pro-fited by the weakness of the Government at Constan-tinople to reassert its strength. And even during the first years of the harsh Lombard rule the need recognized by these oppressors of defending the Italian coast from the attacks of the Greeks was favourable to the development of the Pisan navy. Few particulars are extant concerning the real condition of the town; but we occasionally find Pisa mentioned, almost as though it were an independent city, at moments when Italy was overwhelmed by the greatest calamities. According to Amari's happy expression, " it was already independent by sea, while still enslaved on land." Its prosperity notably declined after the re-estab-lishment of the Lombard rule and under the Franks. It again began to flourish under the marquises of Tuscany, who governed it in the name of the emperor.

In 1003 we find records of a war between Pisa and Lucca, which, according to Muratori, was the first waged between Italian cities in the Middle Ages. But the military development and real importance of Pisa in the 11th century must be attributed to the continuous and desperate struggle it maintained against the tide of Saracenic invasion from Sicily. And, although the numer-ous legends and fables of the old chroniclers disguise the true history of this struggle, they serve to attest the importance of Pisa in those days. In 1004 the Saracens forced the gates and sacked a quarter of the town; and in 1011 they renewed the attack. But the Pisans repulsed them and assumed the offensive in Calabria, Sicily, and even in Africa. Still more memorable was the expedition afterwards undertaken by the united forces of Pisa and Genoa against Mogahid, better known in the Italian chronicles as Mugeto. This Moslem chief had made him-self master of Sardinia, and was driven thence by the allied fleets in 1015. Again invading the island, he was again attacked and defeated by the same adversaries, leaving a brother and son, or, as some authorities aver, a wife and son, prisoners in their hands. Sardinia con-tinued to be governed by native magistrates, who were like petty sovereigns, but were now subject to the sway of Pisa. This was the primary cause of the jealousy of the Genoese, and of the wars afterwards made by them upon Pisa and carried on until its power was crushed. Mean-while the Pisans flourished more and more, and continued hostilities against the Saracens. In 1062 their ships returned from Palermo laden with spoil. Thus it is not surprising that Pisa should already have had its own code of laws (Gonsuetudini di Mare), which in 1075 were approved by Gregory VII., and in 1081 confirmed by a patent from the emperor Henry IV., that supplies the first authentic notice of the existence of consuls in mediaeval Italy. The oldest of Pisan statutes still extant is the Breve dei Consoli di Mare of 1162.

In 1099 the Pisans joined in the second crusade, proved their valour at the capture of Jerusalem, and derived many commercial advantages from it; for within a short time they had banks, consuls, warehouses, and privileges of all kinds in every Eastern port. Thus, while the com-mune of Pisa was still under the rule of the marquises of Tuscany, all negotiations with it were carried on as with an independent state officially represented by the archbishop and consuls. The aristocrats were the domin-ant party, and filled the highest offices of the republic, which, in the 12 th century, rose to great power, both on sea and land, by its wars with the Lucchese, Genoese, and Moslems. In 1110 Pisa made peace with Lucca after six years of continuous hostilities. And between 1114 and 1116 it achieved a still greater en-terprise. The Pisan fleet of three hundred sail, com-manded by the archbishop Pietro Moriconi, attacked the Balearic Isles, where as many as 20,000 Christians were said to be held captive by the Moslems, and returned loaded with spoil and with a multitude of Christian and Moslem prisoners. The former were set at liberty or ransomed, and among the latter was the last descendant of the reigning dynasty. The chief eunuch who had governed Majorca perished in the siege. Immediately afterwards the fourteen years' war with Genoa broke out. The two republics contested the dominion of the sea, and both claimed supreme power over the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. A papal edict awarding the supremacy of Corsica to the Pisan church proved sufficient cause for the war, which went on from 1118 to 1132. Then Innocent II. transferred the supremacy over part of Corsica to the Genoese church, and compensated Pisa by grants in Sardinia and elsewhere. Accordingly, to gratify the pope and the emperor Lothair II., the Pisans entered the Neapolitan territory to combat the Normans. They aided in the vigorous defence of the city of Naples, and twice attacked and pillaged Amain, in 1135 and 1137, with such effect that the town never regained its pro-sperity. It has been said that the copy of the Pandects then taken by the Pisans from Amalfi was the first known to them, but in fact they were already acquainted with those laws. The war with Genoa never came to a real end. Even after the retaking of Jerusalem by the Moslems (1187) the Pisans and Genoese again met in conflict in the East, and performed many deeds of valour. They were always ready to come to blows, and gave still more signal proofs of their enmity during the Sicilian war in behalf of the emperor Henry VI. From that moment it was plain that there could be no lasting peace between these rival powers until the one or the other should be crushed. The greatness and wealth of the Pisans at this period of their history is proved by the erection of the noble buildings by which their city is adorned. The foundations of the cathedral were laid in 1063, and its consecration took place in 1118; the bap-tistery was begun in 1152, and the campanile (the famous leaning tower) in 1174. And all three magnificent struc-tures were mainly the work of Pisan artists, who gave new life to Italian architecture, as they afterwards renewed the art of sculpture.

It is asserted by some writers, especially by Tronci, that in the 12th century Pisa adopted a more democratic form of government. But in fact the chief authority was still vested in the nobles, who, both in Pisa and in Sardinia, exercised almost sovereign power. They formed the real strength of the republic, and kept it faithful to the em-pire and the Ghibelline party. The Guelf and popular element which constituted the force and prosperity of Florence was hostile to Pisa, and led to its downfall. The independence of the former city was of much later origin, only dating from the death of Countess Matilda (1115), but it rapidly rose to an ever-increasing power, and to inevitable rivalry with Pisa. Owing to the political and commercial interests binding Florence to the Roman court, the Guelf element naturally prevailed there, while the growth of its trade and commerce necessarily compelled that state to encroach on waters subject to Pisan rule. And, although Pisa had hitherto been able to oppose a glorious resistance to Genoa and Lucca, it was not so easy to continue the struggle when its enemies were backed by the arms and political wisdom of the Florentines, who were skilled in obtaining powerful allies. The chroniclers ascribe the first war with Florence, which broke out in 1222, to a most ridiculous motive. The ambassadors of the rival states in Rome are said to have quarrelled about a lapdog. This merely shows that there were already so many general and permanent reasons for war that no special cause was needed to provoke it. In 1228 the Pisans met and defeated the united forces of Florence and Lucca near Barga in the Garfagnana, and at the same time they despatched fifty-two galleys to assist Frederick II. in his expedition to the East. Shortly after this they renewed hostilities with the Genoese on account of Sardinia. The judges who governed the island were always at strife, and, as some of them applied to Pisa and some to Genoa for assistance against one another, the Italian seas were once more stained with blood, and the war burst out again and again, down to 1259, when it ter-minated in the decisive victory of the Pisans and the con-solidation of their supremacy in Sardinia. But meanwhile Florence had made alliance with Genoa, Lucca, and all the Guelf cities of Tuscany against its Ghibelline rival. The pope had excommunicated Frederick II. and all his adher-ents. And, as a crowning disaster, the death of Frederick in 1250 proved a mortal blow to the Italian Ghibelline cause. Nevertheless the Pisans were undaunted. Summoning Siena, Pistoia, and the Florentine exiles to their aid, they boldly faced their foe, but were defeated in 1254. Soon after this date we find the old aristocratic government of Pisa replaced by a more popular form. Instead of the consuls there were now twelve elders (anziani) ; besides the podestà, there was a captain of the people ; and there was a general council as well as a senate of forty members. The rout of the Tuscan Guelfs on the field of Montaperto (1260) restored the fortunes of Pisa. But the battle of Benevento (1266), where Manfred fell, and the rout of Tagliacozzo (1268), sealing the ruin of the house of Hohenstauffen in Italy and the triumph of that of Anjou, were fatal to Pisa. For the republic had always sided with the empire and favoured Conradin, whose cruel end struck terror into the Ghibelline faction. The pope hurled an edict against the Pisans and tried to deprive them of Sardinia, while their merchants were driven from Sicily by the Angevins. The internal condition of the city was affected by these events. Owing to the increasing influence of the Guelf and popular side, to which the more ambitious nobles began to adhere for the furtherance of personal aims, the aristocratic Ghibelline party was rapidly losing ground. The first man to step to the front at this moment was Count Ugolino della Gherardesca of the powerful house of that name. He had become the virtual head of the republic, and, in order . to preserve its independence and his own sway, inclined to the Guelfs and the popular party, in spite of the Ghibelline traditions of his race. He was supported by his kinsman Giovanni Visconti, judge of Gallura ; but almost all the other great families vowed eternal hatred against him, and proclaimed him a traitor to his party, his country, and his kin. So in 1274 he and Visconti were driven into exile. Both then joined the Florentines, took part in the war against their native city, and laid
waste its surrounding territories. In 1276 the Pisans were compelled to agree to very grievous terms,—to exempt Florentine merchandise from all harbour dues, to yield certain strongholds to Lucca, and to permit the return of Count Ugolino, whose houses they had burnt, and whose lands they had confiscated. Thus the count again became a powerful leader in Pisa. Visconti, however, was dead.

Tnis was the moment chosen by Genoa for a desperate and decisive struggle with her perpetual rival. For some years the hostile fleets continued to harass each other and engage in petty skirmishes, as if to measure their strength and prepare for a final effort. On the 6th August 1284 the great battle of Meloria took place. Here seventy-two Pisan galleys engaged eighty-eight Genoese, and half the Pisan fleet was destroyed. The chroniclers speak of 5000 killed and 11,000 prisoners; and, although these figures must be exaggerated, so great was the number of captives taken by the Genoese as to give rise to the saying—" To see Pisa, you must now go to Genoa." This defeat crushed the power of Pisa. She had lost her dominion over the sea, and the Tuscan Guelfs again joined in attacking her by land. Count Ugolino had taken part in the battle of Meloria and was accused of treachery. At the height of his country's disasters, he sought to confirm his own power by making terms with the Florentines, by yielding certain castles to Lucca, and by neglecting to conclude negotiations with the Genoese for the release of the prisoners, lest these should all prove more or less hostile to himself. This excited a storm of opposition against him. The archbishop Ruggieri, having put himself at the head of the nobles, was elected podestà by the Lanfranchi, Sismondi, and Gualandi, and a section of the popular party. The city was plunged into civil war. The great bell of the commune called together the adherents of the archbishop ; the bell of the people summoned the partisans of the count. After a day's fighting (1st July 1288) the count, his two sons, and his two nephews were captured in the Palazzo del Popolo (or town hall), and cast into a tower belonging to the Gualandi and known as the " Tower of the Seven Streets." Here they were all left to die of hunger. Their tragic end was afterwards immortalized in the Divina Commedia. The sympathies of Dante Alighieri, the Florentine patriot and foe of Rome, were naturally in favour of the victims of an aristocratic prelate, opposed to all reconciliation with Florence.

The Florentines were now allied with Lucca and Genoa, and a few of their vessels succeeded in forcing an entry into the Pisan port, blocked it with sunken boats, and seized its towers. Their own internal dissensions of 1293 put a stop to the campaign, but not before they had con-cluded an advantageous peace. They and all the members of the Guelf league were freed from all imposts in Pisa and its port. In addition to these privileges the Genoese also held Corsica and part of Sardinia ; and throughout the island of Elba they were exempted from every tax. They likewise received a ransom of 160,000 lire for their Pisan prisoners. These were no longer numerous, many having succumbed to the hardships and sufferings of all kinds to which they had been exposed.

In 1312 the arrival of the emperor Henry VII. gladdened the hearts of the Pisans, but his sudden death in 1313 again overthrew their hopes. He was interred at Pisa, and Uguccione della Faggiuola remained as imperial lieutenant, was elected podestà and captain of the people, and thus became virtual lord of the city. As a Ghibelline chief of valour and renown, he was able to restore the military prestige of the Pisans, who under his command captured Lucca and defeated the Florentines at Monteca-tini on the 29th August 1315. So tyrannical, however, was his rule that in 1316 he was expelled by the popular fury. But Pisa's freedom was for ever lost. He was succeeded by other lords or tyrants, of whom the most renowned was Oastruccio Castracane, a political and mili-tary adventurer of much the same stamp as TJguccione himself. With the help of Louis the Bavarian, Cas-truccio became lord of Lucca and Pisa, and was victorious over the Florentines; but his premature death in 1328 again left the city a prey to the conflicts of opposing factious. New lords, or petty tyrants, rose to power in turn during this period of civil discord, but the military valour of the Pisans was not yet extinguished. By sea they were almost impotent—Corsica and Sardinia were lost to them for ever; but they were still formidable by land. In 1341 they besieged Lucca in order to prevent the entry of the Florentines, to whom the city had been sold for 250,000 florins by the powerful Mastino della Scala. Aided by their Milanese, Mantuan, and Paduan allies, they gave battle to their rivals, put them to rout at Altopascio (2nd October), and then again excluded them from their port. Thereupon the Florentines obtained Porto Talamone from Siena and established a navy of their own. By this means they were enabled to capture the island of Giglio, and, attacking the Pisan harbour, carried off its chains, bore them in triumph to Florence, and suspended them in front of the baptistery, where they remained until 1848. Then, in pledge of the brotherhood of all Italian cities, they were given back to Pisa, and placed in the Campo Santo.

The war was now carried on by the free companies with varying fortune, but always more or less to the hurt of the Pisans. In 1369 Lucca was taken from them by the emperor Charles IV.; and afterwards Giovan Galeazzo Visconti, known as the count of Virtu, determined to forward his ambitious designs upon the whole of Italy by wresting Pisa from the Gambacorti. For at this time the conflicts of the Raspanti faction, headed by the Gherar-desca, with the Bergolini led by the Gambacorti, had left the latter family masters of the city. At Visconti's instigation Piero Gambacorti, the ruler of the moment, was treacherously assassinated by Jacopo d'Appiano, who succeeded him as tyrant of Pisa, and bequeathed the state to his son Gherardo. The latter, a man of inferior ability and daring, sold Pisa to the count of Virtu, receiving in exchange 200,000 florins, Piombino, and the islands of Elba, Pianosa, and Monte Cristo. Thus in 1399 Visconti took possession of Pisa, and left it to his natural son Gabriele Maria Visconti, who was afterwards expelled from its gates. But even during this century of disaster the Pisans continued to cherish the fine arts. In the year 1278 they had entrusted the erection of their fine Campo Santo to Niccola and Giovanni Pisano, by whom the architectural part of it was completed towards the end of the century. In the following year the first artists of Italy were engaged in its decoration, and Orcagna painted his celebrated frescos on its walls. Others were after-wards supplied by Benozzo Gozzoli and men of lesser note, and the labour of ornamentation was only discontinued in 1464.

Meanwhile, in 1406, the Florentines made another attack upon Pisa, besieging it simultaneously by sea and land. Owing to the starving condition of its defenders, and aided by the treachery of Giovanni Gambacorti, they entered the city in triumph on the 9th October, and sought to "crush every germ of rebellion and drive out its citizens by measures of the utmost harshness and cruelty." Such were the orders sent by the Ten of War to the repre-sentatives of the Florentine Government in Pisa, and such was then the established policy of every Italian state. Consequently for a long time there was a continual stream of emigration from Pisa. The Medici pursued a humaner course. In 1472 Lorenzo the Magnificent tried to restore the ancient renown of the Pisan university. To that end he filled it with celebrated scholars, and, leaving only a few chairs of letters and philosophy in Florence, compelled the Florentines to resort to Pisa for the prosecution of their studies. But nothing could now allay the inextinguish-able hatred of the conquered people. When Charles VIII. made his descent into Italy in 1494, and came to Sarzana on his way to Tuscany, he was welcomed by the Pisans with the greatest demonstrations of joy. And, although that monarch was ostensibly the friend of Florence, they did not hesitate, even in his presence, to assert their own independence, and, casting the Florentine ensign, the Marzocco, into the Arno, made instant preparations for war. Between 1499 and 1505 they heroically withstood three sieges and repulsed three attacking armies. But their adversaries always returned to the assault, and, what was worse, yearly laid waste their territories and destroyed all their crops. Soderini, who was perpetual gonfalonier of Florence, and Machiavelli, the secretary of the Ten, urged on the war. In 1509 the latter encamped his forces on three sides of the distressed city, which at last, reduced to extremity by famine, was forced to surrender on the 8th June 1509. Thenceforth the Florentines remained lords of Pisa. But now, mainly owing to the efforts of Soderini and Machiavelli, the conquerors showed great magnanimity. They brought with them large stores of provisions, which were freely distributed to all; they tried to succour the suffering populace in every way, and gave other assistance to the wealthier classes. Nevertheless, emigration continued even on a larger scale than in 1406, and the real history of Pisa may be said to have ended. In Naples, in Palermo, in all parts of Italy, Switzerland, and the south of France, we still find the names of Pisan families who quitted their beloved home at that time. The Florentines immediately built a new citadel, and this was a great bitterness to the Pisans. The Medici, how-ever, remained well-disposed towards the city. Leo X. was an active patron of the university, but it again declined after his death. The grand-duke Cosmo I., a genuine statesman, not only restored the university, but instituted the " Uffizio dei Fossi," or drainage office for the reclama-tion of marsh lands, and founded the knighthood of St Stephen. This order played a noble part in the protection of Tuscan commerce, by fighting the, Barbary pirates and establishing the prestige of the grand-ducal navy (see MEDICI). Under the succeeding Medici, Pisa's fortunes steadily declined. Ferdinand I. initiated a few public works there, and above all restored the cathedral, which had been partly destroyed by fire in 1595. These dreary times, however, are brightened by one glorious name— that of Galileo Galilei. A native of Pisa, he taught in its university; he made his first experiments in gravity from its bell tower, discovered, by observing the swing of the cathedral lamp, the law of the oscillation of the pendulum, and began there his stupendous reform of natural philosophy. But the sufferings inflicted on him by the Inquisition prove the depth of ignorance to which Tuscany and all Italy had then sunk.

As to Pisa, it is enough to mention that its population within the walls had been reduced in 1551 to 8574 souls, and that by 1745 it had only risen to the number of 12,406. Under the house of Lorraine, or more correctly during the reign of that enlightened reformer Pietro Leopoldo (1765-1790), Pisa shared in the general pro-sperity of Tuscany, and its population constantly increased. By 1840 it contained 21,670 souls, exclusive of the suburbs and outlying districts. At the present day Pisa is again one of the most flourishing cities of Tuscany. It counts 37,704 inhabitants within the walls, and including the suburbs a total of 53,957. Its university is one of the best in Italy ; it is an important railway centre; its commerce and manufactures are continually on the increase; its agriculture is rich and flourishing; and it is the chief city of a province numbering 283,563 inhabitants.

See P. Tronci, Annali Pisani, 2 vols., Pisa, 1868-1871 ; Roncioni, "Istorie Pisane," in the Archivio Storico Italiano, vol. vi. pt. 1; "Cronache Pisane," in the same Archivio, vol. vi. pt. 2 ; Repetti, Dizionario Geografico Storico della Toscana, s.v. * Pisa." (P. V.)

A few details regarding the principal buildings may be given by way of supplement to the foregoing article. The architects of the cathedral were Boschetto and Rinaldo, both Italians, probably Pisans. It is in plan a Latin cross, with an internal length of 311J feet and a breadth of 252 feet. The nave, 109 feet high, has double vaulted aisles and the transepts single aisles ; and at the inter-section of nave and transepts there is a cupola. The basilica is still the predominant type, but the influence of the domed churches of Constantinople and the mosques of Palermo is also apparent. The pillars which support the nave are of marble from Elba and Giglio ; those of the side aisles are the spoils of ancient Greek and Roman buildings brought by the Pisan galleys. Externally the finest part of the building is the west front, in which the note struck by the range of arches running round the base is repeated by four open arcades. Of the four doors three are by John of Bologna, who was greatly helped by Francavilla, Tacca, and others ; that of the south side, of much older date, is generally supposed to be the work of Bonanno. Of the interior decorations it is enough to mention the altars of the nave, said to be after designs by Michelangelo, and the mosaics in the dome and the apse, which were among the latest designs of CIMABUE (q.v.). The baptistery was completed only in 1278, and marred in the 14th century by the introduction of Gothic details. The building is a circle 100 feet in diameter, and is covered with a cone-surmounted dome 190 feet high, on which stands a statue of St Raniero. The lowest range of semicircular arches consists of twenty columns and the second of sixty; and above this is a row of eighteen windows in the same style separated by as many pilasters. In the interior, which is supported by four pilasters and eight columns, the most striking features are the octagonal font and the hexagonal pulpit, erected in 1260 by Niccola PISANO (g.v.). The campauile or "leaning tower of Pisa" is a round tower, the noblest, according to Freeman, of the southern Romanesque. Though the walls at the base are 13 feet thick, and at the top about half as much, they are constructed throughout of marble. The basement is surrounded by a range of semicircular arches supported by fifteen columns, and above this rise six arcades with thirty columns each. The eighth story, which contains the bells, is of much smaller diameter than the rest of the tower, and has only twelve columns. It is less to the beauty of its archi-tecture, great though that is, than to the fact that, being 11 feet 2 inches (or if the cornice be included 13 feet 8 inches) out of the perpendicular, it strikes the imagination in a way peculiarly its own. The entire height is 183 feet, but the ascent is easy by a stair in the wall, and the visitor hardly perceives the inclination till he reaches the top and from the lower edge of the gallery looks " down " along the shaft receding to its base. There is no reason to sup'pose that the architects, Bonanno and William of Innsbruck, intended that the campanile should be built in this oblique position; it would appear to have assumed it while the work was still in pro-gress. The Campo Santo, lying to the north of the cathedral, owes its origin to Archbishop TJbaldo (1188-1200), which made the spot peculiarly sacred by bringing fifty-three shiploads of earth from Mount Calvary. The building, erected in the Italian Gothic style between 1278 and 1283, by Giovanni Pisano, is of special interest chiefly for its famous frescos noticed above (see also ORCAGNA, vol. xvii. p. 815).


It must be remembered that the Pisans and Florentines dated the beginning of the year ab incarnaiione, i.e., from the 25th March. But the Florentines dated it from the 25th following and the Pisans from the 25th March preceding the commencement of the common year. The new or common style was adopted throughout Tuscany in the year 1750.

The above article was written by: Prof. Pasquale Villari.

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