Italy – Three architectural gems

In all the world there is not another group of buildings that can at all be compared with this. The possession of any one of these structures would in-sure for a city world-wide fame. And, while they would form a magnificent architectural center for some great city, here, strange to say, all three stand together almost in the open fields, and a city’s life and bustle are far away. These structures are the crown and glory of that beautiful Tuscan-Romanesque architecture which is less successfully followed in the octagonal Baptistery at Florence.

Nearest us you behold the beautiful Baptistery, of which we saw only the topmost pinnacle from our last position. It was begun in 1153, completed in 1278, and was still further embellished a century later. As you see, the structure is a circular one, being one hundred feet in diameter, having the first story surrounded by columns, and a beautiful colonnade above and over all a dome in the shape of a cone, one hundred and ninety-one feet high, surmounted by a statue. At the extreme left may be seen the main entrance to the structure with elegantly adorned columns and bas-relief s. One can scarcely conceive of anything more elegant than this superbly ornamented marble Baptistery, which is fashioned with all the delicacy and skill that might be displayed in the carving of some rare and precious cameo. The interior contains a fine octagonal font of Carrara marble; and also the celebrated pulpit by Niccolo Pisano, which rests upon seven columns. It is beautifully carved in bas-reliefs representing scriptural scenes, and is, without doubt, the most beautiful pulpit in all Italy.

From our present position we can see the grand and stately Cathedral to the best advantage. It is constructed of white marble, whose monotony is relieved by bands of variegated stone. Beautiful as the rest of the structure is, it cannot equal the façade, which is of extraordinary magnificence, the lower story being surrounded by columns and arches built against the wall, and above are four beautiful open galleries which diminish in length as they approach the peak of the roof. The doors of the Cathedral are of bronze. In the interior are sixty-eight ancient marble columns of Roman and Greek origin, taken by the Pisans as spoils of war. The ceiling is gorgeous, and is finished in gold. The high altar is impressive, being constructed of marble and lapis lazuli, and the interior of the dome is covered with rich mosaics.

Although the plans of these buildings differ, the method of ornamentation is similar, as are the surroundings ; so that they form a harmonious whole, a trinity in unity. In each one, the lower part of the structure is surrounded by columns and arches, and above by one or more colonnades or galleries. While the domes of the Cathedral and Baptistery differ as to their form, and from the fact that the dome of the Baptistery rests upon a drum, yet the ornamentation beneath the drum is the same as that below the dome of the Cathedral.

Near these three peerless gems of architecture is the Campa Santo of Pisa, which was founded in the beginning of the thirteenth century. It contains fifty-three shiploads of earth from Palestine, sup-posed to have come from Mount Calvary. This was procured at great labor and expense in order that the faithful, when they died, might rest in holy ground. The quadrangle of the cemetery is surrounded by a Gothic-Tuscan structure dating from the middle of the thirteenth century. It is four hundred and fourteen feet long, one hundred and seventy-one feet wide and fifty feet high, with forty-three flat arches resting upon forty-four pilasters.

We will now enter this interesting building.