Museo del Camposanto ☆☆

The central cemetery of the Campsanto, filled with dirt from the Holy Land, Il Camposanto, Pisa, Italy (Photo by Luca Aless)
The central cemetery of the Campsanto, filled with dirt from the Holy Land

The famous ruined frescoes and ancient sculptures inside Pisa's holy burial ground

Begun in 1278 by Giovanni di Simone to house the shiploads of holy Golgotha dirt (the mount where Christ was crucified) brought back by an archbishop from the Crusades, the Camposanto has been burial ground for Pisan bigwigs ever since.

Most funerary monuments are recycled Roman sarcophagi or neoclassical confections installed in the peacefully arcaded corridor of four-light Gothic windows encircling the patches of green in the center. 

One unusual funerary monument of sorts here is a memorial to the port that once ensured Pisa its prominence but silted up long ago: a set of huge harbor-closing chains that were carried off in 1284 by the victorious Genoese when they trounced their Pisan rivals and not returned until Italian Unification in the 1860s.

The walls were once covered with important 14th- and 15th-century frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Spinello Aretino, and Benozzo Gozzoli, among others, painting cycles considered by many Grand Tourists as indispensable to visit as the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

On July 27, 1944, however, American warplanes launched a heavy attack against the city (which was still in Nazi hands) and the cemetery was bombed. The wooden roof caught fire, and its lead panels melted and ran right down over the frescoes, destroying most of the paintings and severely damaging the few that remained.

When the surviving frescoes were detached to be moved, workers discovered the artists’ preparatory sketches (sinopie) underneath. These, along with the sinopie of the destroyed frescoes, are housed in the Museo delle Sinopie.

A doorway off one corridor leads to an exhibit of photos of the frescoes from before 1944 and of the devastation wreaked by the bombing.

Also here is a 2C BC Greek vase that inspired the Pisan Gothic sculptors.

Then come the few damaged frescoes that made it through the bombing.

The most fascinating is the 14th-century Triumph of Death. The attribution to any one artist (Buffalmacco is the most favored) is so contested that the work’s painter has been dubbed, somewhat melodramatically, “The Master of the Triumph of Death," and the work amply displays the medieval world's fascination with, and resignation to, death.

The reaper always triumphs; the only difference at the end is whether it's the angel or the devil who wins the tug of war with your soul (graphically represented above the center of the fresco). Leering demons extract souls, represented as naked babies, through the mouths of merchants and bishops alike as a carefree hunting party comes across a series of open coffins off to the left and covers their noses from the stench.

The composer Franz Liszt was so moved by this work he sat down and wrote his famous Totentanz.

In the Last Judgment against the end wall (by the same unknown artist) there seem to be, as always, a whole lot more damned than saved as the next to go try desperately to keep their friends from being dragged down into a medieval Hell. Here you've got your decapitated and disemboweled crowd, your demons with a yen for human flesh, your fiery multi-mouthed Satan, and one man getting roasted on a spit.

Photo gallery
  • The central cemetery of the Campsanto, filled with dirt from the Holy Land, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Luca Aless)
  • Inside the Camposanto with its lovely filagreed cloister windows, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Bernd Thaller)
  • The tabernacle over the entrance of the Virgin and Child with Four Saints, by a follower of Giovanni Pisano, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The cloisters are lined by sarcofagi and much-faded frescoes, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by ho visto nina volare)
  • The Camposanto after the bombs were dropped on it in 1944, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • , Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo )
  • Sarcophagus of the Muses (late AD 3C), Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • A Theological Cosmography (1389-91), with a TO map at the center of a cosmographical diagram representing the Universe by Piero di Puccio, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by ho visto nina volare)
  • The chains of Pisa
  • Stories of Adam and Eve by Piero di Puccio, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Kaho Mitsuki)
  • Tomb of Anastasia Petri-Schouvaloff of St. Petersburg (d. 1821), Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • Scenes from the Life of St. Rainerus (1351/1400) by Andrea da Firenze (above) e Antonio Veneziano (below), Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Kaho Mitsuki)
  • Sarcophagus showing the Wild Boar Hunt, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • The western end of the cloisters, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Detail of the Construction of the Tower of Babel by Benozzo Gozzoli, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Hispalois)
  • Funerary Monument for jurisconsult Filippo Decio (d. 1535) by Stagio Stagi, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Vintage and Drunkenness of Noah (1469/84) by Benozzo Gozzoli, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Funerary monument of Ottaviano Fabrizio Massotti, with Urania, Muse of Astronomy, by Neoclassical sculptor Giovanni Duprè, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • A fresco by Spinello Aretino, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • The Triumph of Death (c. 1350) by the Master of the Triumph of Death. sometimes identified as Bonamico di Martino da Firenze, called Buffalmacco, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Triumph of Death (c. 1350) detail showing an angel and demon fighting over a soul, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Triumph of Death (c. 1350) detail showing a demon extracting a soul from a body clutching a bag of money, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Joanbanjo)
  • The Last Judgment (1336-1341) by Bonamico di Martino da Firenze, called Buffalmacco, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • the Camposanto from above, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by gabriele bartolucci)
  • The long, largely blank facade on the Campo dei Miracoli, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Gianni Careddu)
  • Sarcophagus of Lucius Sabinus, Trubune of the Plebes (c. AD 150), Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The central green graveyard, Il Camposanto, Italy (Photo by Mr.Ajedrez)
Pisa tours


How long should I spend at the Camposanto?

I find this is a lovely place to wander, and wouldn't give it less than 30 minutes—more like 45–60 minutes.

How to get to the Camposanto

Unfortunately, the Campo dei Miracoli and Leaning Tower are a stiff 20– to 30-minute walk north of the main Pisa-Centrale train station.

To get to the Camposanto from the main Pisa train station (Pisa-Centrale), first buy two bus tickets—due biglietti autobus—from a newsstand inside the station (one for each way).

Exit the station, cross the little piazza out front, and cross the street to stand on the far side, a bit to the right of center—you need to do this because the city bus ( you are catching goes both ways, and you want the one headed to the left (west)—otherwise, you're on your way to the airport!

The bus you want is called LAM Rosso (the high speed red line, also abbreviated L/R). This will take you to the "Torre 1" stop at Pizza Daniele Manin (whicuh is along Via Bonanno Pisano) just beyond the western edge of Piazza del Duomo (a.k.a. Campo dei Miracoli).

Follow the crowds through the thicket of souvenir stands and the Porta Santa Maria gate in the city walls and you're on Campo dei Miracoli. Walk until you get to the path on the left headed between the baptistery and the Duomo, follow this to its end, turn right along the wall, and the entrance is on your left (even with the cathedral facade).

If you happen to get off a train at the secondary Pisa-San Rossore station, you're in luck: it's just a five-minute stroll west of the Field of Miracles. Exit using the underpass of Piazza Fancelli. Walk straight ahead to Via Andrea Pisano and turn left. Walk three blocks. You can't miss it.

If you arrive in Pisa by car, there's an amazingly convenient public parking lot just a block up from the western edge of the Campo dei Miracoli on Via Cammeo Carlo Salomone, on your left just past the Vecchia di Barbaricina.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).



The museum recreates the placements of the original frescoes (Photo by Joanbanjo)
Museo delle Sinopie
Pisa: Around Campo dei Miracoli

A Pisa museum housing the amazing, full-sized medieval preparatory sketches for the lost Camposanto frescoes


D.I.Y. your very own Renaissance fresco!