When visiting Pisa, Italy, many travelers visit the iconic Leaning Tower, as it is a sight to behold in its own right. But not far from this high-traffic site lies a hidden treasure that few explorers know about. The Camposanto, or Monumental Cemetery, holds a dark allure for adventurers with a taste for the more macabre.
The Camposanto holds a still and silent atmosphere as you would expect from a resting place for the deceased. But it’s the curious 15th-century frescoes that you can’t help but be fascinated by. Artworks depicting “The Last Judgment,” “The Triumph of Death and Thebaid” and “Hell” inspired by Dante’s Inferno were added by Benozzo Gozzoli as an homage to Old Testament scenes.
But the cemetery has stood as part of the Piazza del Duomo since the late 1270s, although its construction took centuries. The Gothic arcades that surround its borders weren’t completed until 1464 and some of the chapels nearby were added by the late 16th century. It’s believed the grass courtyard of the cemetery was brought from The Holy Land, thus giving it its name, which directly translates to “holy field.”
Although the Renaissance frescoes of the Camposanto may be dark and only appeal to travelers with particular tastes, there are still plenty of works of art to fascinate and mesmerize. Aside from pieces by Francisco Traini, Bonamico Buffalmacco, Andrea Bonaiuti, and Antonio Veneziano, you can also find more peaceful frescoes like the “Stories of Pisan Saints” that depict a calmer scene from religious texts.
The sarcophagi are another allure of the Monumental Cemetery. With 84 sarcophagi, mostly originals from the Roman empire, and sculptures spread throughout the grounds, there are plenty of historic works of art to satisfy the curious explorer.
In 1944, during World War II, a bomb dropped set the cemetery’s roof on fire, burning the building for three days. Many of the frescoes were severely damaged and removed for preservation. The techniques and materials used at the time were not enough to restore what had been lost, creating a white patina coating. But with the help of Opera della Primaziale Pisana, an organization established in the Middle Ages, restoration and revitalization of the damaged frescoes have had greater success in recent years.
The Camposanto holds great historic significance, as it is the resting place for many political and intellectual figures of Italian history. It’s even home to the resting place of the famous Medici family. As a public museum holding an important piece of the country’s culture and past, the Opera della Primaziale Pisana is dedicated to its continued restoration.