The Monumental Cemetery was constructed in 1278 with sacred earth brought back from Golgotha during the Crusades. Fully decorated with frescoes, it was the elegant burial place of the Pisan upper class until 1779.
Description of the Camposanto
The history of the Monumental Cemetery began in the 12th century, when Archbishop Ubaldo Lanfranchi (1108-78) brought back shiploads of holy dirt from Golgotha (where Christ was crucified) during the Crusades.
In 1278, Giovanni di Simone (architect of the Leaning Tower) designed a marble cloister to enclose the holy ground, which became the primary cemetery for Pisa's upper class until 1779. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the walls of the Camposanto were decorated with frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Spinello Aretino, Benozzo Gozzoli, Andrea Bonaiuti, Antonio Veneziano, and Piero di Puccio.
Tragically, the extensive frescoes of the Camposanto were almost completely destroyed by a bombing raid during World War II. On July 27, 1944, American warplanes launched a major air attack against Pisa, which was still held by the Nazis. The wooden roof caught fire, its lead panels melted and the hot metal ran all over the frescoes. Many were completely destroyed and the few that remained were badly damaged.
The Camposanto has since been fully restored and most of the surviving frescoes, along with preparatory sketches (sinopie) found underneath, have been moved to the Museo delle Sinopie in Pisa.