Any historical consideration of the cathedral's foundation must take into account the question of Pistoia's Paleo-Christian cathedral, and the problem today is still far from finding a definitive solution. Since the city had been an episcopal seat from the fifth century on, it obviously must have had a main church whose location, however, is still unknown.
If we are unsure of the cathedral's Lombard origins, in spite of the artifacts of the eighth or ninth centuries that have been found, we can be certain that the cathedral existed in the early tenth century. Probably the building was reconstructed in the twelfth century and not by chance, considering that this was the period when the bishop Atto had consecrated inside the altar dedicated in San Jacopo.
The church was then redone right after the bad fire that demaged it in the early eleventh century. Even if Vasari's note about Nicola Pisano's work is unjustified, this does not change the fact that the cathedral took on its present form in the mid 1300s. Thus rather than one unified architectural work, the final result is one of a well-defined group of various different projects.
At the end of the 1200s the cathedral, still with no portico, had similar characteristics to the ones seen today, with the exception of the area around the presbytery that underwent great changes in the modem era. Work continued through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with the building and decoration of the façade portico and the vaulted ceilings of the side naves. At the end of the 1500s the cathedral was once more at the center of important restoration work: the chapels at the head of the side naves were modified; the Pistoian architect Jacopo Lafri demolished the old medieval choir to raise the apse that he himself had designed.
The imposing volume of the presbytery, decorated by the best Florentine artists of the age, radically altered the indoor spaces of the church; the widening of the surface area raised the problem of how to join the space to the body of the naves and it was decided to vault the central one so as to allow a better relationship between the two volumes.
With the demolition of the Chapel of San Jacopo at the end of the 1700s, the cathedral was deprived of an important place of worship. Shortly afterwards Giovanni Gambini undertook the last important decorative work; commissioned to renovate the area of the presbytery, he removed Lafri's late Mannerist ornaments and designed, in the 1830s, a new decoration in the Neoclassical style.
These last additions gave the Duomo the form that it would preserve up to the 1960s when work was done to restore the old medieval structures. This restoration first removed the vaults from the central nave and the nineteenth century plaster work from the nave walls.
The Gothic windows were put back and the windows added in the fifteenth century were closed. At the end of these works the overseer of the restoration wrote: with the purification of the form and the restitution of the original proportions, the calculated play of light gives the monument the suggestive, mystic aspect of a basilica's majesty.
Piazza Duomo - Pistoia
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