Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Basilica di San Pietro Apostolo (Chiesa di San Piero a Grado), near Pisa

Half way between the city of Pisa and the coast, in the middle of a green field, is the Basilica of San Pietro a Grado.

According to legend, the Basilica rose exactly in the spot where the ship from which San Pietro disembarked (hence the name) who was travelling to Rome. The harbour at Pisa used to bein this area before silting up.

First accounts of the building date back to the third century. Recently made excavations in the foundations of a structure confirm them to be of early Christian origin of about AD375.

The present building dates back to the XI century, except for the west body that, together with the bell tower (partially destroyed in 1944), is datable to the XII century. Made of sea stone blocks, with the surfaces parted by thin pilasters and opened by simple monoforas, it represents one of the archetypes of the Pisan sacred architecture.

The interior has one nave and two aisles parted by columns coming from ancient buildings. On the walls of the nave’s elevation, there is the circle of frescoes with "Stories of Saint Peter", and of the popes. The cycle of frescoes, that can be dated back to the XIV century was commissioned by the Pisa family of the Castani, and was attributed to the Lucchesan painter Deodato Orlandi.

In the apsidal area there is a crucifix in wood.

Outside there are the remains of the ancient bell tower (12th century) that was partially destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. The three bells are still kept inside the church.