The earliest mention of the Cathedral dates from 748 AD. Archaeological investigation revealed the remains of a large ecclesiastical building, dating from the 10th century.
The Cathedral works started in 1064. Tradition reports that this was soon after Pisa’s victory over the Saracens in Palermo (Sicily). Initial work was directed by the architect Buscheto, but the final stages by the new magister Rainaldo. In 1118 the Cathedral was consecrated by Pope Gelasio II.
The church, in Pisa Romaneque style, is built in the shape of a Latin cross, with a central nave terminating in an apse, four aisles and a transept. A particular feature of the external walls, built from marble from several places, probably re-used material with architectural elements and inscriptions from the Roman times.
The lower part of the facade is divided by six round dead arches resting on columns and capitals. The two central columns that flank the main door are carved with foliage spirals. The upper part is organised in four tiers of colonnades, many replaced in the 16th and 19th centuries. The bronze doors were cast by Florentine artists in the 17th century, but the San Ranieri door ,facing the Tower, was cast around 1180 by Bonanno Pisano. It is the only door which survived the fire in 1595. Similar to that of Monreale Cathedral, it is parted by twenty panels representing episodes of Christ’s life.
Rich and sumptuous are the decorations in the Cathedral, related to a troubled history marked by frequent calamitous events that culminated in the fire of 1595. The only remains of the early 14th century are the mosaics on the apsidal conch, where Cimabue painted the figure of Saint John Evangelist (1302.), the pulpit (1302-1310) by Giovanni Pisano and the sepulchral monument to Emperor Henry VII (1315).